I was running some errands Saturday when I began to feel a bit peckish. No problem, I thought. I have to go to Whole Foods anyway. I can eat there. I wouldn’t buy lunch, of course. I’d compose it from delicious samples.
To sample successfully at the P Street Whole Foods, you go straight to the bakery section and work your way to the front. The bakery’s good for some fresh bread and, if you’re lucky, a bit of Mo’s Dipping Sauce. Then you head to the olive section where, without risking disapproval, you can sample as many olives as you like. Sometimes you even find a quartered quesadilla atop the prepared foods counter.
But for me, the heart of Whole Foods sampling is the cheese section. That’s where I had my first date with Parrano and where I’ve indulged my lifelong affair with Vermont cheddar. So on Saturday, I bucked tradition and beelined for the brie. It was the right move. I found three pristine triangles of soft cheese, two jars of chutney, and a mound of crackers.
But just as I prepared to shovel a cheese-slathered cracker into my mouth, a hand jutted out and grabbed it from me. “Can I help you?” said a man with a supercilious manner, a slight British accent, and a Whole Foods uniform. “Chutney?” “Sure,” I replied, caught and cowed. I took my chutney and bolted.
Now, I know Whole Foods serves an upscale clientele, and I recognize our society is moving towards ever more services. Just last week, the New York Times Magazine included a photo spread called At Their Service featuring a contemporary art conservator who makes house calls, a medical concierge, and a family wealth counselor.
But amid the abundance of Whole Foods, there’s still something to be said for a little DIY action now and then. I’ve always appreciated the store’s lax sample policies, and I consider it part of our tacit deal: I pay too much for produce, Whole Foods throws in freebies sans judgment. If I go in for seconds or thirds, staffers pretend not to notice. I’ve spent years preserving my end of the bargain, and I expect the same from Whole Foods. So, here’s my advice: Ditch the cheese guy and return to the laissez-faire sample style that got me hooked in the first place.