Whole Foods, soccer moms, and pseudoscience

I have been of the opinion for many years now that the popular grocery store chain Whole Foods is responsible for dumbing down a large segment of our society – and suburban women in particular.

Whole Foods (now a subsidiary of Amazon) built a financial empire by stoking the egos of middle class women with the fuel of undeserved elitism. The chain is the apex of aspirational marketing strategies – appealing not to people who actually have a lot of money, but people who want to look like they do. They turned overpriced “organic” food into a status symbol. Shopping at Whole Foods is not about fixing dinner, but lifestyle signaling.

All of that is pretty harmless. If middle class women want to blow their paychecks on carts of $6 fruit snacks and patchouli instead of saving for retirement, that’s their problem, right? A lot of women do silly things for the PTA glory, right?

But Whole Foods engages in some less-than-harmless marketing efforts too. And the standard they’ve set has been echoed across Instagram. This single chain has probably done more to help the spread of pseudoscience than any other organization. (GNC is a close second.)

About a quarter of every Whole Foods store is a temple to pseudoscience, including an endless array of supplements for every bizarre medical-ish purpose and magazine racks full of questionable healing claims. And women in particular eat this stuff up (literally).

How did so many middle class suburban women – the people the political pundits on CNN like to remind you all attended college, as if being in possession of a bachelor’s degree is special now – start believing that vaccines cause phantom injuries and that you can treat measles with lavender oil? How do these same women think some miracle extract will help them conceive a child?

If you have ever met any of these women – and I have encountered a ton of them, because a not insignificant number of them have turned into homeschoolers to avoid the vaccine requirements at public schools – you know that they cling to the pseudoscience like a god because they have so thoroughly assimilated it into this lifestyle of naturalness and wholesomeness that they’ve been sold. This is why authorities can’t reason anti-vaxxers out of their decision-making. It’s not about discrete irrational decision-making, but some grand vision of what kind of lifestyle they want to have.

And for them it’s not merely a matter of making “healthy” lifestyle choices. They feel superior for shopping at certain places and running in certain mommy groups. Morally superior. Economically superior. Intellectually superior.

(Incidentally, Cook Political Report has jumped on the Whole Foods bandwagon too, suggesting that you can tell how a district will vote by the number of Whole Foods locations there. I tend to agree with this, though probably for different reasons than the folks at CPR. Surely the suits behind the chain are doing serious intelligence work on neighborhoods before deciding to expand there, and they are looking for populations with certain patterns of belief that they can financially exploit. Suburban women loved Hillary Clinton because she told them they were moral and economic elites for attaining downright average standards of living and professional goals. She made them feel good about themselves in the very same way that shopping at Whole Foods does. That’s the nexus.)

Apart from the resurgence of measles, the natural health machine is apparently claiming a lot of other kinds of victims. It would seem supplements are to blame for a large fraction of liver failures in the United States:

You may want to reconsider your New Year’s resolution.

An attempt at healthy living may have had a near-deadly outcome for a Texas woman who needed a liver transplant on Christmas Day after taking an influencer-promoted dietary supplement, her doctor told KXAS-TV.

For months, a perfectly healthy Emily Goss, 23, said she had taken four ‘Balance” pills a day made by supplement company Alani Nu that claimed to “support hormonal balance, weight management, complexion, and fertility,” according to the company’s website.

But things went south when the credit analyst started feeling exhausted, noticed a strange pain in her torso and the whites of her eyes began yellowing.

“I don’t know how to explain. I just knew I wasn’t completely there,” Goss told the outlet. Her doctor discovered she was suffering from acute liver failure.

She was rushed to Methodist Hospital in Dallas and moved to the top of the liver transplant list.

Doctors at the hospital were quick to suspect the supplement — which sells for $50 a bottle —  as a possible cause.

“Many of these are advertised as natural [and] healthy,” said Dr. Jeffrey Weinstein, the medical director of liver transplantation at the hospital. “I view them all as drugs and I view them all as chemicals, so there should be good caution into how you use them and why you use them.”

On Christmas Day, Goss was gifted a new liver…

While acute liver failure is rare, about 30 to 40 percent of the deadly cases are linked to herbal or dietary supplements, Weinstein said.

“Every time we have a case of acute liver failure, it’s always an interesting case. It’s also a medical emergency,” he said.

Goss on the other hand, was shocked.

“I just couldn’t believe that a supplement could cause something so life-threatening,” she said.

Today, Goss still isn’t in the clear, as she must monitor her vital signs daily to make sure her body isn’t rejecting the new liver and may take more than a year to go back to normal life.

Many supplements claiming health benefits are not regulated by the Federal Drug Administration, which could lead to the consumption of dangerous toxins and chemicals or the overuse of drugs.

The marketing of herbal and dietary supplements is probably largely responsible for how they are ultimately abused as well. Unlike regulated pharmaceuticals, there is zero discussion of the potential harm dietary supplements could pose embedded in their marketing. No commercials interrupted with “in rare cases, this product leaves you with a burning rash and could possibly kill you.”

At places like Whole Foods or GNC, supplements only have upsides and those upsides look like trustafarians and fitness models. It’s the same mentality that exists behind illegal drugs – if you like the high one dose will do for you, wait until you try four doses.

I can’t tell you how many women see diet supplements like this: “Big pharma is a giant conspiracy intended to hurt you. What I’m taking is 100% natural wholesomeness, it can’t hurt you.”

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