In 2015, Whole Foods Market earned $536 million in net profits. By late 2016, the natural foods behemoth operated more than 450 stores. But in the summer of 2017, Amazon purchased the company for a whopping $13.7 billion. Now the organic supermarket pioneer is owned by one of the most brutally efficient and standardized retailers in the world, a corporation with a relentless focus on selling things cheaper and faster. Whole Foods has forever changed the natural foods business in the United States. But how did all this happen? The company launched in 1980 in Austin, Texas, in a very different time and place for natural foods than today’s Seattle where Amazon is based. Austin had carried the unofficial title of countercultural and progressive…

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If health-conscious people were to choose between diets recommending natural or processed food products, which would they choose? The language of dietary advice today is dominated by notions of nature, organic farming, and organic products. It seems that such labels are very appealing to people wanting to live more healthy lifestyles. Only 40 years ago, however, health experts and dietitians in the Polish People’s Republic used a far different language to convince their beneficiaries to eat certain foods. It was the language of science, industry and technology. Embracing Technology In 1970s media discourse, the word “natural” was hardly ever used; both in cookbooks and women’s magazines. It was obvious then that vegetables, fruit, mushrooms and milk were all-natural. What seemed…

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After 55 years as Weight Watchers, in April of 2018 the company unveiled a new name—“WW”—and new approach to commercialized dieting. CEO Mindy Grossman proclaimed that “healthy is the new skinny, and that’s very empowering for people.” Shifting from a focus on losing weight, she told Forbes Magazine that the company’s goal was “to help people be the healthiest version of themselves” and to “inspire health habits for […] communities.” WW’s swerve to “wellness” was critiqued by members of the Health At Every Size movement, including nutritionists who worry that this new veneer of wellness hides the same damaging attitudes about food and body size. Vincci Tsui, a HAES-focused registered dietician tweeted that “the diet industry is listening, but instead…

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The heated debate on the European “Nutella divide” that hit the news in 2017 only corroborated long-established East European beliefs: After the fall of the Socialist regimes, people did not get the much longed-for western quality products. Instead, substandard goods were shipped eastwards: Adidas trainers that would not sell, Swiss knives with dull blades, expired foods with new sell-by dates. Finally there was official proof that in the East, Nutella was less creamy (smooth), Coca Cola tasted flatter and fish fingers held less fish. The offended Visegrad states complained that they were abused as European dumping ground. The manufacturers first attributed this to adjusting recipes to regional taste preferences, and also – after some probing – to lower spending power.…

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Women at the Butcher’s The German weekly newsreel, the Ufa-Wochenschau, opened their program on 23 November, 1962 with a sequence from a West German butcher’s shop, portraying a group of women shopping. Examining the meat at display, they all shook their heads expressing their dissatisfaction with what was available: “That’s too fat! No thanks, that’s too fat!“ they chorused, shaking their heads. Their voices marked an ultimate turning point in the relationship between food and health in modern German history. For the first time changes in the labor market and the growth of prosperity led to worries about excess in society as a whole in the 1960s, instead of the previously known worries about scarcity. Less physical work, less need…

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