Whole Foods Is Expensive. You’re Poor. Stop Going.

Whole Paycheck.

Whole Paycheck.

It’s really and truly that simple – just stop going – but I understand; it’s much easier said than done. Millennials, I’ve said it once before, but it’s really true – you’re all poor. No really. But you must understand beloveds, Whole Foods is partly to blame as to why you have no assets. I get it; it’s easier to buy Maple water for $4 and feel solvent than it is to actually be solvent in this economy. And when your student loan balance is the size of a small country’s GDP, what difference does $10-a-pound buffalo meat make?

There’s a convincing argument to make for that argument. However, today is not that day. What I’m talking about instead are the dreams, unrealistic life expectations that keep you mired in the artistinal feudal system. Buying your way into the upper classes through Whole Foods and other aspirational stores (J.Crew junkies, I’m looking at you) is why you have no car, though you live in cities that claim you don’t need one or that the Metro is cheaper than owning a car. (Okay, New York.) Whole Foods is why you can’t afford a mortgage. Whole Foods is partly why you have three roommates. That’s simplifying things a bit (like overlooking your B.A. in Medieval English), but it’s essentially the truth.

Note: As we’re taking this pixelated tour of the ridiculously priced items in Whole Foods that stand between you and solvency, (or at least, a full grocery bag for less than $100) you’ll also have to excuse the quality of the photos, as when you’re busy taking photos and documenting Millennial poverty not buying food, you have to move quickly, lest you arouse suspicion. It’s one thing to be poor, quite another to act it, but capturing reality, or whatever.

People in New York will say that Whole Foods isn’t that expensive. Some will even say that there are statistics showing this to be the case. These are all facts. To someone. After Fairway, Whole Foods is the second cheapest grocery store in Manhattan. But this is all relative. Relative to the fact that people in New York and San Francisco are paying nearly $3 for five sprigs of kale. This is absurd folks and could be argued as a form of produce terrorism when people in Dallas and Houston are only paying $1.50 for a real, full bushel of kale.

better and cropped kale

the price one pays to eat in the People’s Republic of California

A while ago, I went to a Whole Foods in San Francisco with $10. Just to see. Laughable, I know, but what can I say – I’m a gambling woman. (But, to be fair, I now have a more empathetic view of what it feels like when men attempt to date notches out of their league.)

Whole Foods and I have never had a great relationship, but I still go, because in SoMa, it’s the only grocery store for miles. As far I’m concerned, Trader Joe’s doesn’t even carry produce when you must pay 75 cents per apple. It’s actually ironic; most poor Americans in this situation are subjected to K-town with bananas as spotted as plantains, but the poor in San Francisco, they’ll just have to make do with their $4.99 a pound hybrid fruit.

hybrid fruit limequats

As John Steinbeck would have said, I’m a temporarily embarrassed millionaire – with a very strong addiction to Siggi’s yoghurt.

siggi's yoghurt

At a $1.69, Millennial holistic crack Siggi’s ain’t cheap. But, it does come in a “basic” flavor, so, that’s a bonus, I suppose.

basic bitch yoghurt

does not come with “Pink” sweatpants.

Ten dollars does not go really much further than this. That said, the coconut, spiced pear, vanilla and acai & mixed berries flavors are BOMB. Try them all, though not all at once unless you can afford it. If you are truly destitute and have to pick one, I’d say go with the coconut and print coupons from the Siggi’s website. Because, again, $10.00 does not go much further than this, especially if you do not bring your own reusable bags. So, I begin backpedalling/doing the running man away and bump into the cracker aisle. Yes, the sustenance of The Poors. The BAF gods (Broke As F*ck) are looking out and this is fortuitous. But of course, crackers aren’t just crackers at Whole Foods. First, I find these dishwashing sponges Green Crackers, which I thought were for dogs at first given the Purina grade of green, but I was wrong. And they were $7.39.

Continuing to back pedal, I bump into alcohol. I’ve never been known to find myself at the bottom of a spirit glass, but I am also approaching an age in my life where I shouldn’t be against it. But what does one do exactly when it’s the prices of libations that makes you want to drink?

Christmas beer

And how is it, nearly a month after Christmas, beer from said holiday is the same price as regular beer? And this “sale” is going on until February 10th? Look. If Beaujolais can lower their standards prices after the season, surely this maison of craft beer can make some adjustments. I have no skin in this game; I hate beer. My grandfather called it “peasant piss” and though I agree, it’s neither here nor there. I just want to know what I could drink if I were destitute and despondent. This is not the drink of the actually poor. I keep the search moving.

This is just getting depressing and as such, the idea of sharing alcohol with people is even more depressing, so I begin to look for cheaper yet elegant ways to privately humiliate and depress oneself. Prosecco. Yes. Introducing American women to fake drunkenness since their spring semester studying abroad in Italy.

Eventually after fine tooth combing the entire wine selection like I’m looking for a last ponytail holder, I find some $5.99 house Chardonnay. It’s probably for the best, because at the point where I’d be willing to drink this, I’m not paying attention to the taste anyway.

Basically, breathing self-destructive behavior at Whole Foods is expensive, so I took it as a sign that perhaps I should look for more constructive ways of dealing with poverty in Whole Foods. Naturally, my mind wandered to that time that I heard Miranda Kerr, truly one of the Baddest Bitches in the Land, drinks noni juice religiously and puts maca powder in her green smoothies and thus, has not aged. (Disclaimer: as a Black woman, I will look 25 for the next 25 years, but still. I’m setting my bar at Thandie Newton/Tina Turner levels.) What can be more constructive than self improvement? I had actually been thinking of switching up my green smoothie routine and maybe this was just the nudge to do it.



maca powder

noni juice

How the f*ck is this an everyday deal? Who is buying this sh*t everyday? Can they buy me some? Can Miranda Kerr buy me some? How does one achieve levels of Miranda Kerr bad bitchness when $31.00 juice is a requisite? I begin wondering if there’s a bar that I can go to that just mixes vodka with noni juice, but then remember even if this drink does exist a.) I hate vodka and b.) this drink is probably $15.00. c.) disregarding point “a”, I still will probably need three drinks to feel its numbing effects, cancelling out any therapeutic or budgeting effects.

The system is rigged beyond reproach.

it is what it is.

it is what it is.

$7.39. Yes, seven hundred thirty nine pennies. Plus the five cent California bottle tax. And I left my reuseable tote at home? Add another ten cents for the San Francisco paper bag tax. That’s obscene right? I can’t imagine any artists surviving in San Francisco off pasta sauce that costs $7.54. I mean, that’s like a two day eating budget for a real renegade.

Looking at the actual pasta was not worth the bother. Instead, I thought crackers were a more worthwhile pursuit. Can’t go wrong with crackers right?

this is what we've come to.

this is what we’ve come to.

Nevermind I couldn’t find Saltines and we won’t even talk about how one of the employees didn’t know what I was talking about. What the fuck are you doing in Whole Foods on a budget? At this point, I’ve spent close to $30.00 of my $10.00 budget. Onto the quinoa. No hipster diet is complete without this grain and though I didn’t have the time or money to make a $15 quinoa salad, I couldn’t help but to take a peek.

cropped quinoa

It wasn’t nearly as bad as what I thought it’d be – pasta sauce is more?! – but still. This budget is way over budget. In fact, the free honey and agave at the $4 coffee bar was the only thing that I could *truly* afford.

Are Millennials poor because of Whole Foods? No. Not technically. But, it’s also dumb to pretend that it’s not a status symbol, a consumer good onto itself and a means of projecting class ideals. Most people, let alone Millennials, can’t afford the upper-middle class aspirations that Whole Foods represents. It’s not just the whole foods they’re buying. In a time where higher education is out of reach for many, home ownership seems fantastical and living without roommates and saving for retirement simultaneously seems impossible, Whole Foods kind of represents buying a slice or two of the gluten-free American pie.

Don’t forget the $2 bottle of herbal water to wash it down, of course.

herbal water

You’re Not Middle Class Millennials. You’re Just Poor.

you would be so lucky.

only make-it-rain-money welcome.

It’s time that we’re honest about this. You’re not middle class, Millennial America or middle class Millennials; you’re just poor. Like vanilla is plain and the sky is blue, you’re just poor. Part of the problem is that most of us, children of the greedy and flush ’80s and ’90s, have been brought up practicing for a life to the manor born that only a few of us will actually have. Part of the problem is that you’ve been cultivating champagne and caviar taste when the means to afford such proclivities would more comfortably support Bud-Light and Doritos.

will be your life, not ever.

will be your life, not ever.

For many Millennials, this is confusing and very difficult truth to accept. I totally understand why. You probably were raised middle class – hell, even upper-middle class. Maybe you lived in San Francisco when it was more Full House-ish than Facebook. Maybe you grew up in a really homey track house in suburbia St. Louis. I get that you went to Skidmore, that you wrote an aria when you studied abroad in Florence and that you pay $2,000 for your 5th floor studio walk-up in a neighborhood that has lots of colored people. But you can’t buy your way into a class and you damn sure can’t buy your way into solvency.

Google keeps it real.

Google keeps it real.

So why is everyone calling you poor? You’re poor because you don’t have a retirement plan. You’re poor because a college degree is not a vaccine against poverty and you my friend have been a $32,000-a-year-administrative assistant for three years. You’re poor because you live on the Coasts or are living like you do. You’re poor because you buy $4 toast, $120 plain white t-shirts and if you could afford it, you’d buy million dollar dogs.

And that’s not to minimize the very real dearth of middle class jobs out there. Inflation is rampant and given the pressures to afford life in the cities with the highest paying jobs, most of us will be stuck in a very ugly binary: the (few) very rich and the (many) very poor. Most of us will become Hunger Game tributes. It’s disturbing, but it’s a fact. America might very well be becoming a banana republic, given that our 1% takes home 24% of income, a ratio that’s more on par with a country like Nicaragua. In fact, we rank 4th in the world for income inequality, bested by Ukraine, Lebanon and of course, our best friend, Russia.

The statistics are overwhelming, the outlook is bleak, the upswing, minimal. But no one that I asked considered themselves poor. It goes without saying that poverty has an image and marketing problem. When you think of The Poors, who wants to find solidarity with what the common image of poverty looks like: distended bellies, hair and fingernails caked with mud and dirt and dinners consisting of mayonnaise sandwiches and Little Debbie snacks for dessert? The middle class, like any class distinction, is a complex mix of hard truths and even stronger lies of self delusion, or methods of interpretation. If you’ve grown up or at least trained for a certain place in society that has placed an invaluable value on your ability to think and “learn how to learn”, why would a small matter like purchasing power determine your sense of self when you’ve been trained to not value that? What could raw purchasing power say about you that your bookshelves can’t?

but can man survive on bread alone?

but can man survive on bread alone?

I asked my friend Roy (definitely not his real name), an Eastern European barista/fashion designer/vegan/fabulous motherfucker who has been 27 for 4 years, if he thought he was poor given the circumstances of the situation(s): That time his card was declined at the bodega for a pack of cigarettes and coconut water. Living on the deep end of the L train with 50 eleven hundred roommates. The Craigslist gig and job searches. “No, not really. Poor people, they’re what they say in America, the trash people who live in the mountains. No honey,” he said between sucks from a cigarette, a presumably rolled one. “I just got reservations to Sushi Nakazawa.” I asked another friend, a former co-worker, working in the strange and vastly vague field of marketing. I know how much she makes, given I helped her practice her pitch for a raise two years ago. “Do you think you’re poor?” I typed. Immediate response: “Yes.” “Why?”  “Because I know I can’t ever get ahead.” “What do you mean?” “How am I supposed to buy a house when I owe Sallie Mae what I make in a year and then some?” And she’s got a point. It’s hard to become a Head Motherfucker In Charge when you are, as another friend puts it, a “Shah of Sallie Mae”.

12 Years a Sallie Mae?

12 Years a Slave…to Sallie Mae?

Pretty much everyone I know post-college to about, 35, describes themselves as “middle class”. Since I know far too many people still holding onto relationships for the salient reason that the other partner could qualify for a condo, I find it hard to believe that people are middle class – or at least, with a healthy foothold on said class distinction – based solely on income levels, the main demarcation of middle classness for most of the 20th century. So you can’t qualify for a shot-gun house, but can you buy your way into the middle-class while living with four roommates? Or has our value based economy progressed in such a way that looking at income is the least reliable way of understanding class in America now? Perhaps the middle class is becoming cloud based like everything else, which would make sense since tech is essentially eating the middle class alive. Is the middle class then, a vision, an idea informed by your time at Stanford or Wellesley (held in your mind if not in the pockets of your skinny jeans) that expresses itself in iterations and illusions of discretionary income and West Elm minimalism?  Or maybe, we do realize that we are poor and that it won’t change – so why add more depression to the situation by being realistic?

As another friend put it, “Every day, I’m reminded that I’ll never own a house or a car like my parents, at least not before the age of 35. I won’t get any retirement, any health benefits, nothing. The least I can get is a pair of Louboutins out of the shitty deal.”

We’re working on other pieces about class and Millennials and we’d like to hear from you – your experience, stories and thoughts about the matter. Please sound off below or