Now that Dallas finally has a Trader Joe's, we can more easily eat all-natural, non-GMO, pesticide-free veggies and meat that roamed freely across organic pastures before it was gently killed, right? Actually, no. Trader Joe's is one of those grocery stores that seems all organic-y, because it has tasteful decorations, happy salespeople and lots of different random health claims on its products.
But the chain has been pissing off food safety advocates by selling meat from animals raised on antibiotics, a practice that is not organic. So let's compare Trader Joe's with other specialty grocery stores in Dallas. Which organic-y grocery store chain is actually selling you organics?
(And here's a quick primer: Organic produce just means produce not sprayed with pesticides and other crap, while organic meat is from animals fed organic feed and given no drugs or synthetic hormones.)
Central Market: Central Market has a glorious produce section with more than 150 varieties of "seasonal organics."
When it comes to meat, CM's website also assures you that "you can feel good about buying any meat that bears our name" because the animals are raised "without added hormones or antibiotics and fed a strict diet according to our own strict specifications." Sounds good. But wait, what do they mean by meat that bears "our name" -- is that all the meat products sold in Central Market, or just the Central Market-brand meat?
Asked to clarify their policy on meat, the Central Market press team sent us a statement that touts having "GMO free" produce but doesn't really answer our meat question. "Central Market is continuing efforts to make organics more prevalent for all customers," the statement says.
Whole Foods: Like Central Market, Whole Foods is a chain founded in Texas that's popular among the skinny yuppie dinner-party-hosting crowd. But Central Market's organic claims are super weak compared to those from Whole Foods.
"At Whole Foods Market, our standard is clear: No antibiotics, EVER!" writes Chief Operating Officer AC Gallo, in a firm blog post clearly outlining Whole Food's no antibiotics-in-meat policy.
In fact, the entire chain of Whole Foods has even been certified as organic under the California Certified Organic Farmers trade group. That doesn't mean that everything in the store is organic, but it does mean that Whole Foods has a decent organic selection and super anal policies in place such as "we go to great lengths to ensure that organic and conventional products never touch."
The company also works with the global animal partnership, a certification program that ensures that animals are treated nicely before they are killed and eaten.
As an extra health bonus not related to organics, Whole Foods also has an online list of "ingredients that Whole Foods Market finds unacceptable in food products." That is fierce.
Sprouts: Sprouts is cheaper and smaller than Whole Foods and Central Market, which means it's also much less overwhelming to shop in. While probably too small to do all of your healthy shopping at, Sprouts has a nice selection of healthy-ish processed foods and some drug-free meat, though its website stops short of listing any sort of store-wide organic policy: "There are several outstanding companies offering organic cuts of meat, such as Sommers Organic Beef and Rosie Organic Chicken, and you will find those at Sprouts."
The produce description posted online is less transparent, going big on the flowery language without a clear policy breakdown: "Our goal is always to offer great value and strike the right balance between quality, flavor and price. But most importantly, your safety is our priority." The press person failed to answer an email asking for clarification.
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Trader Joe's: Much of the products it sells are under the private Trader Joe's label, which does some cool stuff. Any TJ's-labeled eggs are guaranteed to come from a cage-free hen. The chain also swears it doesn't use any genetically modified ingredients in its private label products.
But the Consumers Union is giving Trader Joe's a hard time for its cute-little-health-food store reputation. It turns out that only some of Trader Joe's private-label meat is organic, according to a report by the Consumers Union. As part of a campaign to take unnecessary antibiotics out of the entire U.S. meat industry, Consumers Union is pressuring Trader Joe's to completely nix antibiotic-fed animal products from its stores. In fact, a a related poll found that more than 80 percent of Trader Joe's shoppers aren't even aware that their trendy little grocery store sells meat from animals treated with antibiotics.
TJ's admits that it carries some regular old meat on its website, posting online: "When it comes to meat and poultry, Trader Joe's offers items from sources of a conventional nature (where antibiotics are likely used) and sources that do not use antibiotics (organic or explicitly labeled as antibiotic-free [ABF])."
It does bear mentioning that Trader Joe's offers super cheap organic produce, such as a bag of organic carrots that costs only 79 cents. For a budget-friendly diet, I recommend force-feeding yourself that bag for dinner.