XLI.

Took a long walk down Greenwich Ave. today after work, to the new Whole Foods in Tribeca. There are closer grocery stores, but I’d heard this one has bulk bins. Ten years ago, when I lived in California, Whole Foods was a small regional chain and all stores had bulk bins, tall towers of cereals, grains, snacks, pasta. I was excited when Whole Foods opened its first store in New York, and then disappointed: what had once been a place where I could buy organic and avoid packaging as much as possible (though there were some union and farmworker issues) had transformed into a carnival of pricey, exotic, and/or triple-wrapped gourmet items. Don’t get me wrong: I’m as drawn to a lot of that stuff as the next person. Easy, fancy, tasty, it’s all pretty appealing. But the stores were crowded and over-stimulating and seemed to have strayed from the values that drew me in the first place. What had happened to the bulk bins? Were they gone in all stores, or just in New York? Are we uniquely foodie yet out of touch with environmental issues, or just less willing to carry around empty containers? I confess to having a hard time remembering to pack my recycled-plastic grocery bag when I leave my house in the morning. And we do use public transportation to get around in a way that many other US cities don’t even approach. But bulk bins are something I want.

Imagine my happiness when a friend mentioned that the new Whole Foods in Tribeca was going to have just that. It’s a start, though nothing like the vast bulk section that my California store used to have. This one focuses on granolas, grains, rice, and weird but colorful salt. Because specialty salt is the new coffee. Or chocolate. It’s beautiful: there’s lavender salt, like purple quartz, and rust-colored, sand-textured salts, and black salt that seems volcanic. Still: salt. In ten varieties. I’m not a very good environmentalist, really, I know I’m not, and I’m not a minimalist or a self-denier, hell, no. But there’s a part of me that rebels against ostrich eggs and exotic salts and organic berry tarts individually wrapped and boxed in pairs, and “kashmiri cinnamon” flavored gourmet ice cream at $10 per pint. And there’s a part of me that wants to taste each of those salts and roll the exotic names of fruits and spices around on my tongue and swallow spoonfuls of cool cilantro-lime gelato and to hell with where it came from or what it costs.

And then again, I feel absurdly lucky to be in the tiny fraction of people who have such problems to worry about.

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