Whenever I think of Whole Foods Market, I think of my dad. Years ago, back when I was in high school, my father was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and became, by his own admission, a health nut. He started seeing a nutritionist, who officed in a modest space near San Antonio’s Alamo Heights, and on the few occasions when I went with him to see Beverly, I would be treated to her tirades against Western medicine, processed foods, and the unspeakable horror that was cow’s milk. At Beverly’s instruction, my dad started to take much better care of himself, and our kitchen cabinets began to fill with obscure vitamins and foods I’d never seen before. Eventually I learned where he got those items: Whole Foods, which back then was just entering the mainstream.
After Whole Foods opened a big store in the then newly redeveloped Quarry, our family started to go to brunch there on Sundays after church. The Taliaferros and a few other families who attended the ten o’clock mass at Oblate School of Theology would make our way over to the upscale market, order our food, then obnoxiously push several tables together and take over the dining area. As a matter of course, as eating gave way to chatting, my dad would quietly slip away to wander the aisles in search of his increasingly exotic foodstuffs. In time, it all came to take on a religious quality, as if Whole Foods were simply the site of another kind of transubstantiation.
Years later, I moved from Dallas, where I had my first job out of college, to Austin. Whenever my parents came to visit, the only place they wanted to meet was at Whole Foods’ new flagship store and headquarters, at Sixth and Lamar. My father took a childlike delight in the place, with its needlessly complicated parking garage, its shopping cart escalator, and its profusion of what seemed to me like pretty out-there stuff: cashew butter, echinacea tablets, spelt bread, sheep’s milk, vegan chorizo, ghee, and wheatgrass shots (okay, I grew to love the wheatgrass shots too). He also took a liking to the staff. By the fourth or fifth time my folks came into town, I’m pretty sure he was on a first-name basis with half of the store employees. He regarded Whole Foods, with its organic produce and hippie flair, as the heart of Austin. The energy of the place electrified him.
When I read this month’s cover story on Whole Foods’ recent travails, from our new editor-at-large Tom Foster, I couldn’t help but think of how my dad’s personal transformation was tied to his relationship with Whole Foods. Shopping there not only made him healthier but also made him an evangelist for healthy living and eating, just like the company’s CEO and co-founder, John Mackey. I can easily imagine the two of them wandering a store, comparing notes on their latest finds and pushing them on fellow shoppers.
So when I read that Mackey is in the fight of his life to save the company he helped start, it was tough to suppress the impulse to root for him. To do otherwise would feel, well, blasphemous.