Amazon, Whole Foods, and the future of food

From our June 2017 newsletter:

Some of the biggest news on the international food scene last week was the announcement that Amazon would be acquiring the US-based grocery Whole Foods Market for a cool $13.7 billion. (Whole Foods calls itself “America’s Healthiest Grocery”, and as its name suggests, the focus is on organic, sustainable products.)

With Whole Food Markets currently only located in the US, Canada and the UK, it’s a deal which won’t have any immediate impact on our local food scene (no drone delivered organic kale quite yet!), but there is speculation that it could have far-reaching consequences for the global food industry.

Alice Waters, founder and owner of the iconic Californian restaurant Chez Panisse, took to Twitter to urge Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos to take the opportunity to “do the right thing for our planet” by insisting that “produce comes from farmers who are taking care of the land”, and “to require meat and seafood to come from operations that are not depleting natural resources”.

It’s a tall order to expect one technology giant to save the planet by acquiring an exclusive supermarket, and Waters admits that some people find her idealistic and impractical. But it’s certainly drawn global attention to what we already see as a growing movement in restaurants around the world, including South Africa, which is precisely about honouring ingredients (and people) that sustain rather than deplete our natural resources. A recent meal at Wolfgat in Paternoster highlighted what is probably the extreme of that practice in this country, with practically every item on the menu hailing from a short radius around the restaurant.

We don’t all have the luxury of being able to forage for our food, or even to shop at Whole Foods (it’s apparently quite expensive), but let’s hope we see more people in the food world – and drones! – moving in the right directions.

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