Editor's Note: We love Whole Foods at Refinery29 — it's frequently our go-to lunch destination. And we were thrilled to see the grocery store's plan to offer more affordable prices. But after one of our coworkers shared a photo of $27-dollar infused water, we couldn't help but wonder: How quickly can you spend a grand at Whole Foods? So we sent our intrepid reporter Jonathan Parks-Ramage to find out. For the record, we did not actually give him $1,000 to spend at Whole Foods. We cannot confirm or deny that he went home with some of the items mentioned in this story. Whole Foods? More like Troll Foods. At one time or another, we’ve all been trolled by astounding prices at everyone’s favorite financial-black-hole grocery store. Which is why, when given a chance by the editorial staff at R29 to turn the tables and have a little fun at Whole Foods' expense, I jumped at the opportunity. It was time to give the organic behemoth a taste of its own $89 homeopathic medicine. My assignment: Spend $1,000 on as few items as possible at Whole Foods. Something light, funny, frothy. Yet the more I thought on it, the more I realized the gravity of my mission. It was time to right the wrongs of all the overpriced lunches, the $30 juices, and the burden of goji berries. (Why are we supposed to eat them, again?) I needed to go big, or go home. Which is why I selected the veritable Death Star of health food: Whole Foods Pasadena. It’s the largest Whole Foods in L.A., with two epic floors connected by escalators, an in-store restaurant/bar, and enough raw almonds to bury the population of Delaware. And so, I went forth with the winds of justice on my back: ready to Dance Like No One’s Watching and Shop Like Gwyneth Paltrow. The following is a chronicle of my journey to spend $1k on as few items as possible at Whole Foods. I knew this was not gonna be hard, but nothing could ever prepare me for just how NOT HARD it was.
My first mission was to infiltrate the bulk foods section, which is perhaps the most dangerous area in the store. An extra scoop of locally sourced flax seed could be all that stands between you and bankruptcy. The first item I encountered here was a container marked wild blueberries (dried and sweetened): $31.99 per pound. I would never pay 32 bucks for a pound of dried and sweetened blueberries, unless “sweetened” means they were flavored by the tears of Jodie Sweetin, in which case I’d maybe get a half pound. Next up: paddy straw mushrooms for $36.99 per pound. Fun fact: a Wikipedia search reveals that Paddy Straw Mushrooms “resemble poisonous death caps, but can be distinguished by their pink spore print... Despite this fact, many people...have been poisoned making this mistake.” In a bizarre twist, I had stumbled upon the rare deal. People often talk about the high cost of dying, but here at Whole Foods, you can do it for $36.99 (per pound).
I continued on my journey, until I was stopped in my tracks by goji berries for $34.99 per pound. Why do people shell out so much cash to eat something which is essentially a waxy pink raisin? Goji berries are like the Kourtney Kardashian of raisins: a less fun version of something which wasn’t fun to begin with. I reached the bin holding pistachio meats (raw) for $26.99 per pound. It was empty. Alert: There is a pistachio-meat thief on the loose in Pasadena. Whoever stole this entire bin of nuts should go straight to prison (and help Whole Foods restock its goat cheese). I had just about all the big-ticket bulk food I could take; it was time to move on. That’s when I discovered this “Chill Set” cooler and tote bags set for $59.95. One thing was clear: this “Chill Set” had no chill. This cooler is the size of two insulated lunch bags, yet costs 60 bucks. The packaging touted that it came with two FREE plastic tote bags. As if I don’t have a drawer at home filled with unwanted tote bags I got for free. DM me on Twitter @jpramage, and I will GIVE you some. Just please don’t pay money for them; every American has a constitutional right to free totes.
I was worried this tote-bag travesty had worsened my frown lines, so I headed to the beauty department to mooch free samples of anti-aging cream. It was here that I made a shocking discovery: Anne Marie Borlind Beauty Pearls: Anti-Pollution & Moisture Serum for $79.99. This moisturizer is 80 dollars for 1.69 ounces (a.k.a. three tablespoons). Also, I'm unclear as to how a “beauty pearl” moisturizer can be "anti-pollution," but apparently this one is. Rich and concerned with climate change? I had stumbled upon the Al Gore of beauty products. Next up, was the section that rivaled Bulk Foods in sheer price-tag horror: vitamins. First, I grabbed Perfect Prenatal Multi-Vitamin for $59.99 and Every Woman’s One Daily Multi-Vitamin for $69.99: The cost of these vitamins begs the question: Do you want to give yourself 1000% of your daily riboflavin, or do you want to send your kids to college? I started feeling a little overwhelmed when I discover the Bye Bye PMS “Don’t be a Cranky Pants!” dietary supplement that rings up at $49.99. These $50 PMS pills are clearly placed at the end of the vitamin aisle to convince you that it’s your period that’s making you pissy, and not the 200 bones you just dropped on Vitamin C. And I love the vintage misogyny at play in the marketing here: “Don’t Be a Cranky Pants” is something you say to a screaming toddler, not a grown woman who can afford Kanye tickets. Under the $84.99 price tag for Green Vibrance + 25 billion probiotics, there was a label reading “everyday low price.” Whose day are we talking about here? Gwyneth Paltrow’s? Side note: 25 BILLION probiotics is a horrifying amount of probiotics.
Okay, time for a hot bro break. A word to the wise: If you’re in an L.A.-based Whole Foods and feeling overwhelmed, you might want to head over to the Kombucha section for some eye candy. In Southern California, there is a very odd subset of hot bros who are OBSESSED with brewing/consuming Kombucha. I call this type the "Kom-BRO-cha." The average Kom-BRO-cha can often be seen wearing a muscle tank, knit cap, and sporting a lumbersexual beard. WARNING: Kom-BRO-chas are not to be approached. Nothing can kill a Kom-BRO-cha crush faster than an extended mansplain on the fermentation process of mushrooms. Seriously, I’ve had this conversation before, and it’s a half-hour of my life I’ll never get back.
After my much needed break, I realized I’d made a significant oversight: It was time to visit Whole Foods’ pet aisle — the one place where you can buy cage-free food for your caged animal, including venison nuggets for cats for $36.99. The only time I'm spending 37 smackers on venison is if someone from Top Chef prepared it. So unless Padma Lakshmi started a cat food line that no one told me about, I’ll respectfully stick to Meow Mix. And speaking of burning your entire paycheck on a mammal that can’t verbally thank you, I had to pick up some cage-free turkey dog good for $92.99. That’s right, the most expensive non-bulk item I could find was for dogs. Of course, it wasn't the most expensive item in the store. That title was reserved for a $189 turntable.
What was a turntable (ahem, five-in-one entertainment center) doing for sale at a Whole Foods? You’ll have to ask the team of well-paid executives who were likely behind this decision. I like to imagine the conversation happened in a boardroom over mason jars of Chad’s homebrewed Kombucha, and went a little something like this: Chad: “You know what would really take Whole Foods Pasadena to the next level, brah?” Jeff: “A place where depressed marketing executives can relive their crushed music dreams by impulsively buying a $189 turntable that will sit unused in their furnished basement for years to come?” Chad: “You read my mind, bro.” Jeff: “By the way, Chad, your Kombucha is crushing it today.” [And they close the scene with a Kom-BRO-cha high five.
But what to play on your new turntable? Move over, Spotify, Whole Foods is on the cutting edge of music with a Dave Matthews Band Remember Two Things vinyl record for $37.99. To be fair, I do actually think there is room in our culture for the intersection of music and food. I’ve always held the belief that Beyoncé should start a line of honey called “If I Were a Bee.” I would pay big bucks for that. But I will not pay $55.99 for 100% raw manuka honey. With just 15 items in my cart, I was close to my goal of $1,000, but still falling short. And that’s when I stumbled upon Villa Manodori balsamic for $46.99. I don’t know about you, but I like to make my salad dressings with drops of liquid gold. Thanks, Villa Manodori! And with that, my grand total had reached $995.81. I still desperately needed a $5 purchase to take me over the $1k mark.
And that’s when the universe sent me this $5.00 Town & Country magazine featuring an article about Uma Thurman’s “Rhino Rescue Miracle.” As it turns out, Uma is legit killing it on the rhino-activism front. And by “it,” I mean my desire to wear anything other than chic safari gear for the rest of my life. In all seriousness, she’s truly working hard to promote awareness of the senseless poaching of endangered animals. But not as hard as she’s werking that rhino smize. With Uma tipping my total to $1,000.81, I had officially achieved my goal. I had spent my allotted budget on a mere 17 items. It was a harrowing journey, dear reader. But I did it for you, for justice, and for all the times your lunch bill was higher than the Gross National Product of Argentina.