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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Trader Joe's vs Whole Foods

When it comes to appreciating the grocers who provide my food, you couldn’t find a geekier health foodie.  When I discovered Alfalfa’s on a visit to Boulder, CO in 1994, tears came to my eyes.  I wandered through the maze of aisles and displays, and lovingly brushed my fingertips across the mounded fresh, whole, organic fruits, vegetables, bakery items and case goods.  My whole body tingled with happy anticipation at all the “really, truly, good-for-you goodies”.  I went back every day during my visit to try another of their wonderful fresh made dish or crispy fresh organic fruit or vegetable.

Alfalfa’s was so different from the “health food” stores in my hometown - Sevananda and Return to Eden.  In 1994, every health food store had that distinctive smell, an exotic mixture of herbs and spices that is so . . . well . . . foreign and exotic.   Ironically, the health food store clerks always looked unhealthy - like the organic produce stocked in the back - limp, pale and sickly.

In 1995, I visited with a friend in Fort Lauderdale.  In my pre-visit research I found out a Wild Oats had opened.  It was one of the first natural organic food stores to appear in the southeast. Again, I went every day during my visit.  I admit, seems an odd choice of vacation fun, but I couldn’t get enough.

Then Whole Foods finally made it to my hometown, Atlanta.  Even though the Buckhead store was tiny and paled in comparison to the huge one I had visited in Boulder, I was thrilled.  Finally  - real food at a grocery store!  (As a busy professional, I didn’t have time or the skill to grow my own food and CSA’s were scarce). I love you WHOLE FOODS!  When I planned to buy a house, I drew a 2-mile circle on the map with the Sandy Springs Whole Foods store at its epicenter.    My store was tiny but sufficient, and it grew in size as interest in whole organic food began to grow in the southeast.  (Damn, I still had to buy some household staples at the neighborhood Kroger.)

Then a Trader Joe’s popped up across the street around 2003.  I visited and, I didn’t get it.  I like to cook - mainly to control every ingredient that goes into my mouth.  To me, Trader Joe’s was all about prepared convenience food.  Why, even their produce came prepackaged.  Really, what single person needs a whole bag of sweet potatoes or five zucchini squashes when two would do?  My friends raved about Two Buck Chuck.  But, I don’t drink.  My impression was that Trader Joe’s was for lazy yuppies who don’t understand the need, and won’t take time, to nourish themselves with honest food like Nature and Mother Earth intended.

It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles and stayed with friends who were Trader Joe’s aficionados that I came to appreciate TJ’s.  Perhaps, as well, Trader Joe’s had developed and matured since my first visit.  My first few shopping trips were awkward and miserly.  Then I discovered a few products that I bought all the time at Whole Foods ("Whole Paycheck"); except, they were astoundingly cheaper.

Then something strange happened, a turning point.  I went for my weekly grocery shopping at Whole Foods.  I reached for an item and realized I could get a similar product at Trader Joe’s for A LOT CHEAPER.  I couldn’t make myself buy those items.  Some latent frugality gene kicked in.  Best example:  A one-pound jar of raw, crunchy almond butter:  $11.99 at Whole Foods and $4.99 at TJ’s.  Ok, the TJ’s brand is not organic but this is a HUGE price differential.  Same with carrots, strawberries, mushrooms, soy creamer, organic yogurt, coffee, and Ezekiel bread.  Pretty soon, more than half of my shopping list could be purchased at Trader Joe’s.  Then TJ’s became a habit.  I even sacrificed my organic imperative and learned the Clean 15 because TJ’s organic offerings can be spotty. I only went to Whole Foods for the items I couldn’t get at Trader Joe’s like dino kale, amaranth, aluminum free baking powder* (*TJ’s only stocks this during the holidays), organic beef and good fish.  Trader Joe’s was getting 70% of my weekly grocery dollars and Whole Foods only 15%.  (CSA gets the other 15%).

But, alas, my weekly spending at Trader Joe’s that averaged around $85 suddenly jumped up to $115.  Hey, what’s going on here?  To be honest, I had to add some animal protein* to my diet, but not $30 a week!  (*You can read about this in another post.)  Concurrently, on my infrequent trips to Whole Foods, I noticed that prices seemed to be dropping.  Time to investigate and here’s what I found.  Whle Whole Foods has reduced prices on a variety of items and they do now offer more specials and sales prices, overall TJ’s is still the best buy.

However when it comes to overall selection and better meat, fish, and produce I head to Whole Foods.  The best produce comes from a local organic farmer through my Community Supported Agriculture group.  I also have a garden. Produce doesn’t get more local than your own back yard.  I give TJ’s high marks for continuing to add products. In fact they just added organic dino kale.

Price comparison here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

From Organic Consumers Organization:
I couldn't say it better.

The High Cost of So-Called Cheap Food

Over the past 65 years, chemical agriculture, factory farms, and now genetic engineering have devastated public health, wrecked the environment, and destabilized the climate. The U.S. public now spends $2.4 trillion dollars a year on health care, $800 billion of which is directly attributable to consuming chemical-laden junk food.

After poisoning us with cheap food and destroying the environment, Big Food Inc. turns us over to Big Pharma and the Industrial Health Complex to repair the damage, or rather to keep us alive long enough to extract maximum profits. But from the warped perspective of the for-profit health insurance industry, overweight and diseased people aren't very profitable. That's why health insurance corporations spend $350 billion per year trying to avoid coverage and deny claims. The vast, paper-pushing bureaucracy the for-profit insurance industry has created to help them avoid providing services soaks up 31% of all health care spending!

If we shifted the 31% of health care spending taken up by the administrative costs of the for-profit health insurance industry to a single-payer, universal health care system, we could cover the uninsured without increasing total health-care spending. The Organic Consumers Association supports single-payer, universal health care, with a focus on preventive health, diet, nutrition and stress-reduction.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sundance Wrap Up

On Wednesday, I headed home to LA. Sunday through Tuesday is a blur of films and parties. Here’s what’s really great about Sundance. Inspiration. You get exposed to some of the freshest ideas on the planet. Every screening is entre to a new conversation with filmmakers who are thoughtful and artful. It can be a soul searing dip into the human ocean with stories that are immense and impactful. It can be a peak into worlds unimagined. I could not be more inspired.

Some of my favorites:
“Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” is an adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s caustic look at the post-feminist-movement male psyche. Doctoral candidate, Sara Quinn (Julianne Nicholson) works through the heartache of her boyfriend leaving without explanation, with a research project that requires interviews with men. The interviews are interspersed with the unfolding narrative of why her boyfriend left. Thank you David Foster Wallace, the languaging of the interviews is brilliant.

“The Cove” was a beautifully shot thriller documentary about a tragic dolphin epidemic unwittingly started by Flipper. We follow a small group of activist with their state of the art surveillance equipment to Taiji, Japan to discover the atrocities of mass dolphin capture and kill.

“Crude”, another doc, tells the story of the horrendous poisoning of five indigenous Ecuadorian tribes by Texaco/Chevron. Billions of gallons of toxic oil waste were dumped into the Amazon. It’s another tragic environmental tale with no good ending.

“Dirt! The Movie” is based on William Bryant Logan’s acclaimed book, Dirt, The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth. The colorful combination of interviews, animation, and vignettes are captivating. Andy Lipkin of LA based Tree People, and one of my Sundance roommates, is prominently featured. His accomplishments and contribution to the environment are pretty amazing.

“Good Hair” is Chris Rock’s explanation into what is up with black women’s hair. This is a really funny but serious look at black hair culture.

“Earth Days” interviews the founding fathers of Earth Day and their fight for the environment up through present day. This is one of my favorite docs.

My takeaway - I arrive home even more determined to participate in and add to the conversation that is changing the way we view our world and live our lives.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

More Sundance

Day starts with a ride with Peter to my first screening. I can really appreciate Peter’s pace at the festival. Every minute is scheduled for a screening, a meeting with a client, or friend, an interview or a networking party.

This morning I catch “Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire.” What I’ve read in the catalog partially prepares me for the emotional impact of the relentless heartbreak that is Precious Jones’ (Gaboury Sidibe) life. It takes me 30 minutes after the film to catch my breath.

As a good counter balance, I meet Mark for “Spring Breakdown”, a hilarious comedy starring Parker Posey, Rachel Dratch and Amy Poehler, written by Rachel Dratch. It’s a girl spring break comedy and just what you expect from SNL alum.

Then we’re off to two parties downtown. The first celebrates the Slamdance screening of “The Weathergirl”. It’s my opportunity to meet Steak House, the producer, who helped my out while I was working on PIG. Mark Harmon shows up for the party and mayhem ensues. We head a few doors down to a party given by, a website that connects filmmakers with financing. I meet a really cool group from LA that is heavily involved in Filmmakers Alliance, an invaluable LA resource for indie filmmakers.

We leave downtown to The Yarrow for “The September Issue”, a documentary following Ann Wintour and her team at Vogue as they prepare for the annual September issue. If you saw “The Devil Wears Prada” you’ll appreciate it even more after watching this. I’m amazed at the access filmmaker, RJ Cutler was given. This beautifully shot doc focuses on the 20 year collaboration between the very powerful Anna Wintour and her genius creative director and stylist, Grace Coddington. It’s inspiring to see these two brilliant women run the empire that is Vogue.

We rush over to see if we can get in to “Art and Copy”. We do. Exquisitely shot, this doc takes us inside the advertising industry with interviews and insights from the most powerful creative forces of our time: Hal Riney, Dan Widen, Phyllis Robinson, Mary Wells Lawrence, George Lois, Cliff Freeman, Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein. We see some of the most remarkable ad campaigns and the art of it.
I must be tired. I nod off for a third of the film. Rats! I hate when that happens.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Mark and I drove into Park City, Utah just before midnight on Thursday, January 16. External car temp read 19 degrees. As we wind through old town Main Street to get to our temporary home, I’m amazed at how many people are out on this freezing opening night. There are lots of partiers. Too many who are wearing shortsleeves and 5 inch heels. Who can do that?

Now it’s Friday morning. We have to rush over to the Yarrow Hotel to pick up our industry passes that will allow us to see and participate in almost every thing at the festival. Lucky for me, this is Mark’s 10th year at Sundance. And, his rental car is a huge help in getting around.

I have a couple of objectives for Sundance. First, to soak in as much “industry” as I can. Another is connecting with possible distributors for “Magic 7”, a green project and live action animated fable originally created by Roger Holzberg.

A third objective is to be immersed in the creativity and artistry of well crafted films. In that regard, Friday is a success. Three films in one day and my attention never flags. First film of the day, “Lymelife”, is a coming of age tale set in the late 70’s, written by Derick and Steven Martini about their own lives growing up in Long Island. It stars Rory Culkin, Alec Baldwin, Jill Hennessy and Cynthia Nixon. Both the telling of the story and the acting are brilliant.

Next up, “Cliente”, from French writer/director and actress, Josiane Balasko. Tagged as a comedy, it explores the complications of a relationship between a 51 year old female entrepreneur and her gigolo. I thought it was emotional and sad.
Last film of the day was “Humpday” from another female writer/director, Lynn Shelton, starring Mark Duplass from “Baghead” and Joshua Leonard from “Blair Witch Project”. Lynn tells the ultimate tale of male one-upmanship. It was very funny. Produced with a spare cast and crew, it was tightly written and well acted.

You can feel the recession as a subtext of the festival. The big question for many filmmakers is, will their film get picked up? The industry has suffered not only from the economic down turn but also by fundamental changes in the business model. It’s a big topic this year as evidenced by one panel's title, “The Panic Button: Push or Ponder”. Peter Broderick, our housemate and an expert on alternative distribution is one of the panelists.

Parties are a big deal at Sundance. I'm hoping they provide the opportunity to network. They're all invitation only. Mark RSVP’ed us for “The Green Party” held in a huge tent in the middle of Main Street. It supports the “green” films at the festival that include “Dirt! The Movie”, “Old Man River”, “The Cove” and “Crude”, all documentaries and all on my list. The entertainment at the party is a mesmerizing multimedia mix of electronica, belly dancing and video imagery. The crowd, not so interesting. I bailed after an hour and headed home for sleep.

Home, by the way, is a converted 1880’s Swedish Lutheran Church very conveniently located a block off Main Street, downtown. The picture at the top of the page is from the common area. The house is actually cozy with its six stained glass windows, unusual floor plan and eclectic mix of furnishings. It provides the perfect backdrop for this Sundance 2009.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Back in LA!

Home finally. After two days on the road and two days of running errands, life is sort of returning to normal. I have amazing memories of my first location shoot: meeting and working with fun and talented actors and crew. Seriously, the most fun I've ever had. The biggest lesson is that location shooting is an alien experience with its own sense of time and place. Yes, Roger, I feel a little depressed.

Next up is a hard court press on "PIG". We start shooting November 8. Working on crew and locations. I'm helping Mark produce, so no more slaving away in the kitchen!

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Wapanitia Pass, Frog Lake, Blue Box Pass, Trillion Lake. These are signs I read every day on my 20 mile commute to the set of "The Presence". With Mt. Hood as a backdrop, the scenery is beautiful. Unfortunately, there is hardly a minute to enjoy the incredible lakes, hiking trails, and camping areas found in this part of Oregon. There's too much work to do!

My job is making sure 38 cast and crew members get fed 3 times a day, 6 days a week. Not easy! This group is experienced and their expectations are high. It's not the job I thought I'd be doing, or was prepared for in any way. There are professionals who usually provide catering and craft services (food on set all day) to film crews. Due to our remote location, the producers felt it would be more cost effective to hire an unsuspecting soul to get the job done. Yikes!

With a little on line research, I compiled a list of supplies and headed to Costco. Now, after 3 weeks and the help of Bill from The Ratskeller and Ricardo from The Huckleberry, two local restaurants, I've wrestled this project to the ground. Cast and crew seem happy and I've actually slept more than 4 hours the last two nights.

That's the hard part. The fun part is meeting and hanging out with everyone here. The cast is really incredible; Mira Sorvino, Justin Kirk, Shane West and Tony Curran. The crew is fantastic! Most are from LA and have tons of experience. I'm learning from the pros. Here are a few shots in and around the set.

Our location is very remote with limited cell service. We found this mark on the road.

Base camp for the actors' trailers and hair, makeup and waredrobe.

The Mess Hall where everyone gets fed.