Natural Perspectives: Whole Foods keeps things fresh, local

Whole Foods Market opened a new store in Huntington Beach on Wednesday. As you may know, Whole Foods promotes healthy eating principles that also include locally and sustainably grown organic produce and meats. Vic and I couldn't be happier.

The spiffy new store is in the Bella Terra mall near Staples. I took a tour of the store Monday prior to its grand opening and was duly impressed.

About half of the produce it sells will be organic, with much of it locally grown. For those of us who like to know where our food comes from, Whole Foods will display the location where the produce was grown, along with how many miles it traveled to get to the store. For years, Vic and I have been exhorting our readers to eat foods that are organic, in season and locally grown. Whole Foods will make it easier to do just that.

I found the seafood counter in the store to be particularly interesting. It will offer 16 varieties of fish, plus shellfish. During the tour, a representative from Carlsbad Aquafarm was present to talk about the farmed shellfish. Located on the Agua Hedionda Lagoon, Carlsbad Aquafarm is California's only shellfish farm. It's been growing mussels, oysters and scallops since 1990 and is adding green abalone to its stock. It also grows red ogo seaweed.

Because our oceans are being fished out, sustainable fish and shellfish farms are a viable alternative to wild-caught seafood. The suspended aquaculture that is practiced by the folks at Carlsbad Aquafarm avoids the bycatch problem. That's where organisms other than what you want end up in the net or trawl. The bycatch is usually killed in the process of catching the desired fish or shellfish, which is a huge waste of wildlife. Vic and I are looking forward to trying some of these locally grown shellfish.

I also learned that many stores sell scallops that have been artificially plumped by the addition of a chemical called tri-polyphosphate. Those nice, big scallops cook down to tiny nubs, a very disappointing development. At Whole Foods, their scallops aren't treated with chemicals, so all you get are wholesome seafood. The people behind the counter will marinate your fish for you and even cook it for you free of charge. I'm told that they even throw in free vegetables with an order of cooked fish. That sounds like a good deal.

At the meat counter, they will be selling cuts of grass-fed bison, including tri-tip and rib eye. Their California-raised beef will be organic and grass-fed as well. Some of the chicken that they will have for sale will be Mary's California Bronze Chicken. These Rhode Island red chickens are raised in the outdoors with grassy pasture, shade and places to perch. I had a sample of this chicken and was wowed by the flavor. There is no comparison between these birds and a factory farm-raised chicken.

Whole Foods has its own line of some products, such as organic almond milk. For those who must avoid dairy, or who choose to, this organic almond milk makes a good substitute. It did taste a bit like almonds, but it had a great mouth feel, unlike some watery almond milks that I've tried. I was really pleased to see that the almonds used were organic, because conventionally grown almonds take a lot of pesticides. It is the heavy use of certain pesticides, such as the ones used on almonds, that seems to be responsible for the colony collapse disorder that is decimating our nation's commercial honeybees. That is yet another good reason for buying organic food whenever possible.

The cheese counter is where the staff almost lost me on the tour. Whole Foods has 500 different cheeses and cheese products, more than any other store in our area. The tempting array of wheel after wheel of exotic cheeses made me want to just sit down with a box of crackers and taste every one of them. But the sushi bar beckoned.

One nice feature is an in-store deli where you can buy meals to eat there or take home. The choices include brown rice sushi, an organic salad bar, tapas, pizzas and delicious-sounding sandwiches that include roast beef with arugula and onion marmalade or Vietnamese grilled steak on a ciabatta roll.

For the budget-minded, the store will have $5.99/pound salads Wednesdays, $2 off sandwiches Thursdays and $1 street taco Saturdays.

One of the many things that I like about Whole Foods is that it helps community groups raise money. For example, the store is partnering with the Bolsa Chica Conservancy on Wednesday. You can designate the conservancy to receive 5% of the value of your purchase on that day. I'm not sure that I can hold off that long before going to the store, but for sure, I'll be there that day. We hope that you will be, too.

You can see more photos of the store on my blog at greenlifeinsocal.wordpress.com.

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I just wanted to leave you with a quick recap of the garage sale last Saturday to benefit the Huntington Beach Community Garden. Thanks to good participation by donors and buyers alike, we made more than $800 for the new garden.

The items that didn't sell were delivered to the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center for its rummage sale Oct. 23. Some really good things didn't find homes at the garden group's sale, so be sure to visit the Wetlands & Wildlife sale at Pacific Coast Highway and Newland Street.

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at LMurrayPhD@gmail.com.

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