A colleague sent me a link to this interesting article in the The Daily Beast by Michael Schulson who argues that Whole Foods is the Temple of Pseudoscience. He notes:
My own local Whole Foods is just a block away from the campus of Duke University. Like almost everything else near downtown Durham, N.C., it’s visited by a predominantly liberal clientele that skews academic, with more science PhDs per capita than a Mensa convention.
Still, there’s a lot in your average Whole Foods that’s resolutely pseudoscientific. The homeopathy section has plenty of Latin words and mathematical terms, but many of its remedies are so diluted that, statistically speaking, they may not contain a single molecule of the substance they purport to deliver. The book section—yep, Whole Foods sells books—boasts many M.D.’s among its authors, along with titles like The Coconut Oil Miracle and Herbal Medicine, Healing, and Cancer, which was written by a theologian and based on what the author calls the Eclectic Triphasic Medical System.
You can buy chocolate with “a meld of rich goji berries and ashwagandha root to strengthen your immune system,” and bottles of ChlorOxygen chlorophyll concentrate, which “builds better blood.” There’s cereal with the kind of ingredients that are “made in a kitchen—not in a lab,” and tea designed to heal the human heart.
Schulson goes on to ask:
So, why do many of us perceive Whole Foods and the Creation Museum so differently?
His answers related to differences in perceived harm to society and whether the perpetrator is a business or not. I didn't find the answers all that compelling but not sure I have anything better to offer. In fact, I think some of it is almost exactly the opposite of what Schulson posits. Whole foods sells products that don't seem like they're sold from a business - at least the big bad businesses. They sell the idea that their company (and those stocking products on their shelf) put your health above corporate interests. A quick look at the receipt after checkout might disabuse one of that notion. I also think people tend to think about food differently than other issues and there is a hypersensitivity (at least in our relatively rich developed world) to perceived risk that is often conveyed as a sort of morality.
As Jonathan Haidt put it in the The Righteous Mind:
And, why do so many Westerners, even secular ones, continue to see choices about food and sex as being heavily loaded with moral significance? Liberals sometimes say that religious conservatives are sexual prudes for whom anything other than missionary-position intercourse within marriage is a sin. But conservatives can just as well make fun of liberal struggles to choose a balanced breakfast - balanced among moral concerns about free-range eggs, fair-trade coffee, naturalness, and a variety of toxins, some of which (such as genetically modified corn and soybeans) pose a greater threat spiritually than biologically.