I have a problem. I spend an inordinate amount of time and money at Whole Foods. Those who refer to the place as "whole paycheck" do so for a reason, and though I've never done the math, I believe a scary percent of my income is indeed spent at this establishment.
Nevertheless, the Whole Foods in Hillcrest rocks my world and steadily breaks my bank because of the quality and variety of their prepared foods. And I'm not just talking about health food, either-though the salad bar is unfailingly awesome and the array of meat-alternative meals is dizzying.
I can help myself to bacon and eggs, macaroni and cheese or chili-cheese tamales at the buffet station, or let cute vegan girls serve me beef brisket, roasted turkey and mashed potatoes with gravy from the prepared-foods counter. Barbecued salmon, better-than-average sushi and even corn dogs can be obtained from yet another deli case, or I can take a lap past the cafeteria area and score myself some clam chowder in a sourdough-bread bowl or turkey chili with a big chunk of cornbread. If I'm in a picnic mood, Whole Foods has a terrific self-serve olive and pickled-vegetable bar, not to mention more fancy cheeses than you can shake a fresh-baked baguette at. I can then consume all the aforementioned bounty on the premises, take it to the park or enjoy it at my office. (I'm eating the cranberry tuna salad at my desk right now.)
I'm such an egregious Whole Foods-o-phile that when someone jokingly suggested I attempt to spend a Whole Day at Whole Foods, I took the challenge. I saw myself in utopia, branching out past my tired old staples to sample a new delicacy or dessert every hour, broadening my gustatory horizons and perhaps even nabbing a date from the large pool of attractive employees.
I arrived at 11 a.m. and tried to pace myself by breakfasting lightly on a tangerine, a cup of blueberry soy-gurt and a whole-wheat croissant. The reality of my task hit me as I tried to make the meal last longer than 15 minutes. What was I going to do in there all day?
Finished with breakfast by 11:30, I began meandering through the aisles and was briefly excited when I spied a bird perched in the rafters overhead. I felt chilly and put out a call to my roommate for a thermal shirt and thicker socks, secretly hoping she'd stay for lunch.
Killing time before she arrived, I read all the comments on the customer-suggestion board and lingered over the community-announcement fliers. I eventually struck up a conversation with the kind employees at the deli-meat counter, who let me sample some sliced mortadella-a kind of processed pork with slivered pistachios and large bits of fat. It was salty and tasted better than it looked.
Having nothing concrete to do while shoppers breezed in and out and workers carried out their tasks filled me with a strange existential loneliness. It also made me feel tired, so I sampled an "organic" energy drink made with acai juice, guarana and yerba mate extracts and green tea. For all the healthy ingredients, it still tasted just as chemical-ridden as Red Bull.
Not even two hours into the mission and I'd put out calls to most of my friends who live in the area to come visit me for lunch. Luckily, their arrivals were staggered, and I happily took them each on a tour of the store and ate with all of them. Cold curried mock-chicken salad with friend No. 1, creamy mac 'n' cheese and Greek salad with friend No. 2, and a quart of clam chowder and sourdough rolls with friend No. 3. Currently unemployed, friend No. 3 was happy to waste an otherwise excessive amount of time in a grocery store, but when he finally left at 3 p.m., I felt tired and defeated. I knew I physically couldn't eat again for at least another three hours, I felt bloated and the in-store security guard-cute as he was-was the only employee who had showed any potential romantic interest in me.
By 3:30 I was darting through the parking lot, exalting in the fresh air and clutching a mini lemon tart, a mini banana-cream pie and a chilled bottle of sauvignon blanc. Did I mention they have an excellent wine selection?
Haven't the slightest clue where to launch your own Whole Foods/Whole Day challenge? www.wholefoods.com.