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Whole Foods Is a Hoax (And So Is White Activism)

Updated: Mar 14

Dear Asian Youth,

I am in a Whole Foods on my sixteenth birthday. I think it’s funny to peruse the aisles as if I am an upper middle class white woman with enough money to spend on overpriced soaps and luxury candles. I have never been in one with the intention to buy something until this point of my life. The air of a Whole Foods feels so...different. It’s like stepping into a polished log cabin trying its hardest to be homey despite its overwhelmingly manufactured feel. It’s the epitome of modern, gentrified suburbia.

There are reusable everythings lining the aisles. Reusable bags, storage bins, utensils. As I spot some beeswax food wraps, my mind drifts to the fabric sandwich wrap my mother made in kindergarten, still in use to this day. While browsing numerous lunch containers, I recall my parents’ distaste at using multiple takeaway boxes, how they had washed away rice grains and vegetable crumbs from a plastic food bowl formerly used for poké, proclaiming that it would be put to use as tupperware in the near future. I find myself smiling at a pack of metal straws, recalling my mother’s scolding criticism: “How hard is it for you to just use your mouth? It’s already made for drinking, you don’t need any tools to go help with it.”

I exit the Whole Foods with three frog-shaped cookies from the bakery and some ideas to contemplate. This entire discussion about being environmentally savvy felt terribly refined- just as refined as Whole Foods. There was a clean aesthetic to it, all Mason jars and vegan diets. Saving the earth has turned trendy, with nature-themed slogans plastered onto T-shirts you can buy at your local Target or Forever 21. The irony astounds me.

What baffles me even more is the exclusion of POC voices. After all, the climate crisis is a global affair. It shouldn’t be solely centric on a specific group of people. In fact, those that it hurts the most are third-world countries with POC populations: Yemen, Haiti, the Philippines, etc. Where are the keynote speakers from those countries? It was as if they didn’t exist. I remembered the experience of Vanessa Nakate, a Ugandan activist who was cut out of a picture that prominently featured white figures in an article by Associated Press back in January (2020). In the act, they had cut her out of the conversation surrounding environmental activism.

And what about those immigrant parents, who, like mine, aimed to reuse almost everything that entered their lives? Why weren’t their junk-drawers filled with unused takeout utensils praised, or their innate ability to clean out old food containers?

What about the Indigenous populations of the United States and beyond who had essentially adopted the only sustainable lifestyle possible? Why aren’t they the faces of going green? Th