Fighting Whole Foods For All The Dumbest Reasons

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on April 19, 2011

Michael Moynihan covers the latest battle regarding Whole Foods–this one in Boston–and helps reveal to all the incoherence of the anti-Whole Foods movement:

Aida Lopez has been an involuntary resident of Jamaica Plain since 1970, the year she was forced out of Fidel Castro’s Cuba. She settled in this largely Hispanic Boston neighborhood because of the low rents and familiar language. But in her years in J.P.—as the neighborhood is known locally—Ms. Lopez has watched it transform from a mostly ethnic enclave to a mix of Latino immigrants, grad students, gays and lesbians, and bearded hipsters, all seeking cheap housing in one of the country’s most expensive cities.

As Jamaica Plain’s demography has shifted, so too have the community’s retail needs. For 47 years, the Hi-Lo grocery store provided J.P. residents with staple items and a vast stock of Latin American products. But when Knapp Food group, the Massachusetts-based owners of Hi-Lo, decided that they had had enough of the supermarket business, they pulled out of Jamaica Plain, shuttered a local landmark, and negotiated a 20-year lease with Austin, Texas-based grocery giant Whole Foods.

You can guess what happened next.

Local activists mobilized, Internet message boards seethed, talk radio hosts pontificated. But the Cuban exiles gathered at Ms. Lopez’s gift shop, La Casa de la Regalos, shrugged at the latest addition to the area. “I bought my Spanish food at Hi-Lo,” said Aida Lopez’s daughter Rosa, “but just the Cuban stuff and milk.” She wrinkled her nose: “The meat wasn’t fresh.” All agreed that Jamaica Plain needed more shopping options—chain store or otherwise.

But Christy Pardew, spokeswoman for Whose Foods, Whose Community?, an activist group protesting the forthcoming Whole Foods, says the issue is “keeping multinational chains out.” According to Ms. Pardew, the addition of a high-end grocery store to Jamaica Plain will result in higher rents, pushing low-income residents from the neighborhood. “It’s a term that real estate agents use,” she intoned, “called ‘the Whole Foods effect.’”

As Moynihan goes on to point out, the real estate agents–and the anti-Whole Foods crowd relying on their arguments–are full of fertilizer. That doesn’t stop the anti-Whole Foods crowd from pursuing economically antediluvian policies, however. And of course, while this utterly needless fight rages, people suffer economically.

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