Surviving Whole Foods

Comedian Kelly MacLean declares war on the grocery giant.

woman shopping cart illustration
Steve Wacksman for Reader’s Digest

WHOLE FOODS IS LIKE VEGAS. You go there to feel good, but you leave broke, disoriented, and with the newfound knowledge that you have a bacterial infection.

Unlike Vegas’s, Whole Foods’s clientele are all about mindfulness and compassion … until they get to the parking lot. Then it’s war. As I pull up this morning, I see a pregnant lady on the crosswalk holding a baby and groceries. A driver swerves around her and honks. As he speeds off, I catch his bumper sticker, which says “NAMASTE.” Poor lady didn’t even hear him approaching, because he was driving a Prius. He crept up on her like a panther.

As the great sliding-glass doors part, I am immediately smacked in the face by a wall of cool, moist air that smells of strawberries and orchids. I leave behind the concrete jungle and enter a cornucopia of organic bliss, the land of hemp milk and honey. Think about heaven and then think about Whole Foods; they’re basically the same.

The first thing I see is the gluten-free section, filled with crackers and bread made from various wheat substitutes such as cardboard and sawdust. I skip this aisle because I’m not rich enough to have dietary restrictions. Ever notice that you don’t meet poor people with special diet needs? A gluten-intolerant housecleaner? A cab driver with Candida? Candida is what I call a rich-white-person problem. You know you’ve really made it in this world when you get Candida. My personal theory is that Candida is something you get from too much hot yoga. All I’m saying is, if I were a yeast, I would want to live in your yoga pants.

Next I approach the beauty aisle. There is a scary-looking machine there that you put your face inside of, and it tells you exactly how ugly you are. It calculates your wrinkles, your sunspots, the size of your pores, etc., and compares the results with those of other women your age. I think of myself as attractive, but as it turns out, I am 78 percent ugly, meaning less pretty than 78 percent of women in the world. On the popular “one to ten” hotness scale used by males the world over, that makes me a three (if you round up, which I hope you will). A glance at the extremely closeup picture it took of my face—in which I somehow have a glorious, blond porn mustache—tells me that three is about right. Especially because the left side of my face is apparently 20 percent more aged than the right. After contemplating ending it all here and now, I decide instead to buy a bottle of delicious-smelling, silky-feeling cream that may raise me from a three to a four for only $108.

I grab a handful of peanut butter pretzels on my way out of this stupid aisle. I don’t feel bad about pilfering these bites, because of the umpteen times I’ve overpaid at the salad bar and been tricked into buying $108 beauty creams. The pretzels are very fattening, but I’m already in the 70th percentile of ugly, so who cares?

Next I come to the vitamin aisle, which is a danger zone for any broke hypochondriac. Warning: Whole Foods keeps its best people in this section. The vitamin clerk talks me into buying estrogen for my mystery mustache and Women’s Acidophilus because apparently I do have Candida after all.

I move on to the next aisle and ask a nearby clerk for help. He’s wearing a visor inside, and it has one word on it in all caps. Yup: NAMASTE. I ask him where I can find whole wheat bread. He chuckles at me. “Oh, we keep the poison in aisle seven.” Based solely on the attitudes of people sporting namaste paraphernalia today, I’d think it was Sanskrit for “go to hell.”

I pass a table where a vendor invites me to join a group cleanse he’s leading. For $179.99, I can not-eat not-alone … not-gonna-happen. They’re doing the cleanse where you consume nothing but lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and fiber pills for ten days. What’s that one called again? Oh, yeah … anorexia. I went on a cleanse once; it was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I detoxified, I purified, I lost weight. On the other hand, I fell asleep on the highway and fantasized about eating a pigeon. I think I’ll stick with the whole eating thing.

I grab a couple of loaves of poison and head to the checkout. The fact that I’m at Whole Foods on a Sunday finally sinks in when I join the end of the line … halfway down the dog-food aisle. I suddenly realize that I’m dying to get out of this store. Maybe it’s the lonely feeling of being a carnivore in a sea of vegans or the revelation that some people’s dogs eat better than I do, but mostly I think it’s the fact that Yanni has been playing literally this entire time. Like sensory deprivation, listening to Yanni seems harmless at first, enjoyable even. But two hours in, you’ll chew your own ear off to make it stop.

A thousand minutes later, I get to the cashier. She is 95 percent beautiful. “Have you brought your reusable bags?” @#$%! No, they are at home with their two-dozen other once-used friends. She rings up my meat, alcohol, gluten, and a wrapper from the chocolate bar I ate in line, with thinly veiled alarm. She scans my ladies’ acidophilus, gives me a pitying frown, and whispers, “Ya know, if you wanna get rid of your Candida, you should stop feeding it.” She rings me up for $313. I resist the urge to unwrap and swallow whole another $6 truffle in protest. Instead, I reach for my wallet, flash her a quiet smile, and say, “Namaste.”

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Kelly Maclean
Kelly Maclean is a comedian, writer, and actress.