check_out (2007-51)

Out of this World


Earth Fare ⢠10903 Parkside Dr. ⢠Turkey Creek

by John Yates

Earth Fare is the natural foods supermarket built in a bubble. The store is located in the Turkey Creek shopping development, surrounded by what seems to be every retail outlet on earth, brought to one very rich place for the convenience of the local spenders.

The setting is unreal, a Disney World for patrons who can pay for any shopping illusion that money can buy. Right now at Earth Fare, there seems to be a special on very good intentions. This store and Al Gore could share the Nobel Prize for Doing the Right Thing.

If you donâ’t know what the right thing is, Earth Fareâ’s product packaging and displays are designed to enlighten you. Chicken is presented in air-chilled packages, a process that a sign says results in lower levels of microbial contamination, and saves customers the cost of paying for the weight of water usually used in chilling.

Beef, pork, and chicken are all advertised as free-range and, says another sign, a beef quality control system enables investigators to trace each cut of meat â“back to the birth of the animal from which it came.â”

Exactly how the existence of a steakâ’s birth certificate ensures quality is a bit unclear (if the steak is bad, can you sue the mother?), but careful documentation and labeling seems to be the Holy Grail here. Packaging prominently declares that contents are organic, gluten-free, hypoallergenic, uncontaminated by artificial colors or flavors.

And at Earth Fare, as at most health food stores, you pay a higher price for all this purity.

Because this is an alternative universe with specialized products, price comparisons with other grocery stores take on an apples-and-oranges quality. If this store has Van Camp Pork and Beans, I couldnâ’t find it, and the closest alternative, a generic-looking can of Heinz Beans with no pork and no artificial additives, cost four times as much.

The bill for our standard shoppingâ"matching Earth Fareâ’s versions of products with the ordinary products available at our benchmark store, Bearden Krogerâ"was $72.47, a whopping $32 higher than Kroger.

That said, you have to give the store credit for its amazing selections of goods. Earth Fare, one of a chain of 13 stores scattered throughout the Southeast and headquartered in Asheville, is truly a super market, with excellent selections of condiments, beers, cheeses, and meats, as well as the more traditional natural foods.

The store strives to create a sense of community, offering the public regular lessons in healthful cooking in its Culinary Series, and providing the Friends of Earth Fare charity of the month a table at the front entrance to distribute literature.

Thereâ’s fun to be had as well, surrounded as you are by this goofy collection of weird foods: frozen buffalo and ostrich burgers; the soy Okara Courage Burger; and the Tofurky Vegetarian Feast, a holiday TV dinner featuring â“a tender, juicy stuffed tofu roast, rich Tofurky â‘gibletâ’ and mushroom gravy, and our signature Tofurky Jurky Wishtix.â”

So with all the public service and wacky Jurky Wishstix, why did this place feel so somber, so cold, so ominously detached? Thereâ’s no cozy, homey, warm, or natural feeling here, for all the natural products. Perhaps itâ’s the death-black shopping carts or the black aprons and hats worn by the storeâ’s staff. Perhaps itâ’s the tired hipness of the shoppers and workers themselves, that bruised and tattooed look of Asheville hippies.

These may be contributing factors, but I think theyâ’re not the root problem. I think thereâ’s a basic disconnect between this outpost of natural food and good intentions, the surrounding Turkey Creek complex, and any grounded reality. Turkey Creek is at once shopping everywhere and nowhere at all. By catering to every imaginable retail whim, it obliterates all sense of specific location.

This leaves Earth Fare, no matter how organic its products, floating free of organic connection to any place. Even if the store were stocked with purely natural products, thoroughly imbued with community values, and crawling with the warm fuzzies, it would still seem like a colony of puppies stranded on the planet Mars.


All content © 2007 Metropulse .