Last month MsIndependent took a trip to the newly reopened Whole Foods on Westchase (11041 Westheimer Rd) for the second installment of our Tour, Tasting, and Brunch series. This series started in July at Phoenicia Specialty Foods, and is our way of exploring unique local grocery stores, and expanding our knowledge on food options. Now in case you didn't know, I am a huge Whole Foods fan, in fact I was just there this morning. As often as I go I didn't know half of the details we learned along the tour. We tend to have blinders on at the store and get the usual items, and go down the usual aisles, but I absolutely LOVED the tour, and here is why.

Produce: We started our tour in the produce department. My biggest take away here was that all of the staff are informed that organic produce is not permitted to touch conventional produce. The reason being that it would compromise the integrity of the product being considered organic. Not all the produce is grown locally but they do their best to source from right here in Texas. We got to try the dragon fruit which I had never had before but it reminds me of a not so sweet kiwi that I would probably add to a salad or smoothie since the flavor is so subtle. We spent a considerable amount of time in this area, as the ladies were genuinely curious to know more, but we slowly made our way over to the seafood department.

 Seafood: The seafood section was one of my favorite portions of the tour, and not just because of the smoked salmon samples. Try to say that three times fast. Whole Food can smoke any seafood that you would like, anytime, you just have to ask. I never request anything that I don't see in the case, so I was pretty excited to find this out. We found out fun details like octopus being one of their biggest sellers and how Whole Foods selects their seafood providers. All their seafood is managed by responsible fish farms and fisheries. An interesting point that they made is that the farm-raised salmon actually has more healthy fat content than the fresh caught fish. The farmers are careful to minimize the impact of fish farming on the environment by monitoring  the water quality and surrounding habitats. Farmers also do not treat nets with toxic chemicals to get rid of algae and no pesticides are used. 

They also have a color coding system of identifying the sustainability of the fish they provide. As often as I go to Whole Foods I've never noticed their system. Whole Foods does not provide any seafood in the red zone.

Green: From well-managed fisheries; caught in ways that cause little harm to habitats or other wildlife. 

Yellow: From fisheries where there are some concerns with how species are caught or managed.

Red: Whole Foods does not sell red-rated seafood. Overfished, poorly managed, or caught in ways that cause harm to habitats or other wildlife.

Meat Department: Here we sampled the Teriyaki Pineapple Pork Sausage that was absolutely divine. I normally don't eat pork sausage but this was fabulously delicious. I didn't know that you could customize the sausages by making requests like adding blueberry or pineapple pieces, or a specific kind of seasoning. You can also get your meat smoked if you just give them a little bit of notice. They even have an option to request lamb casing versus pork casing. Much like the seafood color coding system, the meat department also has an animal welfare rating that works on a scale of 1-5. The ranking takes into consideration things like crates, crowding, animal diet, and animal environment. 

Other departments that we explored was the extensive cheese section, juice/smoothie and coffee bar, baked goods, supplements, sushi, ready-made foods, and desserts. We did a good amount of tasting and sampling and were able to ask questions to all the team members in each section.

Another highlight in our tour were the team members. Everyone was knowledgeable, friendly, and so personable. No one was stumped by any of our questions, and although we had a schedule to keep, we found ourselves genuinely intrigued and staying way too long at some sections getting all the tidbits we could. It's so important to know where your food comes from, but it's even more rewarding to know that the people handling your food are doing so with care, respect, and professionalism. Below are just a few of the team members we met.

We wrapped up the tour with brunch where everyone was able to go to whatever department that peaked their interest and grab lunch. We were also treated to complimentary aqua frescas with our meals and reusable Whole Foods bags stuffed all kinds of goodies and coupons. Everyone love, love, loooooved the tour, the food, the information, and the goodies. Also I want to say a big thank you to Lauren for taking time out to show us around the store. This was a great experience and a whole lot of fun. Pun intended. :)