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Feb 28, 2014 11:41 AM

Is Whole Foods America's Temple of Pseudoscience?

Fun read from the Daily Beast:

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  1. This a curious complement to the much discussed Slate article (WF v Walmart)
    Early on in that discussion I commented on the prominent display of homeopathic remedies at WF.

    Check out author's profile page
    He's not a food writer or crusader, but one who has written mostly about the intersection of religion and science.

    1. don't see how any of that is qualitatively different than the books sold in the PHARMACY department of my local ralph's (kroger's) supermarket.
      those books, of course, have a different angle (i.e. "praying away" the illlness, and biblically based nostrums) than the stuff being sold at WF, but, arguably it is worse because it is all about selling BS to people who are already sick (the PHARMACY dept, remember), who are trapped waiting for their prescription, and who may well be desperate.

      1. The fact that the author calls any of this "homeopathic", which it absolutely isn't, at all, makes me not want to consider anything else the author is saying. Yes there's a lot of nutritional gimcrackery out there but this guy is more interested in being clever than insightful about it.

        20 Replies
        1. re: ennuisans

          WF does promote and sell homeopathic remedies

          The natural remedies and cosmetics section (at my local store) consists of 3 or 4 half aisles prominently located in the center of the store by the cash registers.

          1. re: paulj

            Maybe I'm showing my own biases here, because I would agree that homeopathy has little scientific basis. But for the author to lump homeopathy, the Paleo diet, and organic food under the same "pseudo scientific" umbrella, as the author deliberately does in one paragraph and generally through the article, is nonsense.

            But I confess I'm interested now about what claims are being made in the probiotics area these days. I thought it was just about certain beneficial bacteria found in yogurt, not a general cure-all. Unfortunately, the only scientific evidence Schulson offers against probiotics is a buddy who looked at the marketing claims on the packages and said it was nonsense. That's some high-level science, kid.

            1. re: ennuisans

              You read it differently than I. He didn't say that all of these things with aspects of pseudoscience were equivalent. With respect to organic food, he only ridiculed (rightly, I think) the "Organic Integrity outreach." I don't see where he said there was no value to organic food. He didn't say that everything about organics was pseudoscience.

              I don't see any "nonsense" here. He is writing that WF sells a lot of things that are promoted with psedoscience, and that's accurate. He's not writing a scientific article himself — that isn's the purpose and it isn't necessary to get his point across.

              Addendum: and it wasn't just "a buddy" who gave him an opinion on the probiotics labels, it was a biologist.

              1. re: GH1618

                "all of these things with aspects of pseudoscience"'

                implies that all of these things have aspects of pseudoscience. As did this paragraph, which I mentioned:

                "Look, if homeopathic remedies make you feel better, take them. If the Paleo diet helps you eat fewer TV dinners, that’s great—even if the Paleo diet is probably premised more on The Flintstones than it is on any actual evidence about human evolutionary history. If non-organic crumbs bother you, avoid them."

                In this, he makes a rhetorical equivalency between homeopathy, Paleo, and organic food. This is no accident.

                And in this case, he implies that each example he gives is one of pseudo science, whether it be homeopathy or, in a later paragraph, resistance to GMO, as if the claim that each is pseudo science is as self-evident as a museum dedicated to the notion that the planet is 6000 years old.

                This is barely even an opinion piece. It is a culture war broadside click bait hack job, albeit by a clever and observant young writer. I do hope that at some point he learns how to use his talents for good rather than to confuse and obscure the conversation. And I hope I learn not to respond to such bait in the future, as it only raises my blood pressure.

                1. re: ennuisans

                  They are equivalent in that they all exhibit aspects of pseudoscience, although not necessarily to the same degree. Homeopathy is 100% quackery. The Paleo diet may be only 98% quackery, or even less.

                  He must have ridiculed something you believe in for you to take it so personally. My position is that ridiculous ideas deserve to be ridiculed and that he did a fine job of it.

                  1. re: GH1618

                    You didn't mention the organic part. What part of organic food do you find pseudo scientific?

                    What I take personally is bad reasoning, on his part and on yours. Please don't make assumptions about my motives.

                    1. re: ennuisans

                      The author doesn't claim 'organic' is pseudo scientific. It's WF's Organic Integrity program that is described as pseudo religious.

                      1. re: ennuisans

                        As I wrote earlier, the writer did not criticize organic food, he ridiculed the idea of "Organic Integrity," which means that you should use separate bags for you organic and non-organic items so your organic items don't become contaminated. It is ridiculous. Whether it is pseudoscientific or not depends on whether asserts a scientific basis for it which is false. I'm not going to argue that point — it just doesn't matter. What matters is that there is plenty at WF worthy of ridicule. I write that as someone who occasionally goes there myself.

                        1. re: GH1618

                          imho, there is plenty at almost any grocery store, wf included, that is worthy of ridicule.

                      2. re: GH1618

                        The specific statement about Paleo is "If the Paleo diet helps you eat fewer TV dinners, that’s great—even if the Paleo diet is probably premised more on The Flintstones than it is on any actual evidence about human evolutionary history. " - with a link to a Scientific American blog article looking at the anthropological evidence.

                        1. re: paulj

                          You mean the blog that completely dismisses humans and diet... and talks about monkeys?

                          1. re: sedimental

                            I wouldn't describe it as 'completely dismisses humans'. He's questioning whether stone-age humans are sufficiently 'paleo'. He also looks at adaptations to a post-stone-age diet, such the ability to produce enzymes that digest starches and lactose. He also talks about gut bacteria. Isn't that what the WF probiotics aim to tweak?

                            1. re: paulj

                              He is talking apples to oranges.
                              But monkeys are cute.

                        2. re: GH1618

                          I don't think ridicule particularly advances a discussion. Neither does arguing in circles. Some of these discussions never seem to move forward. They just circle and then become focused on the pedantic or lean toward personal attacks. Then it becomes a battle for who can repeat themselves the most.

                          I like to read other people's opinions when they are backed by how those opinions are formed. If I judge them as ill informed or based on a premise that I don't share-then the conversation is really over. No need to ridicule anyone.

                          1. re: sedimental

                            The writer's purpose was not to "advance a discussion," but to ridicule snake-oil salesmen. This is a legitimate journalistic practice and a worthy one.

                            1. re: GH1618

                              I was referring to the discussion of the article here. Not the article itself or the writer of the articles motivation.

                              It is clear what the writer of the articles motivations are.

                        3. re: GH1618

                          That is how I read it too. I am a kombucha and kiefer swilling probiotics fan and live within spitting distance of a WF. All the same, I think it is good to keep in mind that WF is a profitable corporation beholden to its shareholders just like SAfeway, Walmart, etc.

                  2. Actually I think the article has a lot of food for thought. I do prefer my apples uncontaminated by pesticide, however. And I know of people who truly cannot eat glutin. So I think there is a legitimate market for their foods.

                    The stuff in the medicine aisle--I think a lot of it is iffy.

                    1. In my opinion, Whole Foods is merely a for-profit corporation which has made a good business out of exploiting a market based, in large part, on pseudoscience. I wouldn't call it a "temple," but I see the analogy.