By the end of her article bemoaning the existence and success of Fresh Fields (“You Aren’t What You Eat,” 1/21), Stephanie Mencimer manages to invent something even hipper and cooler than shopping at Fresh Fields: shopping at Fresh Fields and not liking it. It makes sense, given that she opens her article complaining about the Metro and Safeway markets in her area and goes on to give numerous reasons not to shop at Fresh Fields—but no reasons to shop anywhere else.
I live within walking distance of a Giant and a Safeway, yet happily take the Metro to shop at the Fresh Fields at Tenleytown. Why? Fresh Fields offers me a few things that Giant, Safeway, and other area grocery stores have yet to discover: variety, service, and convenience.
First, as a vegetarian, I find a variety of products at Fresh Fields that I’ve never found at Giant or Safeway, and probably never will: close to a dozen varieties of tofu, as many different types of tempeh, half a dozen choices of veggie luncheon “meats” and cheeses (like some other African-Americans, I’m lactose-intolerant), three or four types of seitan, several selections of milk substitutes (soy, rice, oat, and almond), and a wide selection of veggie dogs and veggie burgers. Giant and Safeway have begun to offer similar choices, but usually only one or two varieties, and not consistently.
As an amateur chef, I often look for ingredients that are more difficult to find in other stores. (I’ve yet to come across fennel, fava beans, or celeriac at the “Soviet Safeway.”) I guess that makes me one of those folks who shop the bulk bins at Fresh Fields for those items that, according to someone in Mencimer’s article, “you would never buy.” On the rare occasions when I can’t find something, a Fresh Fields employee will usually help me find it or tell me why the store doesn’t have it. A trip to Giant or Safeway nearly always means (a) not being able to find an item I’m looking for and (b) not being able to find an employee who’s even heard of what I’m looking for.
Finally, as a typical American consumer, I want convenient, one-stop shopping. In some European cities, I might be able to walk to the open market to pick up some vegetables and pass by the neighborhood bakery and the mom-and-pop pharmacy on my way. Unfortunately, for me shopping without Fresh Fields would mean a trip to Giant or Safeway, and then another 20-minute walk to a smaller health-food store (with less variety than Fresh Fields) and an even longer trip home.
So, if the above makes me a “food snob,” a “yuppie,” or just a lazy American consumer, so be it. While Mencimer—like other Washington City Paper writers—spends inordinate amounts of time finding something to attack, I’ll be at Fresh Fields squeezing mangoes with the rest of the herd.