My Pilgrimage to
Why a Whole Foods in
Texas must be the best grocery store in the world.
Health nuts are always seeking organic, unprocessed, natural foods.
Gourmands or foodies seek out the highest quality delicious foods from
around the world. For those of us who are both health nuts AND foodies,
Whole Foods is a Godsend.
(Full disclosure: I own Whole Foods Market, Inc. shares. I'm not
the store because I own shares, I own shares because
The first Whole Foods was launched in 1980 by John Mackey, co-founder
and current CEO. The store opened in Austin, Texas, just a few blocks
from the company's global headquarters and flagship store. The old store
is now a music store called Cheapo Discs.
Launching Whole Foods wasn't easy. Within the first year, the store got
flooded. Staff and even customers volunteered to rescue the building by
helping with the cleaning, putting the shelves back together and getting
the store up and running again. This experience inspired Mackey to pursue his grandest visions for Whole Foods and what it might
become. It solidified his mission to create a better and healthier
alternative to conventional grocery stores, and on a scale that would
Fast-forward three decades. Whole Foods now is a Fortune 500 company
stores worldwide. The chain is known for providing customers
with the best selection of local and global organic foods, and one the
most rewarding shopping experiences in the world.
Whole Foods has figured out how to offer incredible customer service in
an age when customer service is a dying art.
The company aims to be more than a grocery store. It's a place where you
can bring your family, have a pleasant experience or even spend the day
and meet your friends for lunch.
Those familiar with Whole Foods know stores are generous with
food samples. But what many don’t realize is that if you want to try
something new, all
you have to do is ask. A team member will cut
or open it so you can try it.
Each Whole Foods store offers a unique experience. I’ve been to about half of their stores worldwide including,
the posh European flagship, the
Kensington store in London. The
London store blew me away, and was the best grocery store I had ever
shopped in. Until, that is, I experienced
Whole Foods' Austin flagship
Dispatch from Deep In the Heart of Texas
On a recent, coast-to-coast road trip—7,328 miles on the odometer—my
husband and I relied for sustenance (and Internet access) mainly on Whole
Foods Markets across the country. It turned out to be quite a
food-themed adventure. We discovered great stores in surprising
example, the Whole Foods in Kansas City is probably one of the best in
the chain. We encountered a few not-so-great stores as well. The best by
far, however, was the flagship Whole Foods Market in Austin, Texas.
The current store in Austin—called the Alamar
store—opened its doors in 2005 in a space of just over 80,000 square feet, one of the
largest in the U.S. The store now employs 650 team members (employees).
The store is in the same building that houses the company's global
headquarters (six floor's worth of offices).
We spent more than three days in town and practically
lived at the store. We ate breakfast, lunch
there, and worked in one of the two indoor dining areas (complete with
It sounds odd when describing a grocery store, but it was incredibly fun
to spend time there. My husband described me on Facebook as "a six-year
old at Disneyland." I felt like I was in heaven. So much so that I
actually started thinking about the possibility of moving to Austin,
just to be able to shop there all the time.
I arranged with Whole Foods headquarters to be given an official tour of
the store for this column, and also for permission to take
pictures. (We took photographs early in the morning, before
the crush of shoppers showed up.)
There is something unique and special about the Lamar store. Team
members seem to take a lot of pride in their work. They act like one big family.
The store also features a rooftop plaza where they put together quite a
few events for the community. Friday nights is free movie night. They
set up a portable and inflatable big screen on the rooftop. You can buy
yourself a meal at the store or the buy the special dinner sold at the
rooftop. And after Thanksgiving, they put up a skating rink that’s open
during the winter holidays—the only skating rink in
The store has an enormous pre-chopped bulk vegetable section, which I have to
admit I actually liked. (I normally prefer to peel and chop my own vegetables when
I cook because
generally I believe that for food to be as nutritious as
possible it also needs to be as fresh as possible—and as recently
chopped.) The section consists of clear individual bins with a huge
variety of already chopped veggies. You can help yourself to one or many
different kinds of chopped vegetables in any quantity you desire. It’s
all one price per pound. Ingenious.
The salad bars were incredible, unlike any I've seen. Even the
salad bar at the Columbus Circle Whole Foods in New York City (which is
amazing) is no match for the salad bars at the Lamar store. I
particularly liked the salad bar featuring an entire side of salads
made from whole grains, including quinoa, wheat berries, brown rice and
barley. Another succulent cold foods section is a bar featuring
marinated vegetables. The marinated giant beans were delicious. But you
can also buy different kinds of olives, sauces and dips including fresh
pesto, bruschetta, cilantro pesto, roasted garlic, artichoke hearts and
The juice and smoothie bar is the best I’ve ever seen as well. They
an acai bowl consisting of blended frozen acai with other
frozen fruit topped with hemp granola and fresh berries. It was
Their taco eatery was excellent. Remember: This is Texas. Locals know
their Mexican food. My veggie and bean taco had a truly fresh and
authentic Mexican flavor.
The store's many sections feature a wide variety of
foods for every possible taste, and to meet the strictest dietary
preferences and guidelines.
No matter where you are in the Lamar store, you can always see chefs and
cooks at work. Many kitchen areas are completely open. For
example, you can see bread being baked from
scratch, cookies being dipped in chocolate and cannoli being filled.
My favorite middle-aisle section was their bulk foods section—the
largest with the most extensive selection I have ever seen. Truly
unbelievable. (Though I hope that next time I’m at the store they carry
chia seeds in bulk. They certainly have the room for it.)
Speaking of favorites, one of the best and healthiest meals I had on the
trip was at the organic raw food and vegan bar, which is Mackey’s favorite also. We ate a raw pizza made with a flax seed crust,
tomato relish, caramelized onions and sweet peppers. We also had a
garden wrap, a raw kale salad and my favorite, a "Happy Tuna" salad that was
out of this world (no real tuna in it, of course—that's why the tuna are
so happy). Everything at the raw bar is made from scratch every
Impressed yet? I'm just getting started. The Lamar store actually has a
concierge desk. They're ready to provide personal shoppers (employees
that help you shop), as well as ideas for
meal planning, help with pantry stocking and bicycle delivery for orders
Whole Food's Lamar store serves as the pilot store for many of the
company’s new programs and initiatives. One of their latest is a new
healthy-eating specialist area right at the entrance of the store. This
program was launched just a few months ago. Their goal is to provide
free education and resources for guests who want help. The eating
specialist takes guests on a tour, talks about how to cook something,
such as collard greens and kale—things that might be a little more
intimidating to the average guest. She’s available to answer questions
such as “why don’t they carry diet soda?” and to suggest healthier
The store also provides an in-store nutritionist who does consultations
for a fee, available to those who need more in-depth support.
The healthy eating specialist area also features many health and
available for purchase. I was particularly surprised and
impressed to see the China Study book on the shelves among others that
advocate whole foods and plant-based diets.
There is always something happening at the Lamar store, from book
signings to chef visits (Alton Brown will be there to do book signing
soon, I was told). They celebrate holidays, too. For example, they're
planning a haunted house, equipped with spaghetti brains and grape
eyeballs to freak out and delight small children.
I have been to grocery stores all over the United States and around the
world. Because I haven't visited them all, I can't say for sure. But my
guess is that Whole Food's Austin store has got to be the best grocery
store in the entire world. I'm sure there must be bigger or fancier
grocery stores elsewhere in the United States, Europe, Japan, China and
elsewhere. But I very much doubt any combines the healthiest foods, the
tastiest foods (and the sheer variety of both), a devoted staff and a world of incredible
services and resources the way Whole Food's Lamar store does.
No matter where you live in North America (or if you ever visit here
from another part of the world), I believe it's worth the trip to Austin
just to shop at this wonderful store.
Click here to see my pictures of the store!
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WORDS OF WISDOM
"I am easily satisfied with
the very best." -- Winston Churchill
TO THE NEXT LEVEL
Your Wholesome Life
is free, but I make my living providing
one-on-one holistic health counseling, either in person or by
I invite you to
contact me and let me help you make the changes you've always
wanted to make, one step at a time. The first one-hour
consultation is absolutely free.
When it comes to overall health and happiness, it’s all connected: your
food, your relationships, your lifestyle and you career. Let me help you find your solution.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Give Fennel a Chance
Fennel or “sweet anise,” is one of those vegetables you
think you don’t like until you try it. Give fennel a chance! Or, more accurately, give
yourself a chance to be rewarded with the wonderful flavor and
nutrients offered by fennel. It’s a great addition to many meals in its
raw or cooked form.
Often described as smelling like licorice, fennel is
indigenous to the Mediterranean. According to Greek mythology,
Prometheus used fennel as a “trojan horse,” in which he stole fire from
the gods and smuggled it to humans inside the hollow wand of a stalk. That’s how knowledge got passed to mankind. Fennel is also associated
with Dionysus, the Greek god of food and wine.
During ancient Greek
times, fennel was known as “marathon” because in grew at the site where
the Battle of Marathon between the Athenians and the invading Persian
forces occurred. Fennel was also awarded to Pheidippides,
the Athenian runner who ran 150 miles to request help from Sparta in the
invasion, and also from Marathon to Athens to announce that Athens won
All parts of the fennel are edible, including bulb, foliage and seeds, and
are used in cuisines throughout the world. High in vitamin C, potassium,
manganese, folate, fiber and phytonutrients, this hearty vegetable has a
thick pale white base that looks like a bulb (though it isn’t), with
large celery-like stems and feathery green foliage that looks like dill.
Fennel has health-giving anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties as
well, according to research.
Fennel is available in autumn through early spring. Choose fennel that has firm
and very green foliage with no flowering. Also choose only organic
fennel is especially high in pesticides). The base should feel firm and have no splits or bruises. Prepare fennel by slicing off the bottom of
the root or base, removing any damaged stalks, cutting off tops or stems
and slicing the base in half vertically. Whether or
not you remove the hard core in the center of the base once it’s cut in
half is a matter of personal preference. Finish by slicing or julienning it crosswise or lengthwise very
thinly to use raw in salads or sauté with onions as a side dish or
simply added to any meals. It tastes great and makes you feel great.
Stay motivated - Read health-related research
news, events and commentary every day. Check out Amira's
Vegetarian Organic Blog.
Nutrition in Microgreens
My Autumn Raw Vegetable and Microgreens Salad recipe
below features incredibly small plants—they’re powerhouses of
nutrients called microgreens. Though small, calorie for calorie these
tiny greens are higher in phytonutrients, compared to adult
plants of the same
Micronutrients are basically sprouts, but grown vertically in a moisture-retaining medium,
such as soil. (Spouts are usually grown without such a medium, in a
sprouting jar.) These Lilliputian members of the
greens community were pioneered in California. The ones that I buy at my
local farmer’s market are grown with organic seeds designed for
sprouting, and are completely untreated with chemicals. My microfarmer
uses growing methods designed to keep the microgreens all perfectly
clean at every stage of the growth. She even waters them only with
My favorite is arugula, which has a mild peppery flavor, but I also love
the brassica microgreens (see photo), which include broccoli, mustard,
kale and red cabbage. When you buy a tray of microgreens, all you have
to do is keep it on your kitchen countertop and keep the soil moist. If
they begin to grow
too tall, it’s time to eat or harvest. When you’re
ready to eat them, all you have to do is cut them with scissors right at
the soil line, wash them and place them on the salad spinner to dry.
One of the gratifying things about buying a tray of microgreens is that you harvest them yourself right
before eating them. This means you're not losing any nutritional value
because no significant time lapses between harvesting and eating. The
fresher a vegetable is, the more of a "live food" it is, and the higher
in nutrients it is.
That’s the same reason that getting your produce from a farmer’s market is
usually better for you than buying it at the grocery store—it’s fresher,
not to mention better tasting. You can use microgreens any way you would
use salad greens. Add them to your favorite tacos,
sandwiches, soups, pastas and so much more. There is no
wrong way to eat microgreens.
BODY AND MIND
Why Age Affects Memory
As we age, we can experience temporary lapses of memory.
It's frustrating to feel that our brainpower is declining. But recent
research proposes that in many ways our brains can work even better in older age than younger.
As we age, or as the result of lifestyle choices such as
smoking, we lose brain cells, which affects the way we
store and retrieve information, which in turn affects short-term memory.
The decline of this short-term memory may make it more difficult to
recall a phone number, retain certain details of a recent experience or
make it more difficult to learn new things. But overall brain function is not
affected by this particular aspect of aging.
Dementia, on the other hand, usually begins to develop at the age of 60. Contrary to popular
belief, it is not a natural part of the aging process. Most commonly,
dementia is a result of Alzheimer’s disease, which is believed to have a
genetic influence, as it usually runs in families. There is also
evidence that optimal diet may prevent Alzheimer’s even in those
with a genetic predisposition.
Memory loss can result from dementia, but experiencing
memory loss by itself does not necessarily mean you have dementia. On
the other hand, people diagnosed with dementia not only experience
memory loss but also impaired judgment or language, as well as changes
in personality and social behavior. But just because some kind of
degenerative mental illness runs in your family doesn’t mean you have to
develop it. Take responsibility for your well being by adopting a
healthy lifestyle that will significantly decrease the risks.
Whether we’re trying to stave off dementia or simply sharpen our mental
ability, working out our brains and physical bodies is critical for
optimum mental agility and health. Put another way, physical activity
and mental stimulation are both crucial for proper mental function.
Think of the brain as a muscle that needs daily exercise—use it or lose
For good mental function, it’s vital to eat a healthy and balanced diet
that’s rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. Eating a diet rich
in phytonutrients and omega-3 fatty acids helps maintain and optimize
bodily and brain functions as well as slow the growth of the harmful
effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Foods that contain omega-3s are salmon,
mackerel, sardines, flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds
and walnuts. Also, turmeric has been found to reduce risk of Alzheimer's
disease. Ginkgo biloba as a supplement has been found to increase
circulation in brain boosting memory power. Also avoid fried foods,
processed foods and alcohol. Keeping the mind in top shape enhances the
ability to learn and boosts the capacity to concentrate and store
To optimize physical health and mental function be sure to keep active
and stimulated in every possible way. Here are some suggestions:
Take walks outdoors (hiking trail, park, beach)
Exercise everyday (power walk, jog, swim, weight
train, do yoga, do stadiums)
Listen to classical music
Listen to educational podcasts
Read the newspaper
Learn to play a musical instrument
Learn a new language
Learn to use a new software application
Participate in social networks
Learn to use a new computer application
Learn to use your computer mouse with the opposite
Take adult-education classes
Learn and play new board games (chess,
Learn to dance
Read books (the more challenging the better)
Learn new skills (carpentry, cooking, gardening,
drawing, painting, sewing, knitting, etc.)
Practice relaxation techniques (meditation, tai chi)
Have fun and be active in your social circle and
Take educational classes or attend lectures
Go back to school to learn something new
Amira's Online Stores
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Blog or Your Wholesome Life branding.
Organic Store where you can find my favorite cookbooks (and
other books), kitchen tools, cookware, dry goods and even gifts and
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clothing and accessories!
VEGETARIAN ORGANIC RECIPE OF THE WEEK
Autumn Raw Vegetable
and Microgreens Salad
Click on the picture for a closer look!
As we move into colder months, it’s a good idea to continue
eating live greens
and vegetables (power foods) to fortify the immune system, stay healthy
and ward off common viruses lurking around us as the weather gets
This farm-fresh salad is made with all the delicious and
nutritious produce available at farmer’s markets this time of the year.
It's great to eat for brunch, and provides complete protein, lots of
important phytonutrients and essential omega 3s—all vital for a healthy
and strong body and mind. Although it is a cold meal, it’s warming,
energizing and revitalizing.
2 cloves pressed raw garlic
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ teaspoon natural sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 ½ cups cooked quinoa (cold or room temperature)
½ cup finely chopped fennel
2 cups coarsely chopped arugula
1 cup finely chopped sweet Italian pepper (or red bell pepper)
1 heaping cup finely chopped kale (large stems removed)
2 cups fresh and raw corn kernels (1 corn ear)
1 cup chopped red cabbage
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives (or red onions)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill (large stems removed)
1 tablespoon raw hemp seeds
2 tablespoons sprouted or raw pumpkin seeds
1 heaping cup freshly cut microgreens (broccoli, mustard, kale and
1. In a small bowl whisk all the dressing ingredients (garlic, olive
oil, lime juice, salt and pepper) together and set aside.
2. In a large glass or ceramic bowl add all the salad ingredients,
drizzle all the dressing over the salad gently tossing. Taste and adjust salt and
pepper if needed and serve immediately.
Add ¼ cup pomegranate seeds and 1 chopped avocado for a sweeter and
creamier salad texture.
Add another tablespoon of lime juice for a stronger
citrus flavor if desired.
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This newsletter is not intended to provide and replace medical advice. The author and editor expressly disclaim all responsibility for any adverse effects resulting from any information, diet or exercise suggestions. It is imperative that the advice of a physician is sought before any diet or exercise programs are adopted.
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