Have you ever searched for something?
Have you ever looked long and hard for something you need, only to realize that you may never find it, it may never have existed, and a conspiracy of cold-hearted cynics and professional marketers will keep you from ever holding it?
Well, then. I am glad we can understand one another. We shall now discuss the Nature’s Marketplace at Wegmans grocery stores.
“Nature’s Marketplace” is the name for “the organic section,” the “health food,” or the “healthy living” section of Wegmans, the dominant grocery chain where I live. Cute name, except it sounds like an entity, “Nature,” has decided to open an insurgent free-commerce zone inside of Wegmans. Probably without permission. Real Princess Mononoke drama. Like how weeds sprout through the cracks in sidewalks or pavement? And overly-fond-of-themselves filmmakers use that image to show how futile we have been to try and tame nature? Except they’re shooting that scene with portable lights that basically do the sun’s job, and they’re trampling a whole bunch of grass to shoot this one little dandelion? Like that.
Actually, if “Nature” truly ran Nature’s Marketplace and not Wegmans, it would make a lot more sense. It might be a less painful place to buy things.
This pain is odd because, by all measurable standards, Wegmans knows what the heck it is doing. Wegmans is just killing it at selling people (like me) food and food-ish things. Consumer Reports ranked Wegmans the best overall grocery store in the U.S. in 2014. Wegmans garnered $6.5 billion in revenue in 2013 from its 85 stores, according to Forbes. It is one of the Fortune-listed Best Places to Work and a Glassdoor top company for culture and values. Glassdoor! The site where people poison the well after they get fired for not properly appreciating their firm’s Culture and Values!
But here’s the scene: my wife sends me to get things in Nature’s Marketplace. At least one or two things, about once a week. Things that are arguably worth the extra organic/natural/small-batch money, or for which she has coupons. I want to be a good domestic partner and bring those things home with me, the things she saw in the coupons or in her head, or that we need for the recipe. That is an American thing to want to do. These are not the foods I grew up eating or buying, but I am not opposed to giving something a try. Something you buy with a credit card, at least.
One Sunday, it was Flaxseed Meal. Ground Flaxseed Meal. Whole Ground Flaxseed Meal, and, if humanly possible, the Bob’s Red Mill brand. I remember thinking this would not be difficult. Just find the baking stuff. There are a whole bunch of gluten-free, anything-but-white-flour baking goods inside Nature’s Enclave, right? I’m practically tripping over those weird things on every other trip.
This isn’t non-GMO applesauce or kelp flour we’re talking about. This is bag of ground up seeds. Let’s go find it.
I head toward the six or so aisles of the Free Republic of Nature’s Marketplace—after I finish in produce, but before the dry goods and dairy. I roll my shoulders up and back a bit, get my mind right, and swing the cart into the rarefied realms of Nue Natyrzstan’s Marccet.
There is a not a lot of room in The Nature Archipelago, but an aisle has been parted for a multi-level display of vitamin C super-doses (of some uncertain effectiveness). Behind it: Kettle chips. I would like to buy a beer for the person who goes shopping for both of these things. I move on.
I look through the flours, the pastas, the gluten-free bread starters, the spelt, the sorghum: no flax meal. Box after box with intentionally retrograde or minimal designs and green logos. Bag after bag of mothers so excited about their GMO-free brownie mix, they are fiercely hugging young children in plain view of a studio camera. But no flaxseed meal.
I wander the half-dozen aisle sides. I start to wonder how the Ministry of Nature Information is organized. Is organized the word?
Natural cleaning products, $9 pickles, dried fruits that are vegan. Okay, got it. But, surely, somewhere around here is …
Chips, pretzels, tortillas: 10 brands of each, 3 variations from each brand. The Committee of Nature Affairs wants people to snack. People who like Nature should snack on deep-fried chips, on fried pita wedges, on pretzels for which Paul Newman has directed the peppering. You see animals in Nature, and what are they doing? Snacking. Makes sense.
But ground flaxseed meal must be found. I search the first aisle, full of soups and broths and canned goods, but also some random grains. I search the second aisle, with some of the snacks and energy bars and also some grains, but no flaxseed. Cleaning products, Vitamin C blasting caps, teas that are not the same as the Plain Old Teas they keep near the coffee, and, yes, some other meals and grains, and lots of popped rice and corn snacks.
Herbal supplements get their own aisle. This aisle is unique, in that Wegmans, or the People’s Republic of Natural Wegmans, have not seeded these shelves with unrelated but high-margin items. Perhaps like myself, Nature’s Marketplace just never has the energy to argue with herbal supplements.
I scan every aisle of the District 12 Nature Hub once more. I begin to lose faith in Bob’s Red Mill, or Wegmans, or NATURE, or maybe everything. Will another kind of flax do? Can I just grind my own flax seeds, and will that make it a “meal”? What distinguishes a flour from a me—
Wait a minute. Right there, by the Kind bars, which are nowhere near the other energy bars? And the … fleeced yoga accessories? Just over from those $9 pickles, which are on top of little specialty bags of flour, not with the other flours? Yes. It is here.
Bob’s Red Mill Organic Whole Ground Flaxseed Meal. $4.49 per pound. Right above “NATURES STEP-STOOL,” proving that no detail is too small for Nature’s Attention.
I went into Nature, where everything you want to feel good about or need to pay more for is jammed together like a Katamari Damacy ball. I made my way through Nature, and Nature made its way through me. Also: you read this whole thing.
But now there can be whole grain cherry almond cookies. More than that, we have all learned that flours and meals and grains can show up anywhere, or even move in right next to yoga straps made from the wool of New Zealand sheeps that have never been fed Midwestern corn.
Nature’s Market corrects itself.
Original image (top) from Bendiful Blog