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Posted at 02:31 PM ET, 09/13/2011

Living Social’s Whole Foods deal sparks mass hysteria


Whole Foods produce — catch it if you can. (Michael S. Williamson - WASHINGTON POST)
A Living Social deal that offers half off at Whole Foods has sent the healthy food stores’ lovers and haters alike into a tailspin.

“$10 for $20 to Spend at Whole Foods Market. Which should buy you... a carrot,” one sarcastic tweet read Tuesday. “Thanks, LivingSocial. Because Whole Foods wasn't totally crowded enough already,” another grumbled. Meanwhile, fans gushed of the deal, “Things that make my morning,” and “Can’t believe [it]!”

Whether you like Whole Foods or not, there’s no denying the store’s ability to inspire mass hysteria. Almost 700,000 deals were sold as of this post’s publication. And Living Social is still selling more than 30 deals per second, spokesman Andrew Weinstein told the Post’s blog Faster Forward.

It’s only the latest example of fervor around the store. In the past year alone, Whole Foods has inspired rap songs,. more than 2000-word-long resignation e-mails, and full-blown culture wars.

The media has at turns called it “food porn” and at others called it “the future of democratic capitalism.”

Nick Paumgarten explained the dilemma over how to think about Whole Foods best when he wrote in the New Yorker last year: “Depending on where you are on the spectrum of epicurean cultural politics, you may consider Whole Foods to be a righteous grocer or a cynical con, a prod to self-improvement or a gateway to decadence, a neighborhood boon or a blight, a force for social good or a place to pick up chicks.”

You see the problem.

When I interviewed CEO John Mackey in 2010, he was pretty clear about why he thought the store deserved such hysteria — because it was doing heroic things. When he realized this, he said, “I embraced the hero myth; that Whole Foods is trying to improve the world.”

Whether you agree with Mackey or not doesn’t matter. He’s already watched a tiny vegetarian store in carnivorous Texas expand into an nation-wide organic and health food empire. And today he’s seen hundreds of thousands of people jostle one another for a measly carrot (or a few).

By  |  02:31 PM ET, 09/13/2011

 
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