WBEZ | Whole Foods http://www.wbez.org/tags/whole-foods Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Chicago's shifting grocery landscape mirrors changing city economics http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/chicagos-shifting-grocery-landscape-mirrors-changing-city-economics-110695 <p><p>Once upon a time Jewel and Dominick&rsquo;s ruled the grocery game in Chicago with more stores than any other chain.</p><p>Now, Jewel, under its third new owner in 14 years, is facing stiff competition. And Dominick&rsquo;s? It doesn&rsquo;t exist anymore.</p><p>Today the most ubiquitous chain is a discount grocer that actually grew during the recent recession, attracting everyone from traditional discount shoppers to hipsters to middle-class families.</p><p>Aldi.</p><p>With 36 stores in Chicago alone, we wanted to understand what this says about Chicago&rsquo;s changing grocery store landscape and the shoppers who fill their carts.</p><p>To see what goes into Aldi&rsquo;s &ldquo;secret sauce,&rdquo; we took a trip to the chain&rsquo;s U.S. headquarters in west suburban Batavia.</p><p>Officials led us into a huge white industrial kitchen with tables full of various products. Aldi&rsquo;s main ingredient for success is its use of mostly in-house labels to keep prices down. No Betty Crocker or Cheerios here. But that only works if customers think those brands hold up to the national brands.</p><p>Like their national buyers do, we conducted blind taste testing with national brands and the Aldi brands. We sipped orange juice and Riesling, munched on blueberry muffins and party cheese, sampled yogurt and guacamole. In most instances, we could barely detect a difference between the national brand and Aldi&rsquo;s. Except of course, in price. The Aldi brand orange juice we tried cost 32 percent less.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/alditestkitchen.jpg" title="Aldi's test kitchen in the west suburb of Batavia. (WBEZ/Monica Eng)" /></div><p>The grocery business is super competitive. Profit margins are in the low single digits. So Aldi&rsquo;s other recipe for keeping costs down can be found in the stores themselves. Aldi stores occupy a smaller footprint than other big supermarket chains. You might almost miss it if you&rsquo;re driving by.</p><p>There&rsquo;s no music, no frills. Customers pay a deposit to use the shopping carts. Grocery bags aren&rsquo;t free. Everything is calibrated to be as efficient as possible.</p><p>&ldquo;For example when we look at the product in the store, you can notice it&rsquo;s all stocked in cases. If I didn&rsquo;t point that out, you may not notice it,&rdquo; said Aldi vice president Scott Patton.</p><p>&ldquo;They match the label of the product. They&rsquo;re the same color scheme. It has the brand on it. So we&rsquo;ve made the case and the box an extension of the product, which we can now stock eight to ten units of potato chips in two or three seconds versus unit by unit.&rdquo;</p><p>The rise of a low-end grocer like Aldi isn&rsquo;t the only trend worth noting. More upscale chains like Whole Foods have also seen serious growth. In 2001, there were three in Chicago. Today there are six. And that doesn&rsquo;t include the former Dominick&rsquo;s spaces the organic chain is snapping up.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="400" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="http://cf.datawrapper.de/tOq67/1/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="620"></iframe></p><p>We looked at the data for major Chicago grocery stores since 2001. In addition to Aldi and Whole Foods we tracked the numbers for Jewel, Trader Joe&rsquo;s, Mariano&rsquo;s, Pete&rsquo;s, Tony&rsquo;s, Save a Lot, and Food for Less.</p><blockquote><p><a href="#map"><strong><span style="font-size:16px;">Map: Tracking Chicago&#39;s shifting grocery stores</span></strong></a></p></blockquote><p>Ken Perkins, an analyst for Morningstar, said in some ways changes in the industry reflect changes in the city.</p><p>&ldquo;As the economy has really been difficult you&rsquo;ve seen people on the low end shift to discounters and a lot of people who are willing to pay for premium for in store experience and quality food. I think that polarization is what you&rsquo;ve seen not only in Chicago but across the country,&rdquo; Perkins said.</p><p>University of Illinois at Chicago researchers <a href="http://voorheescenter.wix.com/home#!neighborhood-change-project-/cjew">found much the same thing when they looked at income gaps in Chicago</a>. Higher-income households have increased -- so have lower-income households. But those in the middle have shrunk. Not unlike Jewel and Dominick&#39;s, the middle-of-the-road grocers that served them.</p><p>Food and retail researcher Mari Gallagher has a few theories about what happened to those grocers.</p><p>&ldquo;It used to be that the middle-market was about 30,000 sq ft. It was pretty ubiquitous in different neighborhoods. It might look a little different in Lake Forest than in it did in Roseland, a Chicago neighborhood for example. But it pretty much offered the same kind of cookie cutter thing and then stores got much bigger and as stores got bigger they tried to go a little bit upscale and they struggled with are we an upscale bigger store or are we a middle-market store. So they lost a bit of their identity,&rdquo; Gallagher said.</p><p>She also noted other players have grabbed a big chunk of the grocery business, such as gas stations, mini marts, dollar stores and big-box retailers like Walmart and Costco.</p><p>But customer taste has changed, too. Organic is more popular and, for some, pushing a cart around a grocery store became more of an experience than a chore.</p><p>&ldquo;We see more and more customers now even those customers with means shopping at multiple stores,&rdquo; Gallagher said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not so uncommon for thrifty shopper to go to Aldi or Save A Lot for staples or key items and then go to speciality stores or high-end stores for organic produce. They might go to Whole Foods and Aldi&rsquo;s and two or three other stores.&rdquo;</p><p>Increasingly, that includes Mariano&rsquo;s. The fast-growing chain appears to be reinventing the middle-market grocery store. The stores aren&rsquo;t super premium, but there&rsquo;s also a focus on hospitality. The workers wear black ties, there&rsquo;s a wine bar, and on the weekends somebody playing a grand piano.</p><p>It&rsquo;s CEO, Bob Mariano, once worked for Dominick&rsquo;s. In fact, old man Dominick was his mentor. Company officials declined an interview on its strategy, but a few months ago the CEO spoke at a press conference to announce that a Mariano&rsquo;s was coming to Bronzeville. That neighborhood is a food desert and residents were excited by the idea of having a real grocery store.</p><p>After a round of applause, Mariano said: &ldquo;That&rsquo;s a lot of pressure because I&rsquo;m just a grocer. People sometimes ask me what do I do for pleasure, what&rsquo;s my hobbies? I tell them I don&rsquo;t golf, I don&rsquo;t sail. I just open grocery stores.&rdquo;</p><p>Three years ago there were no Mariano&rsquo;s in the city. Today there are 10 with more opening up all the time.</p><p>In Chicago today there are more grocery stores overall than there were a decade ago. But not everyone is sharing in this abundance. There are still large parts of the South and West Sides that are left out.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/why-does-south-shore-still-not-have-grocery-store-110699">Part two of our series The Check-Out Line</a>, will explore whether race plays a role in determining where grocery stores are built.</em></p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Map: Tracking Chicago&#39;s shifting grocery stores<a name="map"></a></span></p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="660" scrolling="no" src="http://interactive.wbez.org/checkout-line/" width="620"></iframe></p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the&nbsp;</em><strong><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/content/chewing-fat-podcast-louisa-chu-and-monica-eng">Chewing the Fat</a></em></strong><em>&nbsp;podcast. Follow Monica at&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng">@monicaeng</a></em>&nbsp;<em>or write to her at&nbsp;<a href="mailto:meng@wbez.org">meng@wbez.org</a></em></p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/nmoore-0">Natalie Moore</a></em>&nbsp;<em>is WBEZ&rsquo;s South Side bureau reporter.</em>&nbsp;<em><a href="mailto:nmoore@wbez.org">nmoore@wbez.org</a> Follow Natalie on</em>&nbsp;<em><a href="https://plus.google.com/104033432051539426343">Google+</a>, &nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/natalieymoore">Twitter</a></em></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="450" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/playlists/48706770&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;visual=true" width="100%"></iframe></p></p> Mon, 25 Aug 2014 07:58:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/chicagos-shifting-grocery-landscape-mirrors-changing-city-economics-110695 Whole Foods plans to replicate Detroit success in Englewood http://www.wbez.org/sections/food/whole-foods-plans-replicate-detroit-success-englewood-109140 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/flickr_whole foods_SchuminWeb.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">Englewood and Detroit have a lot in common.</p><p dir="ltr">They are both shorthand for black and urban areas, but they also both include middle-class homeowners and a gritty vibrancy.</p><p dir="ltr">Still, they seemed unlikely candidates for the yuppie favorite Whole Foods Market, given high rates of food insecurity, unemployment and poverty.</p><p dir="ltr">Defying expectations, Whole Foods is the first national grocer to open in Detroit &mdash; a city of 700,000 &mdash; in years. The market is in Midtown, a bustling area near Wayne State University and a medical district, but nearby firebombed homes wither on urban prairie.</p><p dir="ltr">At the end of a recent business day, the Detroit Whole Foods parking lot is packed. Inside, customers of all ages and racial backgrounds stroll the aisles.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;One thing that I like that the Whole Foods decor team did was really listen to the community about how they wanted the store to feel aesthetically,&quot; &nbsp;said Store Manager Larry Austin. &quot;They wanted to make sure it felt like Detroit.&quot;</p><p dir="ltr">The 21,000-square-foot store teems with Detroit touches &mdash;&nbsp;vintage Motown records dangle from cash registers and cafe tables are made of car scraps. The store hosts classes on vegan nutrition and disc jockeys spin techno music.</p><p dir="ltr">&quot;The people here are prideful,&quot; said Austin. &quot;They want you to be real and they have expectations.&quot;</p><p dir="ltr">As the chain prepares to open a store at 63rd and Halsted, Englewood residents, movers and shakers can look to the Detroit store as an exmple of what to expect.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">For example, before ground even broke on the Detroit location, residents expressed concern about jobs and transparency. In response, Whole Foods partnered with local nonprofits to hold information sessions on the hiring procecss. Today, 65 percent of the employees are native Detroiters.</p><p dir="ltr">Jobs weren&rsquo;t the only concern. Pricing was, too. Austin says the company listened.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;If you come to Whole Foods Market and you buy artisan cheeses and artisan olive oil, then yeah, your grocery bill is going go climb,&quot; Austin said. &quot;But if you come and shop staples, you shop our groceries, you shop produce [...] you&rsquo;ll see we got bagged apples right now for $2.99 a bag.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Bus driver Eva Turner lives in Detroit and didn&rsquo;t frequent Whole Foods until this store opened. She loads her cart with pita bread, snap peas, apples, chicken gizzards and hummus.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;You can find some good bargains,&quot; she said. &quot;For instance, they had the chicken thighs for $1.29 a pound, which is a good deal &#39;cause if you go to a regular store, that&rsquo;s what you&rsquo;re going to pay but it&rsquo;s kind of fresher here.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The Detroit Whole Foods offers about 150 local products, from granola to alkaline water.</p><p dir="ltr">Nailah Ellis owns the Detriot company Ellis Island Tropical Tea. She says her&nbsp;bold-red hibiscus tea&nbsp;is a family recipe passed down from her great-grandfather, who was the master chef for Marcus Garvey&rsquo;s Black Star Line.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&quot;I&rsquo;m getting ready to also open a production facility in Detroit and once I get that open I&rsquo;ll start creating more flavors and I&rsquo;ll be able to produce more and take on more accounts,&quot; she said. &quot;Whole Foods regional is looking at putting me in the Whole Foods Midwest region.&quot;</p><p dir="ltr">One of the players instrumental in gaining community credibility is holistic expert and Detroit native Versandra Kennebrew. Whole Foods offered free space to holistic providers, Kennebrew was one of them, and they hired her to conduct community outreach.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The grand opening day of Whole Foods Market was a day in history for the company, said Kennebrew. &quot;They sold more produce in one day on the grand opening day than than any store that opened in the history of Whole Foods Market.&quot;</p><p dir="ltr">Whole Foods officials won&rsquo;t release store sales but they say the Detroit location has exceeded expectations. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Like Englewood, the city&rsquo;s reputation elicited sourness when Whole Foods announced its plans.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;People outside view our community [...] think oh you come here I&rsquo;m going to get mugged,&quot; said Carolyn Miller of Ser Metro Detroit, one of the agencies that helped Whole Foods recruit local employees.&nbsp;&quot;[They say] we&rsquo;re just despair. We&rsquo;re not. We have people who want to eat organic food.&quot;</p><p dir="ltr">Khalilah Gaston runs a community development corporation in a neighborhood just north of the Detroit Whole Foods&nbsp;that aims to fight a history of disinvestment. She says Whole Foods has become a model for other projects coming to the neighborhood. The expectation of giving back is higher.</p><p dir="ltr">Still, Whole Foods is not without its critics.</p><p dir="ltr">Urban farmer Greg Willerer is one of them. He owns a city farm dubbed Brother Nature several miles away from the new Whole Foods, one of many new urban farms in the area that provide fresh food to residents.</p><p dir="ltr">He gives Whole Foods props for its strategic campaign, but he questions the $4.2 million in tax incentives the company received from the city.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;There&rsquo;s this climate that Whole Foods is coming into where a lot of public money is being given to major corporations and all of these amazing black-owned businesses and other businesses in the city don&rsquo;t get that kind of help,&quot; Willerer said. &quot;Yet we call that development when a corporation comes in and puts up this brilliantly flashy sexy-looking store.&quot;</p><p dir="ltr">Still, the age old adage retail attracts retail remains. A month after Whole Foods opened, the national chain Meijer cut the ribbon on its first Detroit store.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/nmoore-0" rel="author">Natalie Moore</a> is a WBEZ reporter.&nbsp;</em><em>Follow her on <a href="https://plus.google.com//104033432051539426343" rel="me">Google+</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/natalieymoore">Twitter</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 13 Nov 2013 08:46:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/sections/food/whole-foods-plans-replicate-detroit-success-englewood-109140 Advocates say Whole Foods may struggle to find customers in Englewood http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/advocates-say-whole-foods-may-struggle-find-customers-englewood-108608 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Fresh Moves 1.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><em>(Updated at 3 p.m. with additional comment from Fresh Moves co-founder Steven Casey.)</em></p><p>While many city officials trumpeted the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/high-end-grocer-coming-south-side-food-desert-108600">news</a> of a Whole Foods coming to Englewood, some who&rsquo;ve worked for years to sell fresh produce in the area advise cautious optimism and lots of education.</p><p>They also question the sustainability of a Whole Foods in Englewood barely a week after <a href="http://www.freshmoves.org/">Fresh Moves</a>, a widely touted non-profit that sold produce in the area from converted CTA buses, announced it was shutting down its mobile operations due to lack of funds.</p><p>Until last month, Julian Champion served as executive director of Fresh Moves. He commends Whole Foods&rsquo; commitment to the impoverished neighborhood but warns that they&rsquo;ll need to lay a lot of groundwork before opening in 2016.</p><p>&ldquo;Whole Foods will have to approach this as a social mission unlike many of the other very profitable supermarkets,&rdquo; Champion said. &ldquo;If the mentality going in is that &lsquo;we hope to be profitable but this is a mission&rsquo; then I think they will be able to manage expectations and enjoy some peace. But they also have to be committed to customer creation.&rdquo;</p><p>Creating customers, let alone finding them, proved to be a challenge for Fresh Moves despite a unique model that addressed accessibility issues by taking the fresh produce directly to the customer. Champion said the Fresh Moves mobile produce buses were losing about $300 a day, which created an unsustainable drag on their bottom line. He says that pressure will be even greater for a company like Whole Foods. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;From my experience there are people who will appreciate what Whole Food does and brings,&rdquo; Champion said, &ldquo;but it&rsquo;s not going to be a critical mass, and so they will have to be committed to creating these people who understand what they are doing and appreciate the presence of the store.&rdquo;</p><p>Last week, in a newsletter to supporters announcing the shutdown of mobile operations, Fresh Moves co-founder Steven Casey said the organization was &ldquo;facing the headwinds of a dynamic environment of rising costs, legislative uncertainty and challenging resource allocations on a local, state and federal levels.&rdquo;</p><p>Casey says that the Board hopes to find new partners and relaunch in the future but there is no firm date on when that might happen. He confirmed that Fresh Moves drivers have been laid off and the converted buses are lying dormant.&nbsp;</p><p>Which raises the question: if a non-profit offering affordable non-organic produce can&rsquo;t make it in Englewood, what chance does Whole Foods&rsquo; higher-priced organic offerings stand?</p><p>&ldquo;Their price point for organic and locally grown quality fruits and vegetables can be pricey but they will have to find a way to subsidize that so that it will be accessible to the residents of the community,&rdquo; Champion said.</p><p>Sonya Harper is the outreach manager at Growing Home a non-profit that runs organic urban farms &nbsp;including two in Englewood. There, it is has operated a farm stand for at least three years, selling its produce for half of what it charges at Lincoln Park&rsquo;s Green City Market, Harper says. But the stand has yet to turn a profit.</p><p>&ldquo;We still need more education around healthy eating and organic produce and cooking,&quot; Harper said. &quot;We are finding that a lot of folks are not cooking and so they don&#39;t really know what to do with fresh fruits and vegetables, even though we are giving them away almost free in some instances. They just aren&#39;t cooking them and eating them as much as we&#39;d hope.&quot;</p><p>That said, Harper noted that the farm stand is making progress. After first year sales of less than $900 in 2011, that increased twofold the following year and sales are now set to triple in 2013.</p><p>What led to the bump in sales?</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve had a tremendous increase in canvassing the neighborhood &nbsp;and speaking to neighbors one- on-one,&rdquo; she said &ldquo;We wanted people to see that we were really involved in the community not just here to sell them food from the farm stand.&rdquo;</p><p>She advises Whole Foods to do the same, featuring the same kinds of workshops, partnerships and classes they&rsquo;ve made a part of their other stores.</p><p>But pricing could still be a challenge for a company that wants to turn a profit.</p><p>&ldquo;Our sales at the Englewood Farm Stand are more of a community service,&rdquo; Harper notes. &ldquo;We are not selling them at market value or Whole Foods prices. We are selling them at Growing-Home-Farm-Stand-we-really-want-you-to get-fresh-vegetables-and-afford-them-prices.&rdquo;</p><p>Yesterday Whole Foods executive Michael Barshaw told WBEZ that the company wants to work with the <a href="http://www.ccc.edu/colleges/kennedy/departments/Pages/Washburne-Culinary-Institute.aspx">Washburne Culinary Institute</a> at nearby Kennedy King College.</p><p>&ldquo;We hope that Whole Foods would offer educational classes on healthy eating, nutrition and cooking,&rdquo; Barshaw said.</p><p>For Mari Gallagher a researcher and consultant who has done groundbreaking research on food deserts, the store may not solve all of the neighborhoods problems but can be a positive start.</p><p>&ldquo;You can&rsquo;t choose healthy food if you don&rsquo;t have access to begin with,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;What&rsquo;s most exciting is that retail attracts retail and like attracts like. So Whole Foods could become a game-changer and anchor to revitalize the commercial district. But this all depends on how the community builds on it.&rdquo;</p><p>Connie Spreen heads Experimental Station in Chicago&rsquo;s Woodlawn neighborhood, which pioneered the double value food stamp program at its 61st Street Farmers Market. She and her colleagues have worked for the last few years to make sustainable produce affordable to low-income Chicagoans through the double value program but on a very small scale.</p><p>&ldquo;We have learned over the six years of operating our market that affordability of the healthy foods sold at the Market is a major concern for low-income customers. Obviously so. A Whole Foods in Englewood will not only have to accept LINK benefits, but will also have to ensure that the prices of the products they offer reflect the ability of the local community to pay for them.&rdquo;</p><p>Spreen says she&rsquo;s intrigued but also has a lot of questions about how they will address the affordability issue.</p><p>&ldquo;Will that mean that they will offer lower-quality produce to keep the prices low?&rdquo; she asks. &ldquo;Or will that mean that they will offer high-quality products at a lower price, but perhaps offset lesser profits gained at the Englewood location with higher profits from other Chicago stores?&rdquo;</p><p>For Gallagher, creating a model for selling healthy food to the nation&rsquo;s highest risk populations is one of the biggest potential benefits of the Whole Foods project.</p><p>&ldquo;We need to learn what does and doesn&rsquo;t work,&rdquo; she says, &ldquo;and I am hopeful that Whole Foods will let this be a bit of a learning lab in helping people crossover to those healthy foods and making it more affordable to families. They have to protect their business concerns so I don&rsquo;t expect them to give all their numbers away but my hope is that they will.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer. Follow her at <a href="http://twitter.com/monicaeng" target="_blank">@monicaeng</a></em></p></p> Wed, 04 Sep 2013 13:21:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/advocates-say-whole-foods-may-struggle-find-customers-englewood-108608 Why I can't resist Whole Foods http://www.wbez.org/blogs/claire-zulkey/2012-07/why-i-cant-resist-whole-foods-100619 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/WholeFoods1.jpg" style="float: left; " title="Ballis argues that for fresh produce, Trader Joe's can't hold a candle. (Flickr/swanksalot)" /></div><p>Okay. I am going to admit to something that I am sure will get me no end of hate mail. Or, since we were never allowed to say &ldquo;hate&rdquo; when I was growing up, strong-dislike mail.</p><p>I don&rsquo;t like Trader Joe&rsquo;s and I love Whole Foods.&nbsp;</p><p>There. I said it. I shall not be ashamed. And it isn&rsquo;t that I am some label queen, nor am I unfrugal. I am, in the annoying parlance of the day and for lack of a better label, a foodie, not a food snob. I know that there are insanely delicious burgers for $4, and juicy food-friendly wines for $7. But I also know that there are tiny, whole artichokes the size of the tip of your pinky finger marinated in extra virgin olive oil with herbs and chiles that go $25 a jar (roughly $1 per bitsy vegetable) that are TOTALLY worth the ridiculous expense. I like whatever tastes best, is freshest and hopefully is not participating in the desecration of our planet.</p><p>I have tried to like Trader Joe&rsquo;s, really I have. I have gone and spent money and eaten of their bounty, and I just, um, can&#39;t get it up for them. The produce usually makes me sad &ndash;&nbsp;wan, limp and lonely, and on more than one occasion, seething with fruit flies. The meats always seem vaguely suspect. They are great for random snack foods, and some canned and frozen goods. But the truth is every time I have ever been to a Trader Joe&rsquo;s, I have left the store and gone directly to a Whole Foods to fill out my coffers.</p><p>Which is not to say that WFM doesn&#39;t have its drawbacks. Obviously Whole Paycheck is eleventy million times more expensive. And things like an amazing cheese selection and delectable prepared foods sections are very dangerous for someone attempting to keep her butt smaller than Wyoming. I have been known to leave with two small bags coming in at more than $200 and gotten home to find that I don&rsquo;t actually have the makings for one complete Nutritional <strike>Pyramid</strike> Plate appropriate meal.</p><p>But when the über-Whole Foods opened at North Avenue and Kingsbury Street, I fell madly in love.&nbsp;</p><p>I don&rsquo;t do my regular big shopping there; I have a couple of wonderful local supermarkets that do not require one to hock a kidney in order to afford their wares. I would no more buy toilet paper or basic canned goods or other staples at WFM than I would order a gold-plated toilet. I go for specialty items, treats and organics, and often for produce, which I try to buy if not every day, every other day as a means of combating my natural instincts to hoard food, which results in endless melty fruits and vegs that need to be tossed out.&nbsp;</p><p>But then there is the clientele. I much prefer the gang at&nbsp;Trader Joe&rsquo;s&nbsp;for companionability. While it seems likely they are all stoned to the gills 74 percent of the time, and one sees a much higher incidence of the truly unfortunate &quot;white guy dreads,&quot; at least at TJ&#39;s I would never have overheard this conversation between a five-year-old and his mother.</p><p><em>Five-year-old (in very loud, whiny voice)</em>: &quot;But Mooooom, I don&#39;t LIKE the Merlot, I LIKE the CABERNET!!!! Nanny Suuuuusie knows that.&quot;</p><p><em>Mom (taking break from her iPhone to shift her Bottega purse to the other shoulder, rolling her eyes as best as one can with a Botox-immobile forehead)</em>: &quot;Lucien, precious, they are out of the Cabernet, you can have either the Merlot or the Chardonnay.&quot;</p><p>I stood there&nbsp;thinking that I had fallen down a rabbit hole into France, wondering if she was going to hand the kid a cigarette next.</p><p><em>Lucien (stamping little feet in little Toms and beginning to wail)</em>: &quot;I don&#39;t LIIIIIIKE the Merlot or the Chardonnay, I LIIIIIKE THE CABERNET AND NANNY SUUUUUUSIE ALWAYS BUYS ME THE CABERNET!!!!&quot;</p><p><em>Mom, with teeth clenched, causing little temple ripples in otherwise motionless forehead</em>: &quot;Lucien, if you do not stop this right now you will get regular grape juice AND a TIME OUT when we get home.&quot;</p><p>Since when is juice punishment? I mean, can you imagine YOUR mom saying such a thing? Punishment is no television (or a grounding I once suffered for a whole freaking year due to being a brat of gargantuan proportions). Punishment is extra chores, no dessert or having a favorite toy taken away. Or having your birthday party cancelled. (Which I also suffered through, again totally deserved, and someone please remind me to call my parents and thank them for putting up with me during my raging mini-bitch years and not selling me to gypsies.) But somehow the HORROR of REGULAR GRAPE JUICE eludes me. But I digress.</p><p><em>Lucien, weeping softly, and attaining the cadence of a caricature Jewish mother</em>: &quot;I&#39;m sorry Mommy. Never mind. I won&#39;t have any juice.&quot;</p><p><em>Mom, picking him up and cradling him</em>: &quot;Okay, little man, we can stop at the other store on the way home and see if they have your Cabernet. Okay?&quot;</p><p><em>Lucien, having learned important lesson about manipulation</em>:&nbsp; &quot;Thank you mommy. I love you!&quot;</p><p>In case anyone is curious, Whole Foods is now carrying varietal grape juices, regular old plain grape juice not being good enough for the delicate palates of today&#39;s toddlers, and in fact, apparently now considered punishment in some circles.&nbsp; Good thing they are closing Gitmo before the next truckload of Welch&rsquo;s arrives.</p><p>Now, I love that kids today are being exposed to more and more healthy, organic items not filled out with chemicals and extra sugars. My seven-year-old goddaughter loves a stinky goat cheese, bless her heart.&nbsp; But at more than $4 for 16 ounces, I have to call shenanigans.</p><p>It&#39;s almost enough to make me shop at Trader Joe&rsquo;s.</p><p>Almost.</p><p>*****</p><p><em>And now, a recipe:&nbsp;</em></p><p><strong>Stacey&rsquo;s Smoky Mac N&#39; Cheese</strong></p><p>The perfect partner for everything from an elegant roast to burgers straight off the grill. Buy the ingredients wherever you like, and feel free to serve with a the varietal grape juice of your choice.</p><p>Serves 2-4 as a main, 8-10 as a side dish</p><p>1 lb. &ndash; cavatappi pasta (gemelli or elbow macaroni are also fine)<br />5 T &ndash; unsalted butter<br />6 T &ndash; flour<br />5 cups &ndash; whole milk<br />4 oz. &ndash; fontina cheese, grated<br />4 oz. &ndash; smoked gouda, grated<br />8 oz. &ndash; extra sharp white cheddar, grated<br />1/2 c &ndash; sour cream<br />1 T &ndash; mustard powder<br />&frac12; tsp.&ndash; grated nutmeg<br />1/2 tsp. &ndash; smoked paprika<br />S/P to taste</p><p>Topping:</p><p>&frac12; cup &ndash; Cheezits crackers, crumbled<br />3 T &ndash; melted unsalted butter<br />4 slices extra thick bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled</p><p>Preheat oven to Broil setting.</p><p>Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions to just shy of al dente.</p><p>Melt butter in large saucepan over medium high heat until foaming stops. Sprinkle flour evenly over butter, and whisk to combine. Add mustard, paprika and nutmeg, stirring and cooking for about 1 minute. Whisk in milk briskly to combine, heating and stirring until the mixture thickens, about five minutes. Off the heat, stir in cheeses until melted, and then whisk in sour cream. Add pasta to pan, and put back on heat, adding a ladle of the pasta water. Cook over medium heat just a few minutes to finish cooking the pasta to al dente. Pour into a buttered baking pan. Toss the Cheezit crumbs with the melted butter and bacon and sprinkle over top of the mac n&#39; cheese.</p><p>Broil until topping gets golden brown and you can smell the bacon, about 3-4 minutes. Serve.</p><p><em><a href="http://thepolymathchronicles.blogspot.com/">Stacey Ballis</a> is a <a href="http://twitter.com/#!/staceyballis">Chicago-based blogger</a> and writer of foodie fiction novels. Her latest,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Off-Menu-Stacey-Ballis/dp/042524766X">Off The Menu</a>,&nbsp;tells the story of a celebrity chef&#39;s assistant trying to balance work, love and a naughty dog named Dumpling. The book includes over 40 pages of original recipes for all the dishes mentioned in the story.&nbsp;</em></p></p> Thu, 05 Jul 2012 06:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/claire-zulkey/2012-07/why-i-cant-resist-whole-foods-100619 Debut post: Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz talk 'The Interrupters,' and limes finally explained http://www.wbez.org/blog/2011-07-10/notes-debut-post-steve-james-and-alex-kotlowitz-talk-interrupters-and-limes-finally- <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-July/2011-07-11/thumb.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Hello! And thank you for checking out my debut post on WBEZ.org.</p><p>It’s an honor to be part of an organization that I’ve enjoyed for so long as a reader and listener, even that year they decided to broadcast a show every night about what was going on in Canada.</p><p>When site producer Justin Kaufmann asked me to be a blogger, my answer was a no-brainer: “Can I immediately post something positive about Springsteen after every time DeRogatis insults him?”</p><p>Honestly, I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of WBEZ.org — though I was (and still am) intimidated by the lineup Justin had already built.</p><p>Along with DeRogatis (my all-time favorite writer about music, Springsteen notwithstanding), there was also Amy Krouse Rosenthal! And Lee Bey! And Achy Obejas! And Steve Dolinsky, before he quit because, rumor has it, the WBEZ lunchroom refused to put his headshot up in the window. ("The best vending machine in the city. Thanks for the Beech-Nut gum! — Steve")</p><p>So, I hope my blog measures up. I’ll be brief in my description of what this space will be about: For the last eight years or so, I’ve written a humor column, and for the last three I’ve hosted <em>The Interview Show</em>, a talk show at <a href="http://www.hideoutchicago.com">The Hideout</a>. This blog is a chance for me to bring those worlds together.</p><p>Today, let me start with something from <em>The Interview Show</em>.</p><p>We recently had <a href="http://www.kartemquin.com/about/steve-james">Steve James</a> and <a href="http://www.alexkotlowitz.com/">Alex Kotlowitz</a> on to talk about their new documentary, <em>The Interrupters</em>. It’s the story of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ceasefirechicago.org/">CeaseFire</a> —&nbsp;in particular, three people who work for the organization trying to mediate disputes, help individuals turn away from violence and, in general, be a support system for Chicagoans hoping to build more peaceful communities.</p><p>Steve (<em>Hoop Dreams</em>, <em>Stevie, At the Death House Door</em>) and Alex (<em>There Are No Children Here</em>, <em>Never a City So Real</em>) collaborating on a project has me as excited as, well, when my 6-year-old son found out there was a movie in which Batman and Superman team up. And they don’t disappoint. Steve and Alex, that is. <em>The Batman and Superman Movie&nbsp;</em>is kind of a dud.</p><p>Here’s our interview below. (The film opens its run at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Aug. 12. More info can be found <a href="http://interrupters.kartemquin.com/">here</a>.)</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/3_Unc7tom1c" frameborder="0" height="314" width="503"></iframe></p><p><em>“Even though we may share many universalities and hopes and desires, I think one of the things that films can do, and books can do, is make people understand the extraordinary obstacles some people face in trying to realize those.” —&nbsp;Steve James</em></p><h3 style="color: red;">IN OTHER NEWS . . .</h3><p>I was at Whole Foods the other day because I like buying cookies and chips there and thinking they're healthy. Anyhow…do the folks at Whole Foods really think they need to include a description of what limes are?</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-July/2011-07-11/Limes.jpg" title="" height="373" width="500"></p><p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 11 Jul 2011 01:58:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/2011-07-10/notes-debut-post-steve-james-and-alex-kotlowitz-talk-interrupters-and-limes-finally-