Buying a Cookie at Whole Foods: The story of an epic voyage

June 25, 2012 | 56 comments

Every now and then I have one of those moments when I realize just how much life has changed since my conversion. One such occasion occurred earlier this week when I made a trip to Whole Foods.

It was a spontaneous decision, based on vague positive associations of the organic foods chain rather than any kind of rational thought process. You see, the last time I had been in a Whole Foods was back when I had one child and lived downtown, a short walk from the flagship location. I have these fond memories of relaxing strolls down to the store with the baby in the sling, picking up one bag’s worth of food that would feed my whole family, not even glancing at the receipt because I still had the budget to make statements like, “You can’t put a price on healthful, organic food!” And so when I realized that I was going to be driving by a Whole Foods after some morning errands with the kids, I thought it might be fun to stop by.

As soon I neared the store, I recalled that while it has been a few years since I’ve been inside a Whole Foods, it has been even longer since I have parked at a Whole Foods. It seems that when John Mackey founded this store, he had a Darwinian vision that each location’s parking lot would have about one-third as many spaces as it actually needs, so that only the fittest customers would be able to enter. And the bumper stickers! After a few passes through the rows of cars, I’d read an entire manifesto on health care, women’s empowerment, environmentalism, gay rights, animal rights, and gay animal rights. (If car manufacturers are looking for a way to boost sales, I recommend the Austin: a compact hybrid vehicle with two bumpers, for the customer who has more opinions than a normal car can handle.)

I managed to find a parking spot, which was a small miracle considering that I had arrived during the lunchtime rush. It was like a scene from a B movie, where the mothership had landed and was calling everyone home. Throngs of people were pouring out of adjoining parking lots, coming out from behind trees and parked cars to drift toward the building.

My first hint that this was going to be very different from my usual suburban shopping experience was when I started pulling kids out of the car, only to realize that there were no cart return stations nearby—none in the entire parking lot, in fact. This was a problem. Getting the kids through that parking lot made me feel like I was playing a real-life version of that old Atari game Frogger, except with a malfunctioning joystick that made the frogs whine and bolt in random directions instead of doing what I wanted them to do.

Once we made it safely inside, I felt momentary relief. Wiping the sweat off my forehead, I was thankful that Whole Foods is not so serious about all that environmentalism stuff that they can’t look the other way when it comes to a few gazillion kilowatts of air conditioning to keep the inside crisp and cool on a 103-degree day. But, alas, my joy was to be short-lived. I stuffed as many kids as possible into one of the store’s miniature carts and told my other children to stay right by me, but as soon as we headed down the first aisle I could see that this was not going to work.

The aisles at Whole Foods are wide enough for perhaps two very thin customers to stand shoulder-to-shoulder; this is in stark contrast to our usual grocery store, where the kids can swing from the sides of the cart like a merry band of mutinous pirates without hitting anything. The items on the shelves passed just centimeters from the kids’ faces as we inched through the crowded store. Other customers knew where we were at any moment as the sounds of me hissing “Don’t touch!” slowly moved from one place to another.

We got stuck in a logjam near the meat section and I picked up a package of delicious-looking bacon, only to discover that it was in fact made of soy. I stared at it with a wry smile, remembering the time when I was a vegetarian and I convinced my Texan husband to try some of this imitation bacon, secretly thinking that this might just tempt him to give up meat himself. After frying some up, I took a bite and was quite startled. It was really not very good. At all. I glanced at my husband, who looked downright traumatized by the assault on his tastebuds. He gazed off into the distance and said softly, “I could cut off my tongue, but I could never erase this taste from my mind’s tongue.”

My trip down the soy bacon version of memory lane was interrupted, however, when I heard an ominous banging sound. I turned to see that my three-year-old had lifted a small box of cookies off of a nearby display and was vigorously shaking it. I took the box from her, knowing we’d have to buy it since they were now ruined. The price wasn’t on the front, but I could tell it wasn’t going to be good. These were organic, allergen-free cookies. Hand-decorated. By a local artist with two accents in her first name alone. I braced myself to see what this container of six cookies was going to set me back, then finally dared to look: $10.50.

It was time to go.

By the time we were half way to the front, my alternating cries of “Excuse me, ” and “Don’t touch!” had gotten so shrill that people were jumping right out of my way. We made it to the checkout, and I placed the box of what used to be cookies on the conveyor belt, along with a few other items I’d picked up along the way.

“Do you have your own bags?” the checker asked.

I glanced behind me and to each side to see that every other person had come with his or her own canvas grocery bags. I was tempted to lean into it and announce, “No! And I want you to triple-bag each item individually, as I am in a contest with another big Catholic family to see how much landfill space we can take up!” but this was no time for jokes. I sheepishly asked for plastic bags and got out of there as quickly as possible.

Back outside, a silver Lexus crept about four feet behind me as I made my way to my car at the back of the parking lot. I wondered if he had the same sinking feeling I did when he realized that I was going to have to strap each and every one of these kids into car seats, most of them in five-point harnesses. With the sun beating down on my back, the temperature now at 105, I maneuvered each kid into his or her seat, feeling like I was stuck in a reality show called something like Top Housewife or SurvivorMom.

I pulled out of our parking space, leaving the Lexus to fight it out with a Prius that had swooped in to try to steal the spot. As I headed up the highway into the suburban sprawl, I came to the obvious conclusion that my family is too big and we’re too broke to shop at Whole Foods anymore. And once we got home, I’d cooled off, and the kids got to sit down and enjoy a box of ten-dollar cookie crumbs, I realized that that’s okay with me.



  1. Chris

    I think this song, “It’s Gettin’ Real in the Whole Foods Parking Lot” may have been written for you. 🙂

  2. Chris

    Sorry for one more comment. There are two — ahem — inappropriate words in the lyrics, toward the end of the song, so don’t listen if you prefer not to hear that.

  3. Amy

    This post cracked me up. I refuse to feel bad when I don’t bring in my bags, and I
    live in Seattle where they just BANNED plastic grocery bags, as of July 1. It is now a crime for grocery stores in the city to bag items other than frozen food or cleaning products in plastic. I keep wondering what all those dog owners are going to do!
    Jen, your blog was influential in my decision to convert to Catholicism, and as my one year
    anniversary of coming in the Church approaches (June 29th), I just want to say
    thank you and God bless you for all that you do!

    • Robbie

      Amy, I refuse to feel guilty if I forget my bags, too. I ask for paper and then tell the cashier that they make great cat toys.

      Jen, I am still laughing. This is one of the funniest blogs I have read in a while. I don’t go to Whole Foods, too expensive. I go to Sprouts which bought out Henry’s. And the parking is better.

    • Mary

      Why do you “feel bad”? I think you are over-thinking this. Plastic bags are a stupid waste, don’t even work well, and they cause harm to wildlife etc., but they are not the worst thing you can do. I think it is great that folks are using reusable bags, after all, this was the way it was for generations. If you happen to forget yours, then just chock it up to forgetfulness, like leaving your lights on when you are out. No biggie.

      I get my dander up when Christians seem to enjoy thwarting enviornomnetal trends that make sense. It is the rather the same thing (on a different plane) as atheists enjoying and “refusing to feel bad” about various “sins”.

  4. Mark L

    Wow, what a day. I’ve learned to avoid those stores for the same reasons.

    Be blessed,
    Mark L.

  5. Sara

    Awesome video ^.

    You probably don’t want to give your money to their agendas, anyway, Jen. I think ours is bigger here, but it’s extremely rare that I need anything badly enough to venture inside. I think it has been many years!

  6. Mary

    Oh my goodness, that was hysterical. We don’t have Whole Foods out here but I remember going to one once when I had only one child and we lived in IL. And we were super super cost conscious. Oh, it was traumatizing to feel like we would never be able to eat healthy… But we’re figuring it out without them 🙂 And soon we’ll have a Trader Joe’s about an hour away. At least there you have the ever important quick exit access and they sort of like kids 🙂

  7. Becky

    AHHH! I have too much to say in response here to fit into a comment, and I never know if I will lose everything I labored over while trying to outwit the gotcha code, I mean the capthcha code, so I will be brief.

    Please do not throw out the baby with the bath water. At the heart of environmentalism, even though the atheists don’t fully realize this, is a love of the world as God created it. The essence of organic farming is to keep the soil alive as God made soil to be. The ultimate reason for nourishing our bodies with healthy food is to love and serve God with the energy He wants us to have.

    So maybe the parking lot of Whole Foods is not friendly to families with young children, but don’t reject everything they are trying to do.

    • Mary

      Becky, I love you!

    • Robert H

      I don’t think Jen is rejecting everything they are trying to do, but they send the implicit message that big families are bad for the environment. My opinion.

    • Heidi

      Well said!! As you pointed out, I love their overall mission. I don’t like the snootiness sometimes (especially in our current city’s store), but I LOVED our old one. They were always helpful with my kids and generally nice. I’m one of the few, I guess, with a big family, that really loves Whole Foods 🙂

  8. Lisa

    sounds so familiar. i visited my big health food store for the first time in years since it is 30 miles away and i don’t go to that city much. Now that i am a recovering vegetarian i was taken aback by the huge vegan focus. Not much for a paleo gal besides the salad bar! And don’t you love the liberal bumper stickers. This store does a great business, very organized and very capitalistic!

  9. Becky

    This is a different Becky here….

    Yes, I tried a Wholefoods store and never went back again. It was way too expensive. I had only one child with me at the time and was pretty much doing the same as you: “Don’t touch!”

    Organic foods is fine and dandy; keeping it all authentic and learning to respect the earth is good too but what I don’t like is the feeling of this all be forced on you. The absence of plastic bags is a good example. When you have to try to remember to bring your OWN bags on top of everything else, there’s a lack of customer service here. The coldness of Wholefoods stores (sorry, but my experience was met with many cold customers and employees)also made me not want to come back.

    For myself, if I truly want something wholesome and good, I go to the Farmers’ Market, where everyone fits in and it’s just good casual fun.

  10. Anabelle@Written By the Finger of God

    This cracked me up! I wrote a post on grocery shopping with 3 kids that can talk enough for 30 people and my battle cry down the aisle is “Can you be quiet for 2 minutes?!” Oh, and the beauty of a momma-size van? It can scare off a Lexus or a Prius eyeing my parking spot any day.

  11. Helene

    On my recent (and probably last) visit to Whole Foods I noticed their refuse containers are labeled cans, bottles, and LANDFILL. Can you make me feel any more guilty?

    • etteloc

      Well, where did you think it went?

    • Mary

      What is wrong with this? It is the truth. A designer once said that “Waste is a design flaw.” God does not waste much in his designs…energy is always at a premium. Why should we?

  12. Jenna@CallHerHappy

    Jen- I am dying. The bumper stickers. It reminds me of a city we used to live in. It inspired my hubs to come up with a line of bumper stickers (never actually invented because, we, like you, have baby responsibilities) that would counter theirs. They would say things like, “I think Tibet is fine just the way it is.”


    • Roz

      I love the bumper sticker idea. How about “Ignore the whales?” (This could become an amusing meme.)

      • Jenna@CallHerHappy

        Hahaha! Perfect! We’re going to have to go into business 😉

    • Melanie

      Really, you’re just fine with Communist China invading and decimating the nation of Tibet? You are happy Tibetans now live under totalitarian rule, and are persecuted by the Chinese?
      Why is it that conservatives think it’s funny to rail against every cause popular to the liberals regardless of the merits of the cause?
      The plight of the people of Tibet isn’t any laughing matter for a bumpersticker snark contest. Look into it.

  13. Patricia

    “If car manufacturers are looking for a way to boost sales, I recommend the Austin: a compact hybrid vehicle with two bumpers, for the customer who has more opinions than a normal car can handle.”

    Much to my husband’s chagrin (though he seems to have graciously accepted the fact by now), we’ve got a combination of some 30+ plus stickers on the back of our 12-seater van (& a couple on the front bumper)…so that is another option for those of us who are obsessed with making our vehicles traveling billboards! ;o) (Our stickers run the gamut from Byzantine Catholic, pro-life, bike safety, supporting your local farmers/farm markets, homeschooling, Appalachian Trail, Ron Paul, anti-HHS mandate…)

  14. ashley.elise

    One of my grad school professors used to refer to the store as “Whole Paycheck,” which was enough to keep me out of there. And I get enough of the bumper sticker manifestos just driving to work–no need to see them all gathered in one place!

    Jenna, the Tibet bumper sticker idea just made my husband and me both laugh out loud–I’d love to hear some of the other ideas your husband came up with! 🙂

  15. Mary

    “I realized that that’s okay with me.” Jennifer, you are there. Enjoy it.

    Also, are they packing meat, poultry and fish in non-plastic wrapping? In the same
    non-plastic, reusable bags they pack fresh foods that will not be thoroughly cooked? Yuk.

    • Wolf

      I suspect they wrap meats and other raw foods in paper, possibly waxed paper — that is still very common in Europe where most stores AND SHOPPERS are pretty ecologically conscious. As a result one can buy mostly organic foods in normal supermarkets with only a slight markup over standard fare (5-10%, nothing like a $10 box of cookies) — still not necessarily affordable for a large, single-income family.

  16. Doris

    I truly enjoyed this–you paint a great picture of the journey! I don;t have children, but am 1 of 5 from a Catholic family, and my sis has three under age 4. You deserve to win SurvivorMom just for attempting the trip!

    And your last statement says it all.

  17. Kim

    Jen, I love you. You make me feel so normal!!!

  18. Dreena Tischler

    LOL. That was so funny. Because I have lived the same nightmare. Oh, my goodness. SO funny. Yes, the last time I was there, a wine vendor was giving away samples and I had to pause near her because I was in a bit of a traffic jam with my cart overloaded with kids both in and outside. I was distracted by my two year old attempting to escape the cart and when I wasn’t looking my 3 year swiped a wine sample and managed to dump half of it on her shirt before chugging the other half. The vendor freaked out and we were pretty conspicuous after that! Oh dear.

    Still keeping my eyes open for you at church.

  19. Carol

    I had a melt down, tears ans all, at Whole Foods — didn’t understand the check out instructions — and didn’t even have one child with me. I now very carefully time my visits, and they are pretty rare.

  20. Emily

    I was literally laughing out loud as I read this post!

  21. Barb Rosser

    It’s just as well. Whole Foods is on the “planned parenthood contribution list.” You probably don’t want to go back there now anyway!

  22. Cottage By The Sea

    Now that was darn funny! I spent my life in Costco when I had five kids at home. The memories of kids dangling off the cart are quite fond actually. In the last few years as my kids have flown the nest I decided I’d try out Whole Foods. The price tags were a pretty big shock but, the fact that they are friendly to EVERYONE except people with more than 1.5 kids kinda broke the deal for me. WF and I, we just don’t have the same values. My consultation is Trader Joe’s. Better prices, meals for two and friendly to everybody. I do still take my occasional trip to Costco just to run a cart up and down those nice wide aisles and of course to buy my organic brown rice in bulk (for 50 cents per serving!)

  23. SABR Matt

    Oh my this was hilarious! And your title did the article such justice…it popped right out at me through my blog’s link sidebar and I knew I was in for a treat!

    Thanks for that amusing (and oh so true) description…I have the great fortune to be in love with a girl from suburban Boston who still greatly reveres organic food at any price and various other liberal cliches…so I have some experience in this arena. 🙂

    Thanks again!


  24. sylvia

    This was a hilarious post. Thanks!

  25. Tara


    I am SO glad I nabbed your blog to add to those I read. I’ve been weeding out the negative ones, finding I become bitter and negative myself after binging on them too often. Then I read this post and it made my morning!

    We have a Whole Foods a few hundred feet from home. For some reason they added one in the part of town where extended families are crammed into one & two-bedroom apartments right across the street from a retired senior complex, where the majority of people cannot drive. So the only supermarket in walking distance (unless you want to test ice-cream’s consistency after a two-mile walk in the summer heat) is what we affectionately call: WHOLE PAYCHECK.

    Thanks for the smile. I can’t wait to read more of your blog!

  26. Tara

    PS: Cookie crumbs like that (been there before too) are a GREAT ice-cream topping – even molten ice-cream. 😀

  27. Caitlin

    Love this. I have to say that I heart Whole Foods but alas there is none in my town. Not that I could really shop there when I did have one near me, but I always got fish from there because it was the freshest I could get without having to go downtown. And I felt like I would get healthier by osmosis by just being in there….. 🙂

    In Pittsburgh there is actually a connection between Whole Foods and Catholic Charities. Several “lost boys” from Sudan were found homes in Pgh through Catholic Charities and many of them work at Whole Foods. Several years ago there was a documentary made about it:
    So, I really try to support them when I can. I’m not sure if Whole Foods in other states/areas do the same thing but I think it’s awesome.

  28. Briana

    A Whole Foods just opened up recently near my house and with four kids it can be quite the adventure. I never bring my own bags, so far no dirty looks but maybe I’m too preoccupied keeping the hordes in line I just don’t notice. Last time I was there I was surprised to see two spots in the parking lot near the door reserved for expectant mothers. So I’ll have a spot for the next few months, though I think mom’s with walking toddlers should get front row parking too.

  29. Brianna Heldt

    One of my all-time favorite posts of yours. Oh my goodness, Whole Foods. I do not go anywhere near that place with my seven grabby, noisy, population-contributing kids, heehee! 🙂

  30. Teresa Kasch

    I am new to your blog and sooooo happy I found you…what a wonderfully funny tale…I know exactly what you mean about Whole Foods and the parking lot in particular and the bumper stickers specifically…aren’t these folks the very ones who want to tax the wealthy, hate business and so on…but shop at a grocery store that charges crazy prices to offer the finest in organic foods…one has to laugh otherwise down a bottle of Tums….

  31. John

    This cracked me up — so true! We live in Berkeley, where communicating through bumper stickers is a way of life and places like Whole Foods are every bit as crowded and expensive as Jen describes. I always wonder how all these people are able to afford their lifestyle and still have houses and families in this crazy-expensive area — they also seem to have loads of free time.

  32. Michelle

    This made me laugh… a lot. I’ve never been in a Whole Foods and even if there was one near me I wouldn’t be shopping at one. However, just for giggles I might want to take all my kids in there and see the reaction of those in there 🙂 Call it “Catholic Fun”… people are always telling me I need a “different hobby”. LOL

  33. TracyE

    Brave woman, thank you. I am glad it’s not just me. I’ve ventured in with 2 of my 4 and that was enough, fortunately, after receiving some “samples” while we were in there, my 2 don’t want to go back to the yucky food store (as they call it). LOL!

  34. Ana Hahn

    I only have 2 (going on 3) kids and I feel sure this is exactly like it would be if we ever actually dared to venture into a Whole Foods. We are getting one in our town and you would think that it were the Second Coming, I am just glad I have one more thing to scoff at, I always need that 🙂
    Seriously hysterical post.

  35. denise

    This was hilarious! Whole Foods has lost my business since I learned they support Planned Parenthood 🙁 Too bad–they’ve got great wheat berries.

  36. Sarah @ Basic Ingredients

    I used to have the same sentiments about Whole Foods, I don’t anymore but I don’t shop there much either. It’s REALLY easy to feel like everyone there is judging us for having too many kids, no grocery bags, conventional clothing, and the like. People judge and we simply cannot avoid that, it’s sin! (I judge people!) On the other hand I have to defend those who were working there, shopping there and driving that Lexus. We are a growing family who shops at grocery stores like Whole Foods, farmer’s markets and Food Coops. Some people do it because it’s a “status” thing and you are not cool if you don’t have the money to do it. BUT, I would have to say MOST people who shop and work at places like Whole Foods are very well intentioned. They care about their bodies, they care about God’s earth, and they like shopping with and supporting like minded people. I have never met more wonderful secular people than those who work at the local health food stores. Grant it, I don’t go in there for the cookies, we really can’t afford them. (as you know!) We go in there for the discount produce bin, bulk foods and the occasional deal buster. I have often found that people aren’t judging me with my little one’s either, (even when they grab things off the shelf) they are just too shy (or simply don’t know what to do) when it comes to someone with kids. Most people these days do not live with or have even held a child. (Very unfortunately!!) Not to judge YOU for not wanting to be there, it can be EXTREMELY intimidating in every way and I have felt the same. When I walk into the seemingly snotty stores I have to tell myself to be confident with who I am, be ok with my kids misbehaving (because they always do!) and realize that the people there are searching for the truth as well. 🙂 Most of the time it goes well, but a lot of times I am stared at, frowned upon and sometimes ignored. But that’s ok! Because I walk out with all the “bad” organic produce for really cheap, the soup bones being sold as dog food and a smile on my face knowing that I am trying my best to keep my family free from all our grandparent and parent’s health problems. God bless you for going in there!

  37. Michelle

    This reminded me of the time my oldest was four and my next two were 2 and 1 with one on the way. It was after church and I had to stop by our local health food store for some specialty item. Of course it was packed! As we were checking out, my chatty four year old was hamming it up with the check-out person. As we’re standing in the doorway leaving, she turns and says to the clerk (and the four lines of people waiting to check out), “And, since I was good in Mass, I get to go home and drink Dr. Pepper and watch a movie!” I prayed right there and then for Armageddon.

  38. WSquared

    I just about died when I read your husband’s comments re the soy bacon! XD

  39. Mahoffman

    Too funny! You don’t need to invent it, do you?!

  40. amy

    Oh my goodness! So funny!!!

  41. Lorelei

    Hilarious and awful all at once. Sometimes when walking through Whole Foods (my primary food source most days) I get tempted by the gorgeous looking desserts. I usually end up buying my own ingredients or using what I have at home to make my own. $4 for one brownie? Come on.

  42. Teresa Grodi

    I laughed out loud reading your 5th paragraph and woke the sleeping baby on my lap. Thanks, Jen.


  43. Lisa-Jo Baker (@lisajobaker)

    WEEPING WITH HYSTERICAL LAUGHTER. Treating myself to catching up on your “best of” posts during my late night “I refuse to quit the quiet” binges….

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