Just say no.

For years, those three little words neatly summarized my feelings about Whole Foods, and made for a Flintstones-sized bone of contention between me and every food-snob I came across; where my friends and family chomped at the bit to feel good about parting with their paychecks, I saw only a business model predicated on sloughing-off expensive products of inconsistent quality, remarkably mediocre prepared foods, and egregiously priced dry goods encased in very clever branding.

But a certain reader, in response to last week’s column on Costco beef, explained that Whole Foods in Santa Rosa sources 100% grass-fed, certified-organic beef from ranchers right here in the County, so I decided to update some of my facts and figures:

That’s the tag line from their website, and you know what? They’re talking the talk and walking the walk. I’ve been cooking my ass off with Whole Foods’ beef all week – top sirloin, short ribs, and chuck, ground for steak tartare and burgers; stew meat for Marcella Hazan’s beautiful Stew with Red Wine and Vegetables – and from what I’ve seen, I gotta say, it surely doesn’t suck.

Now, before you think I’ve gone soft, let’s be clear: I’d still rather stub my pinkie toe than eat off their steam tables, and I still think you may qualify for County services if you buy their paper towels or laundry detergent. But their beef, while not cheap, is fair for what it is, because what it is is damned good, with a clear provenance from farm to table, an unequivocal insistence on quality, and, no mean feat, properly executed butchery – I know that sounds hyped up, but trust me, I wouldn’t be serving the kids this steak tartare with a Hello Kitty fork if I didn’t believe it:I’m signing off with a shout-out to the butchers, not only because they’re so essential to the quality and safety of ground meat, but because the Whole Foods crew actually know what they’re doing, right down to the sanitation of their grinders and what the cattle eat in winter, and Whole Foods butchery has been something of a bugaboo for me in the past – at the Tribeca location that we used to live near, they were downright incompetent, equally incapable of filleting salmon as trimming a veal chops, even refusing even to grind meat to order. But that’s all different now, at least at the Coddingtown branch, and they deserve credit for getting it right.