Amazon’s planned purchase of high end grocery chain Whole Foods introduces a lot of questions - many of them around technology, delivery, and the future of retail. It’s also a time to consider what, exactly, the Whole Foods value proposition is. After all, we’re told that Whole Foods seeks the finest organic food, but not all their customers have been fully satisfied with what they get in return for their dollars.
By and large, when folks pay more for food, they want it to taste better. Whatever labels we read about sustainability or endorsements about health, the thing that we always can judge for ourselves is how good a food tastes. And many people claim that organic, whatever its other virtues, does taste better.
Others disagree, and the science is mixed.
Studies show that some organic foods can have a different flavor, due to factors like how plants respond to environmental stress, but often differences are subtle and may fade away in the face of other factors like long transportation to reach stores. Plus, some organic ingredients go into processed foods in small quantities where they add almost no distinct flavor at all.
The practical implications of organic flavor appeared in a recent Washington Post investigation of mislabeled food imports. Shipments started out conventional, yet somewhere in the paper trail received an organic label. It was a multi-million dollar fraud, made possible because that label provided the only way for shoppers to know they were eating organic - they couldn’t taste a difference for themselves.
We didn’t have to move this far away from using our senses to know our food. In Vermont, organic certifiers provide truthful labeling while also supporting a better consumer experience. They encourage local organic food, eaten at the peak of flavor, or plant varieties that prize flavor over the ability to withstand cross-country transportation, or home gardeners who grow the freshest food possible in exactly the varieties they want. It’s reasonable to expect food produced in a thoughtful, sustainable way to offer pleasure that goes beyond reading the fine print on a certification label.
All of which brings us back around to the idea that the simplest reason to buy premium foods is because they taste better - and when they don’t, that’s a problem. This concept doesn’t take away from our loftier ideals - it supports them. And who doesn’t want food to be delicious?