I got kicked out of Whole Foods today. Why? For taking notes.
I've been working on a culinary research project for the last couple of weeks -- just a short freelance gig that kind of fell into my lap. It involves vetting local menus and checking out local grocery stores to identify current Boston eating trends. So far I've conducted research at Lionette's, Formaggio, Plum Produce, and the Copley Farmer's Market. All of these venues have been extremely welcoming, gracious, generous with their knowledge and helpful. Today it was time to tackle some bigger markets: Whole Foods, Shaw's, and Foodie's in the South End.
I started at Whole Foods. I walked in, armed with my little notepad and blue ink pen, and started walking up and down the aisles, searching for interesting food stuffs. It's a big chain so there weren't too many surprises in store for me but I plugged away, taking careful notes about anything that I thought I might need to write about later: macadamia nut butter, for example, or the multiple different brands of agave nectar they have on offer that I suspect may not have been on shelves a few years ago.
Then I rounded the corner to the fish aisle and a manager-seeming type guy came up to me:
"Can I help you, ma'am?"
Yech, he called me ma'am. "No, but thanks!" I smiled.
"I see you're writing something down there. What are you writing?"
"Oh," I said brightly, ever the eager student, "I'm actually doing research for a food trends study. It's about what kinds of flavors and ingredients are most popular in the Bostonian palate." I was just about to ask him what items seem to be selling well right now and if he had any thoughts to contribute to this type of study, when he very sternly interrupted me:
"You can't do that here. You can't write down notes. Or take pictures."
"Oh...um...okay," I said. "Well, I just...I can't write anything down?"
"Nope. No writing. And no pictures." His tone was firm, as though THIS CLOSE to bringing out the heavy if I even tried to argue.
"Okay." Shit. Now what do I do? What about my deadline? "Well, can I look around, then?"
"You can shop," he said, giving me a stern don't fuck with me smile.
So I bought a tube of lip balm and left. I felt mortified as I made my way through the check out line, and I definitely heard a woman standing behind me on a walkie talkie as I was texting a friend of mine about the situation in disbelief. I can't be sure she was monitoring my movements but...do you think she was monitoring my movements?
I have never shoplifted in my life. I've never been arrested. I never even got detention in high school. And here I was, indicted for the crime of taking notes in Whole Foods.
I tried to walk out of there with my head held high, but I felt totally shamed by the incident. And betrayed. I mean, Whole Foods positions itself as this earthy-crunchy pseudo-hippie bourgeois outpost where all the things that will make yours a greener, healthier, happier life can be found (at a slightly higher price point that your run of the mill grocery store.) Now I know that is mere posturing. In reality, Whole Foods is just a big, mean chain with a weird no-note-taking policy.
And it is strictly enforced.