This is a "tough love" blog post, because I've shopped a lot at LifeSource Natural Foods ever since it opened way back when. Three or four times a week I go there.
But changes LifeSource has been making cause me and my wife to be a bit less satisfied with the store.
I readily admit that those changes probably are profitable for LifeSource. However, they go against the grain of my longtime vegetarianism -- which began about 50 years ago while I was in college.
(Along with other students of a crazed Greek yoga teacher, we started the second health food store in San Jose, California in 1970.)
Basically, I think LifeSource is going overboard on the "natural" part of its name to the detriment of "health." Natural foods aren't always healthy. And some healthy foods aren't completely natural.
Here's some specifics of what concerns me about the direction LifeSource is going. Again, I'm speaking as someone who hasn't eaten a bite of meat or fish since 1968, and is pretty well informed about nutrition.
Deli offerings. In the early days of LifeSource, they almost always had tofu and brown rice in the deli/takeout section of the store. Now, macaroni and cheese (full-fat variety) is common, while tofu and rice have almost completely disappeared. When I asked about this a few months ago, I was told that many people nowadays believe they are allergic to tofu.
But I doubt that's the whole story.
Now I'm much less likely to get something from the deli/takeout section, even though I peruse it often. My suspicion is that LifeSource has learned what their customers are most willing to buy, even if that isn't the healthiest food to eat.
OK. The market has spoken. That's capitalism.
However, it leaves health-minded vegetarians like me and my wife without the choices that we used to enjoy. Even the walnut loaf that was common in the deli last year has been missing for quite a while. But chicken breasts are a daily feature, I'm pretty sure.
Which gets me to...
Meat has multiplied. In the early days, I believe LifeSource had nothing with meat in it. Then warning signs appeared: "contains meat." Eventually there was a small meat section. Now there's a really big meat section.
I understand that most people believe that meat can be part of a healthy diet. In small doses, I agree.
However, even if meat is "natural," that doesn't make it healthy. Or good for our planet. There's much evidence to support the contention that being a vegetarian or vegan is both healthy for people and for the environment.
Almost every story about global warming that I read in one of the science magazines I subscribe to says that raising animals for food is one of the most carbon-intensive things that humans do. Thus eliminating meat from one's diet is one of the best actions an individual can engage in to reduce carbon emissions -- along with not flying.
As the meat section at LifeSource has steadily enlarged, other areas of the store had to be reduced. Such as...
Alternatives to meat have dwindled. Back when I became a vegetarian, there were no meat substitutes like there are today. No veggie burgers. No flavored tofu or tempeh. You had to make your own vegetarian meals, being careful to find good sources of protein.
LifeSource used to have many varieties of tofu and tempeh. Now that section has dwindled considerably in size. I used to enjoy the teriyaki tempeh strips as an alternative to tofu, both of which are alternatives to meat. Now I'm pretty sure there is only unflavored tempeh at LifeSource.
And shockingly, today I went to get a package of "beefless ground beef" for the vegetarian tacos I'm about to make for dinner, but found that apparently LifeSource no longer carries this vegetarian staple. So I drove back to Trader Joe's, where I'd already shopped before going to LifeSource, in order to get some.
Other items are lacking. I suppose most people feel aggrieved when a store stops carrying a favorite item, wondering how the heck someone decided to discontinue this marvelous product. That feeling just has been happening more frequently with me at LifeSource.
As noted above, meat alternatives are becoming less common, while meat items are becoming more common.
The bread section seems smaller now, with fewer whole wheat varieties that we much prefer, though I could be wrong about this. Not a big deal, but today I also saw that one of our favorite jams, Oregon Growers strawberry rhubarb, was no longer on the shelf, with another brand seemingly replacing it.
And rather strangely, when I tried to custom order a case of Loma Linda Little Links from LifeSource, rather than getting it via Amazon, at first I was told that they don't carry anything from Loma Linda because it doesn't meet their standards.
I don't know what the offending ingredient in Little Links is: corn oil? hydrolyzed soy protein?
Regardless, I can guarantee that Little Links are considerably healthier than lots of items sold by LifeSource. But while my custom order was taken, I never got it, so I had to resort to getting my Little Links via Amazon.
I'll end by noting that LifeSource Natural Foods still is a big favorite of ours. It's a very pleasant place to shop, with friendly employees and a great selection of items.
Not as cheap as Fred Meyer and other stores that carry organic items (LifeSource's prices for organic raspberries are much higher than Fred Meyer, for example), but my wife and I are happy to pay a bit more to support Salem's premier locally owned natural food store.
And we appreciate the 10% senior discount.
We just wish LifeSource would tilt a bit back in the direction of "health." It's hard for me to believe that I'm the only LifeSource customer longing for tofu and brown rice to return regularly to the deli/takeout section. Doesn't have to be there all the time, of course.
But once in a while would be nice. (Note: my wife just told me that she bought tofu from the Deli section at lunchtime recently. I usually go to the store in the evening, and I don't recall seeing tofu available in the Deli for many months, if not years.)