I Love Shoplifting From Whole Foods
Bring a tote bag, get into character and use your responsibility for good.
Walking down the aisles at the Whole Foods in Downtown Los Angeles is a surreal experience. For starters, it occupies the same street corner where Elizabeth Short, aka the Black Dahlia, is believed to have been abducted. And then there’s the experience of walking through the doors—outside, unhoused residents pitch tents across the street while security guards neurotically patrol the entrance. Sometimes, there’s a man who plays the trumpet outside, a cardboard donation box to his left, a gray cat to his right. The guards let him stay because he provides entertainment to the customers.
Then you enter the store. It’s like stepping into a fresh fever dream. The air conditioner billows at overtime, starkly contrasted by the unforgiving heat of the dry season outside. “Pocketful of Sunshine” by Natasha Bedingfield blares overhead—the playlist is like something pulled straight out of a Hollister in 2008.
Now, it's time to shoplift.
Step 1: Get inspired
The first step to a successful heist: take a second or two to let the ridiculous contradictions of the Whole Foods set in—the $20 “chakra” candles, the luxury skincare, the needlessly expensive produce (rare mushrooms foraged in Japan, dragon fruit, $8 cherries, etc.), packaged sushi that’s more expensive than an actual restaurant—and let it all inspire you. Pretend that this is all a simulation; you are playing a video game, or it’s a GTA mission. That white woman in dreads buying ashwagandha and endangered palo santo? She’s a CPU. Hell, you’re a CPU.
Step #2: Tote bag
I can’t stress this one enough. Make sure the tote bag is ambiguous enough to where it could be your stylish bag of choice or something to lug your groceries in. Grab a shopping basket. Find a cheap, large bag of chips and place it in the basket. Periodically slip items you won’t be paying for into your tote bag.
Step #3: Get into character
Remember: You’re a CPU; you’re playing a role. Maybe you’re an overworked fashion assistant, a micro-niche internet celebrity, an underground rockstar, a Hollywood producer, a super spy, Albanian royalty—doesn’t matter. Personally speaking, I like to pretend I’m George Clooney’s overworked assistant: I don’t have time for bullshit—like a security guard checking my tote bag—because Mr. Clooney needs me, stat! It’s all about performance. Try to look like a yuppie, maybe even have a latte as prop—something that screams, “I write for Jezebel,” or Whole Foods customer.
Step #4: Don’t be intimidated
Yes, the squadron of security guards patrolling the store and its exit can be intimidating. But remember, the demonization of the unhoused has integrated itself into the DNA of places like Whole Foods. In other words, their obsessive assumptions of what a shoplifter should look like can be used as protective coverage.
Step #5: Remember there’s nothing revolutionary about stealing from Whole Foods
All of these tips, ideally, will make you a master thief. But remember, it’s nothing to brag about. It’s objectively disgusting that the more yuppie-passing you are (regardless of your actual class position), the easier it is to get away with theft. That’s the essential component of privilege in its most searingly obvious form.
The first few times you get away with an expensive heist, you’re high off a rush of false empowerment; there's something seductive to it, like juvenile rebellion. But pretty soon, it’s obvious that stealing from Whole Foods is not the anticapitalist statement you think it is. It’s still consumption, just with a few of the logistical steps (like paying) skipped . There is nothing revolutionary about stealing $40 vitamin C serum or Grade A cacao beans you will most certainly never use. If you’re going to be a scammer, it’s in your best interest to not be a delusional one.
Step #6: With great power comes great responsibility
Just because it might not necessarily start a communist revolution doesn’t mean it can’t be used for good. Lord knows there are plenty of hungry people right outside Whole Foods. Give back—not because you are a saint but because it’s your responsibility. Plus, you can pretend you’re a superspy-esque Robin Hood while you’re browsing the aisles (just for fun).
The first step is to actually get to know the unhoused near you—they are your neighbors, after all. With time, you’ll build a relationship, so the next time you stop into Whole Foods, ask your neighbors if there’s anything they’d like or need—maybe a meal, a snack, a simple luxury and so on. My friend, who I’ll refer to as her nickname Ladybug for privacy, lives in a tent near the Whole Foods. She has a pet cat, so I make sure to grab her some kitty food, her favorite snacks and meals that don’t require preparation (think pre-packaged sushi, sandwich materials, dried fruits and nuts).
Step #7: Be obvious!
This might sound contradictory, but security guards are trained to spot the body language of shoplifters. Don’t look shifty; don’t try to slip anything into your pockets. A useful cognitive tool is to behave as if the objects you are stealing have already been purchased. Some of the most extravagant thefts of mine have been done while holding said objects in my hand, in full view of the security guards, as I walk out the door. But this can only work if you can exhibit the false confidence that you are the rightful owner of whatever merchandise you are taking.
Step #8: Fake phone call
Remember: You’re a character. Stay in character. When you’re about to leave, if you have any paranoia that you’ll be stopped, pretend to be on a high-powered phone call. Walk angrily and shout to the phone something along the lines of, “You tell HIM that we’ll be seeing him in court!” or, “What do you mean I’m playing a concert tomorrow? I already told my agent it’s my niece’s birthday!”
Well, there you have it. I can’t promise you these tips will make you a foolproof shoplifter. But they might make you a better one, so long as you do so with utmost confidence and inscrutability.