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Whole Foods Picnic

Despite a bounty of vegan and vegetarian take-out dishes at Whole Foods' Hyde Square store, I won't return anytime soon.

I don’t shop at . For one thing, I live on the other side of JP in the area that Realtors and almost no one else calls “Parkside.” But there’s more to it than that.

During the height of the controversy, as a freelance writer I was sometimes assigned to cover the emotional topic here on JP Patch, and I felt obliged to retain an objective viewpoint. At the risk of stirring the pot now that the heated debate has simmered down, I hope you won't object if I offer a little food for thought. 

From my perspective, both sides had validity.  With some exceptions it was in many ways a classic class war, a case of the haves vs. the have-nots.

Homeowners and those with disposable incomes largely came in on the side of the pretty pricey grocery and felt that its opening would help to revive Hyde Square, the site of too many vacant storefronts.  Renters and sometimes less well-heeled residents legitimately feared that the supermarket would fuel the community’s gentrification and result in displacement. There were, of course, cultural issues and concerns about sustaining JP’s diversity since Whole Foods was to replace Hi-Lo, a landmark Latino grocery that had been in operation for nearly half a century.

Others expressed opposition to the opening of a chain store here in a neighborhood largely dominated by small, independent businesses.  Pro or con, you had to laugh at the brilliant parody "Whole Foods Parking Lot" by DJ Dave, who later and somewhat incongruously went on to do ads for automaker Hyundai.

During this time, I more or less subscribed to a kind of free market fatalism.  After all, no one had forced Hi-Lo to sell the property, and I was pretty sure that short of a strip club or cock fighting pit, the new owners would be given the authority to build whatever they liked.  

My stance on the subject was largely formed when Whole Foods held its one and only .  The now legendary food fight, as you may remember, was held with a heavy-handed police presence, and protestors’ signs were seized, actions more reminiscent of the PRC than our liberal, leafy little urban village.   After that, I resolved that it was just as easy for me to pick up my groceries at , , or , stores that as far as I know had never violated anyone’s First Amendment rights. 

Now, as Whole Foods seeks to add 38 seats for eat-in dining, , I decided, for the purposes of this column, to lift my unofficial embargo, at least for a day, and invited several friends to rendezvous with me for a Whole Foods picnic.

There’s a bounty of both vegan and vegetarian take-out dishes available at its deli counter.  Shoppers can select from a wide array of freshly made sandwiches, pizza, salads and other prepared meals.  If you’re having a hard time deciding, you can ask one of the helpful and friendly workers for a free sample so you can try before you buy.

For our veg-fest, we finally settled on the Vegetarian Pad Thai, Pineapple Quinoa Stir Fry, Chick Pea Salad, Garlic Green Beans, Sautéed Spinach with Garlic, and Curried Tofu.  (All priced at $7.99 per pound.)  We also chose Vegetable Spring Rolls ($1.25 each) and a Vegetarian Panini $5.99). 

On a gorgeous evening at a hilltop overlooking , my companions, Douglas Wolcik, Sara Riegler, Richard Villavicencio, all of JP and Maggie Dolan of Brighton, enjoyed our al fresco feast. 

There was unanimity that the freshly grilled Mozzarella and Tomato Panini was delicious. 

Douglas observed that some other dishes like the Curried Tofu and Spring Rolls would also have been tastier if they had been warmed.

Sara remarked, “The simpler dishes like the spinach and green beans were the best by far.” 

Maggie agreed with Sara’s assessment and also preferred the less
complicated dishes.  Containing chickpeas, red pepper, cucumber, spinach, onions, tomatoes and red cabbage, she stated, “The Chickpea Salad was flavorless.  There’s no spark.  And,” she noted, “the same for the Quinoa,” which was made with pineapple, cashews, peas and red peppers, tamari, rice vinegar, cilantro, ginger, onion, mint, basil and jalapeno.

Fundamentally, I shared my friends’ opinions.  Despite some successes, overall, the food was hit or miss, and I concurred with Maggie and Sara that less was definitely more. 

Perhaps it's not fair to compare Whole Foods' prepared dishes with restaurant fare - but at around $8 per pound for most items, I'd probably opt to go to or where you can get a freshly made burrito or sandwich for about the same price. 

Despite plenty of untried and delicious sounding dishes like Artichoke Rice and Zucchini Parmesan, I probably won't return to Whole Foods anytime soon. 

I can’t, however, wait to devour a planned study by the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy at UMass-Boston, which will examine the impact of Whole Foods on gentrification in Jamaica Plain, and holds the potential to finally illuminate the opinionated matter with facts.

[Editor's note: This column originally stated Whole Foods in JP doesn't have a salad bar. It does.]

Rich P May 15, 2012 at 05:08 PM
This article doesn't say anything. Seems like a huge waste of Patch space. I'm rather surprised it was published when there are so many other stories about how Whole Foods has profoundly benefited the 37,400 residents of JP. I am sure I speak for 1,000's who are beyond tired of seeing the acrimonious rants from people outside Hyde sq. We are way overdue for seeing articles, several of them, about the layers of benefits that Whole Foods has brought to us. Where IS the Patch article that considers the incredible success of Whole Foods from the personal ( not imagined from outside Hyde sq) words of actual Whole Foods employees, many of whom worked at and despised HiLo> I'd like to see just one real actual sampling from Hyde sq residents from ALL walks of life, including such people as Claudio Martinez, the youths who are enjoying their 1st tastes of working to help their parents out a bit perhaps. All of the politicians, who I dare say have either done a complete 180 or in 'no comment' mode since saying anything negative at this point would surely sink any re-election prospects. 100 jobs at one of the world's most desirable employers - $10's of $1,000's in donations to more local charities than I can count now, $100,000's in sales, income and real estate taxes that the city of Boston , the state of Massachusetts and the federal government surely are very happy to levy on the powerful economic engine that Whole Foods is for all of us. Chris, where are those articles?
Maura May 15, 2012 at 05:22 PM
If I never see another article in the Patch about WFM, I'll be just as happy as if I were to see a positive one.
Derryl May 15, 2012 at 06:26 PM
There has been a salad bar since day one so guess you missed an aisle. There are three kinds of lettuce, shredded carrots, sliced cucumber, tomatoes, cooked veggies like broccoli, lots more....and a variety of salad dressings.
Chris Helms (Editor) May 15, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Good catch, Derryl. I thought that read a bit odd when I was copyediting it. I've added an editor's note to the piece.
gretchen van ness May 15, 2012 at 08:23 PM
On Saturday, April 28th, I participated in Boston Shines in Hyde Square, along with other Board members from Hyde/Jackson Square Main Street. The kids from Hyde Square Task Force were there. Jeffrey Sanchez was there. Julieanne Doherty was there, and everywhere, as usual. Several of my neighbors from Cranston St. and a few other individuals from the neighborhood also were there. And just one -- one -- business showed up, without even being asked. A great group of Whole Foods employees brought cases of water for the volunteers, then turned their attention to cleaning up, weeding, and planting the Hyde Square rotary. All the plants were donated by the Market. There was no press release. There was no publicity at all. Just neighbors working alongside neighbors. Rich is right. There are all kinds of stories that could be written about the JP Whole Foods.
Derryl May 15, 2012 at 09:27 PM
Actually, James, if you were standing looking at the prepared foods section, the salad bar was right behind you.
James Morgan May 16, 2012 at 11:21 AM
Thanks, everyone. I don't know how I managed to miss the salad bar. Time for a trip to the optometrist.
Michael May 16, 2012 at 12:21 PM
For the record: Before Hi-Lo became an "iconic" Latino grocer, it was a Sklar's Market, the family who designed and built the distinctive structure. They were a Jewish owned market that served JP when the area was working class Irish. When the Sklar's decided to close their four stores in JP, Brookline and I believe Newton, the building was sold to the company that owned an operated Hi-Lo. So much for "iconic". Hi-Lo was simply a point on the continuum. Change happens. As far as high cost prepared foods go, yeah. Duh. It's always less expensive to buy (literally) raw materials. And Whole Foods offers many reasonably priced 365 brand foods that compete well with the other big chains, and crush Harvest and especially City Feed on price.
Michael May 16, 2012 at 12:30 PM
Sorry, "Landmark". An interchangeable superlative.
Helen Matthews May 16, 2012 at 05:18 PM
From one person who would much rather eat at local restaurants than Whole Foods to another, thanks for expressing your point of view. You certainly have followed the issue play-by-play. I appreciate your wisdom and honesty. And yes, the heavy police presence at the company's one public community meeting was frightening and revealing of its approach to our neighborhood. Thanks again for your thoughts.
klwarns May 16, 2012 at 06:50 PM
You're pulling in all these stats from the company as a whole, not specifically to the Hyde Square location. Where are these facts?
Sarah Lydon May 16, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Am I the only one who doesn't see much of a competition between Whole Foods and "local restaurants?" Whole Foods is a grocery chain, not a restaurant. I wouldn't go to Ten Tables or El Oriental for picnic fare and I wouldnt go to Whole Foods for dinner out. The notion that this is an unbiased review is pretty well undercut by the author's own comments throughout, not to mention the bits of plain misinformation and hyperbole. Frankly I'd be much happier with a vegetarian review sans editorializing.
Bob from JP May 16, 2012 at 11:00 PM
What were you expecting Sarah? Most JP Patch reporting is tinged with the editor's political and social philosophy..... he's transparent about it but it remains true.....
Matt May 16, 2012 at 11:29 PM
Amen. Also - I noticed whosefoods.org no longer exists. Random fun fact.
JNieves May 17, 2012 at 11:54 AM
Nice piece, James! Very measured and personal. I won't shop there either. The strong arm methods of the police showed the way that corporations have more rights than people. The UMass study will probably tell us what we already know - JP is getting whiter and richer. But maybe it will also inform us to what extent WF is responsible. And I never caught the "WF Parking Lot" video before. LOL. Muchas gracias.
Matt May 17, 2012 at 12:14 PM
While it's amusing to see those who give themselves a pat on the back for not shopping at Whole Foods, I don't really care either way and I'm sure WF isn't hurting from your lack of business. I see that we look back at the police presence at the Whole Foods meeting attempt as this horrible massacre - I don't remember it playing out that way. I don't think our rights were taken away, nor were people beaten or gassed. I believe it was more like those who were disruptive were removed. It was also because of those people - we didn't get the full benefit of a community discussion with WF, so if anything my rights as an audience member to learn and participate were taken away. I'm glad we don't hear from Whose Foods anymore. Looking back, the whole thing was ridiculous. I also agree that it's strange to write an article about a grocery store as though it were a restaurant. I get that they're looking for seating, etc, but... it still doesn't make sense. Also, there are many meat dishes that I've tried and loved from WF (just in case other carnivores out there were wondering). Either way, I don't think most people go there to have a restaurant experience. If that were the case, we should also review Stop & Shop, Harvest, CityFeed, etc. I'd love to have seen the reviews for HiLo's freshly prepared food offerings... maybe that information would help with this "UMass Study."
gretchen van ness May 17, 2012 at 10:10 PM
Thanks, Matt. Couldn't have said it better.
L.J. Hummel May 18, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Maybe a better restaurant review subject would be Blue Nile a half block away so we wouldn't have to read another anti-Whole Foods editorial. GREAT veg options there. And those with concerns about JP gentrification should turn their attention to the two luxury developments proposed for S. Huntington. And to the fact that the JPNDC is abdicating their advocacy role for affordable housing by selling off a building on the Blessed Sacrament site for a market rate development. Housing has far more powerful effects on neighborhood change than supermarkets. Development is an agent of change while retail concerns tend to reap what that change sows.
Chris May 18, 2012 at 09:03 PM
It was a dubious editorial decision to publish a rant (the write complains about gentrification then says he'll go to Cityfeed next time, says the UMass study will “finally illuminate the opinionated matter with facts”) followed by an uninformed review (he didn't see the salad bar? and they still ran his piece about buying vegetarian at WF?). But Chris Helms has, if anything, tipped his hand that he's fed up with the tone and arguments of the Whole Foods crowd (if three's a crowd). The decidedly anti-WF propaganda has come largely from giving peoples' positions on things in articles while allowing letters to the editor. If I were an editor trying to take down Whole Foods I probably wouldn't choose articles about Whole Foods to run surveys that show readers overwhelmingly wanted the store, thought Whose Foods was bogus etc.
Karla Vallance May 19, 2012 at 03:05 AM
I agree that at first it seemed a little odd that Jim Morgan compared Whole Foods offerings with restaurant fare in the review; still, grocery store prepared foods *are* a viable alternative to restaurant dining, so the review seems useful to me. And while I may not personally agree with James's dislike of Whole Foods — I happen to be glad it's in town — a review is the perfect place for such opinions. Reviews are not intended to be straight news stories; by their very definition they have a viewpoint. At the same time, it's also great to have views in the comment section, including from readers who aren't as sour on WF as Jim is.

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