Whole Stupid

For tonight, a rumination on some old news. You may recall that a few weeks ago, Whole Foods announced that it would no longer carry any live lobster and crabs at its fish counters. The reason given for this new policy was that Whole Foods had painstakingly studied every aspect of the live shellfish supply chain, and they decided that it was inhumane.

This is exactly the sort of pudding-brained ethics that makes me glad that there is a Trader Joe’s coming to town. At least when they open, I’ll be able to find high quality food items without this sort of patronizing bullshit. There are reasons you might not want to carry live shellfish far away from their natural homes. Maybe such shipping is expensive and therefore you lose too much margin to make it profitable. Maybe sending the stuff half way across the continent puts too much stress on the supply. Maybe they they don’t sell enough of the fish outside the local markets to make the enterprise worthwhile. I could understand all of these reasons. But, the supply chain is inhumane?

Let’s consider the supply chain for beef. Beef shows up at the store dead. That seems worse. The lobster are also better treated than the poor eel in Japan, where a traditional preparation is to take a live eel and nail it to the cutting board through its skull so that it stays still while you skin it.

Also consider that Whole Foods has no trouble foisting these horrific fake meat products like Tempeh and “I Can’t Believe That’s not a Thanksgiving Turkey” on an unsuspecting public. That’s cruelty on the highest order not only to the poor soy proteins, but also to the poor saps who buy the stuff.

Whole Foods plays a tricky game. They sell more than the product. They also sell the idea that you are a better person for buying the product in their store. But Whole Foods has a large national food distribution network and as such it has many of the same problems as any store that uses a large national food distribution network. The only difference is that part of their sales pitch is that they do not have these problems, and that’s not really true.

I think a more truthful picture is that Whole Foods is a high margin retail outlet that brings stuff in from wherever they can get it to your home so you don’t have to live in California to get that stuff year ‘round. There is nothing wrong with this, but it’s a bit disingenuous to do this while preaching the gospel of local food products.

As for me, I’m just sad that I’m losing the last place in Pittsburgh that will sell me an actual live soft-shell crab. I always felt a bit guilty for eating Blue Crabs way out here, far away from where they are fished. But they are tasty enough that once or twice a year didn’t seem like much of a sin. Maybe I’ll call up our old fish guy Tom Robinson in North Carolina and see if he’d ship me a few on ice.