Son #3, our go-to guy inside the health food industry
Today, I’m happy to share an interview with Son #3 as he gives us insight into the health food industry in north-central Oklahoma. Whether you’re a health food nut who thinks Splenda and bug spray is evil, or deeply suspicious of any food that isn’t fried in hydrogenated oil with the shelf life of a twinky, this post is for you.
Son #3 was raised up on the farm where he developed a deep love of homegrown food and a hatred of the mechanical part of farming–repairing broken-down tractors, balers, swathers, combines, plows, etc. So, after he graduated from Mrs. McGriffith’s homeschool class he sold his Beefmaster cow, Radish, and her calf and worked his way through a few years at Southwestern Oklahoma State University before jumping into the restaurant business with his older brother. In addition to farming, ranching, and the restaurant business, he has been a waiter, pulled a short stint as a Wal-Mart associate, and once did a stand-up comedy show. He is married to a wonderful young lady and is the dad to two sons, Kevman (whom #3 wrote about in this post The Boy Who Made A Difference–How Adoption Changed My Life) and Einstein. #3 is active in his church, is an all around nice guy, and is celebrating a birthday today.
At present, he is employed at a family owned health food store in Stillwater, Oklahoma, as assistant manager and grocery buyer where he orders product from three main vendors besides small suppliers and family farms, buying locally when possible.
Danni: Okay, first of all, there is a place next to y’all’s store called a Boba Fusion Cafe. What in cat-hair is that?
Son #3: (laughs) Some kind of Asian place. They have something called bubble tea. Has tapioca pearls in it that you suck up through a straw.
Danni: (thinking she will not be ruining her tea, ever, with tapioca pearls) I see. So there aren’t hookah pipes in there? (hookah, boba, whatever)
#3: (laughs) I don’t think so, although I believe there is a place somewhere in Stillwater with hookah pipes.
Danni: Okay, now that we’ve got that cleared up… As an old farm kid, what drew you to the health food business?
Son #3: Well, one day, I was making a pot pie for my kids and I couldn’t pronounce most of the ingredients on the box. That’s when I decided to make a more conscious effort to learn about healthy food. In order to afford higher quality food, I decided to enter the business.
Danni: Who shops in a health food store?
Son #3: I’d say our clientele is what’s called eclectic. We get everybody from conservative religious people to devoutly atheist, vegans, vegetarians, and everywhere between. We get a lot of young families trying to ensure their kids eat good food. People with health issues, like cancer, whose doctors have advised eating organic produce and food without preservatives. Some people are trying to prevent health problems. Some people have food allergens. The common denominator between them seems to be the desire for a healthier lifestyle and distrust of industrialized farming and processing methods.
Danni: Some of your customers believe modern farming practices are evil?
#3: Yes. A lot of them are concerned about pesticides and genetically modified food.
Danni: Do you think they understand the magnitude of two percent of the population (farmers and ranchers) trying to feed the other ninety-eight percent (consumers) without using modern farming practices? (The current world population estimate is over seven billion.)
#3: Not altogether, but I think that most of them feel that there are alternative ways of farming that can still feed our population and much of the rest of the world with high quality food that is free of pesticides and genetic modification. I think that they also believe strongly in small family farmers, and they are highly disturbed that the average joe family farmer can become enslaved to an industry that tries to make it illegal to save seeds and sues farmers for having patented seeds in their fields even if the farmer didn’t plant them. They are greatly concerned that the genetically modified foods that we are consuming are not reacting well with our bodies and are causing hugely increased rates of food allergies, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.
Danni: Do you think your customers would want to get out in the fields in the hot sun and hoe and pick bugs all day to avoid using sprays?
#3: (grins because he knows what that is like) Probably not. But some of them do work in the community garden here in Stillwater. I think there are some really good alternative ideas out there that are based in reality, too, (to keep people from having to hoe all day and pick bugs by hand) that aren’t just theories and ways to put people out of business. If you follow the money I think you will probably find the true enemy of the family farmer.
#3 with his OSU colors goin’ on. Also standing in front of the tea section, my favorite.
Danni: Stillwater is the home of Oklahoma State University. Do y’all get a lot of students in here?
#3: Quite a few. Faculty, too.
Danni: Are the young people’s attitudes toward food different from the older generation’s?
#3: Oh, not really. It seems to depend on how they were raised. Some of the students come from big population centers where there are a lot more food choices. They’re just glad to find a health food source.
Danni: You call where you were raised in southwest Oklahoma a food desert? Why?
#3: That’s what places are called where a lot of food is raised, but healthy food choices are limited.
Danni: There are certainly very few health food stores in the western half of Oklahoma. But we have good ol’ Wal-Mart. You worked at Wal-Mart for a while. What difference do you notice in the food buyers at a supercenter and the buyers at the health food store?
#3: There’s a night and day difference in their attitudes for one thing. At the health food store I notice a zest for life. At Wal-Mart many of the people didn’t look healthy and they had a bad attitude.
*author’s note: I have been guilty of looking sick and having a bad attitude in Wal-Mart, myself. Particularly the time the associate was chatting on her cell phone instead of checking out my stuff and when I began to have steam coming out my ears, she looked at me like, hello, old lady. What’s your problem? Who even asked you to come in here and bother me anyway? But I digress. Back to the interview.
Danni: What are some of the main differences between the family owned health food store and big outfits like Wal-Mart?
#3: It’s an overwhelmingly more vibrant atmosphere. We get to know our customers on a personal level, learn about their families and their health needs. We treat our customers like real people.
Danni: What are some of your most popular items?
#3: Gluten free products are a big seller. The organic produce. The all natural, grass fed beef. The vitamins and supplements are big, too.
Danni: What do you sell besides food?
#3: All kinds of stuff. Natural cleaners, laundry detergents, housewares (they have some beautiful, handmade pottery) shampoos, personal hygiene products. Essential oils. Pet food.
Danni: Y’all also have an eatery. Tell me about that.
#3: The eatery is dedicated gluten, dairy, and nut free. A lot of families with food allergens come here for special events because we have treats their kids can eat. Dairy free ice cream, gluten free cupcakes, stuff like that. We also serve paninis, salads, gluten free cinnamon rolls. We’re always working on developing good food for people with allergies. We have some really tasty stuff.
#3 and family. Yes, we are looking forward to a new little McGriffith
Danni: Is tofu turkey really better for you than real turkey? (You can see what our dog thought about tofu turkey in the post The Phony Meat Project.)
#3: No. It’s mostly for vegans and people with allergies.
Danni: Do you sell much of the nasty stuff?
#3: (laughs) Not really, but we sell a lot of tofu pups and smart dogs. (hotdogs) And quite a lot of faux lunch meat.
Danni: (thinking, ew) Okay moving on. Let’s talk about real meat. What kind do you sell?
#3: Well, the grass fed beef. Free range chicken. Some bison. If someone wants other kinds we don’t sell, we try to hook them up with a local farmer.
Danni: What do you like most about your job?
#3: The variety of people we deal with and the numbers aspect of the ordering process I do.
#3: Our store is small and crowded and there is a lot of multi-tasking sometimes.
Danni: Would you want your kids in the health food industry?
Danni: What is one of the funniest things that happens in a health food store?
#3: Well, I find it funny when people come in needing a cleanse that’ll work in the next couple of days because they need to pass a drug test.
Danni: Yeah. Hello. Do you have a health food joke?
#3: Sort of. Why did the tomato blush?
Danni: I have no idea.
#3: (grins) Because it saw the salad dressing.
Danni: Oh, har, har…Do you have any parting thoughts?
#3: The health food industry is a big supporter of small family farms. There doesn’t have to be a conflict.
Danni: Everybody’s under the gun, aren’t they?
#3: Yeah. When people demonize farming, they don’t understand that the average farmers are just doing the best they can.
Well, happy, happy birthday, #3, and that wraps up the interview. I enjoyed it very much and I hope all y’all did, too.
(Afterward, we celebrated #3’s birthday at a Japanese steak house and I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t include this picture of somebody’s super cool wheels parked next door.)
Until next time, God bless all y’all and this song’s for you #3.
*This artist doesn’t necessarily endorse my blog, I just love this song.