I’m part of a generation that grew up understanding that lots of different things we ate back in the day came from a place called General Foods. Far from fearing or resenting that General Foods had a lot of stuff that its big corporate family pushed onto our own family (Grape Nuts to Jello), I think many people felt back then that it was a healthy thing for big companies to get bigger by absorbing smaller ones. Weren’t those smaller companies yearning to land their aspirations on board the big General Foods aircraft carrier?
When Dad read aloud from the newspaper that General Foods had acquired yet another company, it actually gave us some comfort to realize that America was a big aquarium in which the little fish could be eaten by the big fish and everyone’s need for, say, jobs and Tang Instant Breakfast Drink would be taken care of.
Now, just the word “corporation” sets us off and makes us uneasy. We struggle with whether giant corporations have the same rights as a “person” when they start handing out money to political candidates and begin to see a sort of circle of fire when, so often, they are Republican candidates.
When we hear that a huge pipe at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico is spewing thousands of gallons of oil an hour into the water, we know an operation of that size isn’t operated by some mom and pop oil company. No, it’s BP and all the destruction and dead oil workers and long-term environmental damage is yet another product from the fifth largest corporation on earth.
So for many there has been an evolution, if you will, of the idea of corporations.
One in which mid-century corporations were viewed as almost beneficent cornucopias of user-friendly products and sponsorship of TV shows that made us smile and brought our families together around a box with sound and pictures, to present-day giants that take what they want without a thought for us and leave behind waste and oil slicks and lay-offs.
Which kind of gets me to Whole Foods. Not that they’re leaving oil spills in their wake, but they could be changing into something we won’t recognize soon. It’s come to my attention that regular Whole Foods shoppers are finding that the wide variety of interesting brands that were an earmark of the Whole Foods aura are now being replaced with one thing or the same thing: Brands that are trademarks of Whole Foods.
One week there’s a box of crackers that you enjoy; the next you go back and those crackers are gone from the shelves. In their place is a clone of the product bearing the label “365” or quite plainly “Whole Foods”. Often these replacement clones are lower in price. Maybe to help get everybody comfortable for what’s coming: Whole Everything!
It’s been at the least disorienting for consumers to enter Whole Foods – this former Valhalla of variety and even exotic options – only to find that everything now bears their corporate labels. Well, okay, not everything. But the shift has been profound enough that buyers are wondering if the forced imposition of Whole Foods brands means that the love affair between affluent and/or choosy (often vegan) shoppers and Whole Foods that began about a decade ago… is over.
We had a similar awakening with Amazon.com. Ordering items online and then having them brought right to your front door was so appealing that some of us got hooked on it as you would a drug. Then the publishing business began carping about whether Amazon was, quite simply and completely, going to crush bookstores in America. And that felt unpleasant, especially to those who still love physically handling books and lingering in the often-inviting brick and mortar reality of a bookstore.
Books… which are directly related to our freedom and our right to know and have access to information. I mean, imagine some giant corporation trying to control the content on TV and the Internet – whoops. Media giant Rupert Murdoch did, in fact, attempt to buy Time Warner but the deal didn’t go through. Murdoch and Time Warner sutured together, in my nod to Halloween’s passing, would have been one “Incredible Two-Headed Transplant.” Too big? If they needed something, would they offer a gratuity to some of the new Republicans who were “swept” in last week? Whose money bought the brooms? And if that resulted in the right buttons getting pushed. Hey, can I offer you a glass of 365 Instant Breakfast Drink?