Recently Amazon purchased Whole Foods for $13.4 Billion and Wall Street was so thrilled with the event that the increase in valuation of Amazon stock exceeded the price paid to acquire Whole Foods. In essence, Amazon got Whole Foods for FREE!
Jonathan Kauffman is a James Beard Award-winning staff writer at the San Francisco Chronicle. He has served as the restaurant critic at the East Bay Express, Seattle Weekly and San Francisco Magazine. He is a foodie writer who lives in San Francisco making him the perfect choice to tell us the tale of Hippie Food.
For the first 250 years of American history, EVERYONE ate hippie food! In the meat category, you either shot or trapped an animal, skinned it, then cooked it. Plants were much the same. Pick it and eat it.
With urbanization began the distancing of people from the source of their food. Plants, meats, and fish were brought to the market for purchase by savvy shoppers. It was easy then to select good food because it looked very much like they did when harvested. And if it stunk, you didn’t eat it!
At the market, you knew what you were buying because the food was often purchased whole with greens on top of the carrots, feet still on the chicken, and a face still on the fish. Whole foods, indeed!
During World War II, the need to feed the troops thousands of miles from friendly fields led to the development of processed foods. These highly processed foods, known as “C-rations” could be stored for years without refrigeration and eaten without cooking. If you wanted it warm, simply open the can, and heat over a fire.
This food was notorious for its poor taste and marginal quality. A legacy that has lived on of this type food would be Spam. While many of us have eaten it, and some claim to like it, no one believes that it’s truly good for you.
During World War II, America learned to produce packaged foods that were cheap and convenient. The epitome of post world war consumer food was the “TV dinner”. And so began the decline of the American diet and health. Sitting in front of the TV chowing down on horrible food. How fun!
Packaged industrially engineered foods were becoming common place in supermarkets. They had long shelf lives thanks to more than 400 new food additives that were developed in the 1950’s alone. That number of food additives now numbers in the thousands!
Meanwhile, the counter culture was emerging in California. Partly protest and partly due in great part to California having a year round harvest season, hippies headed to the hills and farms to commune together for love, and the love of a return to nature and natural foods.
The cast of characters that emerged to rebel against the industrial food manufacturers were as colorful as the fruits and nuts that they consumed. Many of their names now line the shelves of natural food stores and some have even gone main stream! Think Braggs Organic Apple Cider Vinegar.
The path to main streaming of natural foods came in 1980 when John Mackey borrowed $45,000 and renovated a ten-thousand-square-foot nightclub. With 19 employees recruited from the “Wheatsville Turnips Food Co-op”, he opened the first Whole Foods in Austin, Texas.
Kaufmann weaves the history of liberal protest, social change, and the pursuit of healthy food that is equal parts politics, economics, and rebellion. It’s like Woodstock meets Walmart! From $45,000 to $13.4 billion, there’s money to be made from feeding people good food that’s good for them.
The happy ending to it all is that today in America you can choose and eat good food, all without needing to join a commune or wearing Birkenstocks to shop!