Whole Foods is mostly selling nonsense and woo -- the idea that "organic" is better than regular, that "free range" means something, and that "Genetically Modified" is bad and non-GMO is good.
This is complete poppycock on every front, and the sales job only works because the customer base is largely ignorant about both food and farms. Posturing has replaced actual science and research.
Look at the small "red seedless watermelons" sign at top. Whole Foods does not tell us these cultivars are mutants first created by subjecting seeds to radiation and chemicals, same as so many other types of "seedless" produce are created. Does this fact make the watermelon "bad"? Why? And if not, why is GMO food different?
And what are we to make of the incredible genetic manipulation that took an ugly weed and made from it cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, and kohlrabi? Is this too "science gone mad"?
In another aisle, we find eggs being sold for $7.49 a dozen. Why? These eggs taste exactly the same as those that sell for $2 a dozen or half again less than that.
The answer, or course, is the packaging.
Here we are told these eggs come from "Girls on Grass" who are "Free to Forage."
These are wonderful slogans designed to flip political and emotional switches, but do these eggs actually taste different than eggs produced in a regular commercial hen house?
Double-blind research has been done, and the answer is NO.
So what's going on here?
The answer is that the product being purchased is subordinate to the story. People are not buying eggs, they are buying provenance.
Of course this kind of thing happens all the time, and the world of dogs is not immune. As I wrote some years back:
If I show you a battered old straw hat, you might not think it much. But if I tell you that this same hat was once owned by Isaac Bashevis Singer, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, then it’s something entirely different, and quite remarkable. Now the hat has provenance! Instead of being tossed into the trash, this old, yellow hat will be put on a shelf and pointed out to any guest that comes over.
And so it is with dogs.
A “slightly used” cross-bred dog at the pound is a never-mind, but give that animal a decent story, and attach a few fake credentials to it, and suddenly you have a star and a conversation piece!
Ask any decent forger or old-time dog dealer, and they will tell you that the trick to selling a fake provenance is to build on a few small bits of obscure history, always adding a little specificity, but never making the story too over-the-top.
For example, suppose you have a slightly odd-looking terrier cross with prick ears? Perfect.
You can say the dog is a “Scarlett Point Terrier,” named after the Scarlett Point Radar Station on the Isle of Man where they were first bred during World War II.
It seems that when the Chain Home radar stations were first being built around 1939, it was not always easy for the operators to tell the difference between an airplane and a flock or birds. At the Scarlett Point Radar Station, however, there was a young radio operator who noticed that his terrier would sit up and cock his head at about the same time an airplane first appeared on scope. The dog never paid any mind if it was a flock of birds, however. Clearly the dog could hear the airplanes from a great distance! Well, after that all, small prick-eared terriers where acquired and used at all the radar stations ringing Britain. After the war, a few old radar operators bred the dogs and kept the breed alive into the 1970s. The dogs have almost disappeared now, of course, but there are still a very about and, by God, we happen to have one here! A miracle.
Of course to really sell a story like this, you need few documents to support the claim. The good news is that a printed certificate or two from the old “Scarlett Point Terrier Association” can be easily printed out on a computer, with an old manual typewriter used to fill out the form and give it all an air of 1960s authenticity.
In the world of food, the provenance is often invented.
From what I can tell, at least half the foods labeled "approved kosher" are not even covered under kosher law. Kosher bottled water? Gimme a break!
And then there's the store that tells their over-priced chicken as "hormone-free," conveniently leaving off the note that is is actually illegal to give hormones to chickens. ALL chickens are hormone free!
Then there's the packaging that says the food is "100% organic -- no harm to nature."
Nonsense. I have never met an organic farm that does not want every deer and groundhog shot off its property, nor have I met an organic farm that did not cut down trees to plow under the soil.
No farm is "natural," and we might as well start acknowledging it.
How about olive oil and wine? The frauds here are legion; put a little green good coloring in the worst olive oil made, legally sold only for industrial lubrication or lamp oil, and most people will coo over it. As for wines, the greatest experts in the world cannot tell one from another, and often have a hard time even telling the difference between red and white!
And have you seen the packaged goods that are labeled "chemical free"? What does that even mean?
Everything is made of chemicals and that includes apples and oranges as well as cat litter and water.
And what about chickens that are raised "cage free" or "free-range"? Did you know that a chicken can be called "cage free" with less than 1 square foot of space, and that a "free range" bird may have less than 2 square feet and never step outside?
Of course, fraud is thick all over, and why not?
Since the core claims is meaningless, is there really any harm in taking battery-cage eggs and selling them as being produced by "Girls on Grass" who are "Free to Forage"?
Anyone think that might actually be done?
And, of course, the same thing is easily seen in the world of dogs.
A fake provenance, of course, can be cocked up for any dog. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, is there? No, of course not! After all, The Kennel Club’s been doing it since the beginning.
So let’s get on with it. Is the dog in question a Staffie cross? Ah well, it’s not a local Staffie cross is it? No, this is a Portuguese Vinho do Cão, raised for hundreds of years in Portugal and Spain to guard wine cellars on farms, ships and restaurants. The Irish Staffie is actually descended from these dogs, which first washed up in Eire after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.
You have a long-coated shepherd of pedigree unknown? It’s actually a Chien de Couvertur, once used to bust cattle and pigs out of the thick hedgerows of Normandy. The dog was all but lost after Operation Overlord in 1945, but a pair of dogs was embraced as a division mascot by troops landing at Sword Beach. These dogs were later bred by Lord Chancelberry (then Lieutenant Chancelberry) at Falmouth Estate, and the dog you see before you now is descended from those two original dogs. It’s only available now only because a former gardener at the Falmouth Estate has fallen terribly ill.
And so it goes.
Massive fortunes are being made by people selling "grain free" dog food that is the same stuff sold all over, and by others claiming their food is made in a "kitchen" when it is actually made in a factory several time zones away.
There is big business to be made in selling woo and contrived provenance to the gullibles, and in making people feel better about themselves by charging them twice as much for the privilege.
No skin off my nose when it is done, but pardon me if I hold on to my wallet and stay out of the aisles at Whole Foods.