There are signs everywhere.

Many of you know my “Eat Pray Love” story.

I have a habit of ignoring all signs that point me in a certain direction until they become so numerous that I say in exasperation, “Okay, fine!”

In the summer of 2007, I was fed up with my job, my city, life in general. Someone I know had read a little book called Eat Pray Love and raved about it …  then Oprah did a show on it … I saw an online ad on Facebook … there was a review in People. It was the beach read of the year. I’m sure I was thinking, “yeah, interesting,” but I went about my business.

Then one day I was shopping in the Barnes & Noble on 66th Street. I don’t even remember what I was buying, but I was in a hurry. As I made my way up to the checkout line, I turned around … and there was a full-wall display of Eat Pray Love.

Okay, fine.

My friend Julie always says that books find you when you need to read them. Luckily, I bought that book, and it inspired me to make a real change in my life.

I had the same experience with “Outliers.” In a week, someone posted about it on Facebook, Chelsea Handler mentioned it on her show and my coworker referenced stories in the book during one of our conversations. I told that coworker the EPL story and promised that I would buy Outliers if one more person mentioned it to me.

Within the hour, I received an email from a friend … about Outliers. I kid you not.

So, resignedly, I went out and bought the book. I’ll confess that I haven’t been able to actually sit down and read it yet. But I bought it, so that should count.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. Caroline and I were magazine shopping in the airport before our Australia flight. You know I have a nearly undying love for Trader Joe’s, so its logo jumped out at me from the cover of this month’s Fortune, an article entitled “Inside the secret world of Trader Joe’s.” Ooooh.

I picked up the issue and skimmed the first paragraphs, which included revelations that Trader Joe’s isn’t the independent grocery its customers would like it to be or even that it portrays itself to be. It’s actually owned by a German conglomerate that also operates the Aldi chain. For some reason, I was disturbed and just put the magazine back on the stand. I didn’t want to burst my loyal Trader Joe’s bubble!

Then, last night in my management class, my professor walked in with a stack of the same Fortune issue! Sheesh, okay, I will read it. It’s in my bag, and sometime over the weekend I guess I’ll bring myself to digest all of its revelations. Sigh. Once again I am resigned to the signs.

I wondered why I was so hesitant to read a full exposé about Trader Joe’s, and I think it’s all wrapped up in my feelings about the importance of organic food, limiting our toxic exposure, corporate social and environmental responsibility and a general skepticism about big business. (Yes, I recognize the disconnect between those statements and the fact that I’m in business school.)

I see a real seachange happening in my generation, one that’s at least partially reflected in the growing popularity of groceries like Trader Joe’s. We’re a little bit anti-establishment, but not militantly so. In the food world, we desire to move back towards growing, raising and preparing our food with care. We realize that mega-corporations have a little too much control and influence, and their decisions are not always in our best interests. (Sidebar: if you haven’t yet seen Food, Inc., run, don’t walk to it.)

Living in NYC, I became a food purist. Mostly because I ate in great restaurants that wouldn’t survive if they served anything sub-par. I ate fresh-baked cookies made with real butter and sampled from the international food bars at Whole Foods. I had ready access to Fairway‘s fresh produce, bread and home label items. I walked the exterior aisles of the grocery like you’re supposed to, but in a pinch FreshDirect delivered right to my door.

After several years of eating that way, I tasted a Girl Scout cookie. Ick. The plasticness of fake chocolate is much more apparent when you’re not used to it. And don’t even get me started on grocery store cupcakes. That icing is just Crisco with sugar in it.

Food should taste good, and I believe it does taste better when it’s not bloated with steroids and loaded with chemical preservatives. But there’s still the old quantity vs. quality conundrum in our food system.

That’s not to say that learning about Trader Joe’s ownership is an issue for me, but I certainly shop there because I believe in what I think it stands for: responsibly-sourced, reasonably-priced, environmentally-considerate food with a gourmet flair, delivered with a quirky sensibility that thumbs its nose somewhat at authority.

I’m going to read that article, but I’m sure I’ll still be a fan.


3 thoughts on “There are signs everywhere.

  1. Amen to all above! I love the idea of books coming to you when you need to read them. Just had that recently myself with Helene Hanff. Also, I just ordered “A Greener Life” by Clarissa Dickson-Wright (of Two Fat Ladies fame) – she has some really witty insight into eating greener.

    Oh, and they’re opening a Trader Joe’s two blocks down from the west 70’s Fairway! My two favorite markets right together. I shall attempt to ignore Forbes. 😉

  2. John says:

    Hi Whitney, cool blog…

    I worked for Trader Joe’s in high school in LA… it was more of a wine and cheese place then, not overly pushing the healthy aspects of food. It should have stayed in that genre, I think. I did like bagging the dried apricots, though, a free meal!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s