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Chain of health food and "natural remedies" stores found across the UK. Founded in 1920 as "Heath & Heather" and renamed to the more familiar Holland & Barrett in 1970, the company now has over 500 stores across the UK, ensuring that hypochondriacs and rich, gullible folks nationwide can get their regular fix of expensive, stinking nonsense without let or hindrance.

There's a fairly wide variety of products peddled by Holland & Barrett. Here's a rundown of those available for sale in my local store. Quick and dirty investigation has led me to believe that while there's some variation in their wares, certain items go just about everywhere:

  • Whole foods. These seem to be a motley selection of dried fruits, nuts, seeds, and other such stuff. Naturally, it's all "organic" and a lot of it is "fairtrade," which in turn means it's got plenty mark up on it. Some of it's also gone even further into the land of trying to appeal to self-hating middle-classers by claiming to be "responsibly sourced" from a co-operative farm in Namibia, however, since there's no real definition of what exactly constitutes a co-operative, methinks that the ethical card's being played here. Whether any of this stuff is actually tasty I cannot pass judgement on, however, as I've sworn never to eat anything that looks like it may lacerate my copper-coloured ring on the way out. It certainly neither smells nor looks appetising, that's for certain. Unless you're a Gillian McKeith fan, you have no use for this stuff. And it's pricey.

  • Vitamin Supplements. With one of these tablets, you can get yourself 1000% of your RDA of one of a whole shopping list of nutrients. They are also marketed as being "natural," which is a tautology if ever there was one - vitamins and minerals occur in foods anyhow so of course they're natural. I have to say, for a business that prides itself on selling stuff that's traditional and natural and so forth, the fact that you are told you need to take on board what is effectively food in pill form seems about as unnatural as you can get. Unless you're on a medically mandated highly restrictive diet, or have more allergies than an incorrigible dole bludger, you have no use for this stuff. And they're pricey as well.

  • Giant Tubs of Protein Tablets. Bodybuilders like this place, reportedly, because they sell concentrated protein stuff (however, H&B would probably flatly refuse to stock 'roids because they're not organic and fairtrade.) Unless you're a bodybuilder you have no use for this stuff. And it's pricey as well.

  • Detox stuff. Why this is quackery will be explored in a whole other node. Suffice it to say, unless you're a hypochondriac, you have no use for this stuff. And it's pricey (are we noticing a pattern here?)

  • Homeopathy. My local H&B sells this, others may not. The temptation to visibly take the piss by turfing up in a wheelchair, dropping a single shaving from an acai berry into a vrac of mineral water then to chug-a-lug the entire load and then claim that all of a sudden I can walk is only prevented by the fact that I. I don't have a wheelchair, II. I don't have an acai berry, and III. I'd probably do myself some damage if I slurped that much water in one go. Unless you're a total nitwit, you have no use for this stuff. And it's pricey.

  • Bach Flower Remedies. I wish to all the Gods I was making this up. Newsflash - "flower power" is non-existent. Unless you're a smelly bloody hippie, you have no use for this stuff. And it's pricey.

I'd go on, but I'd only get worked up.

Holland & Barrett also have a very strict policy on the sort of things that they stock. In every store is a big sign indicating their policies on how fluffy and righteous and nice they are. All their stuff is organic, a lot of it is fairtrade, and contains no genetically modified ingredients (which is an outright lie because GM has been going on in the form of selective breeding and suchlike for centuries). They also make a big song and dance about how they offset all their CO2 emissions and use a minimum of packaging - a lot of their stuff is sold in clear bags with just a label slapped on. In addition, all comestibles they sell are sans preservatives, flavouring, colouring, etc., or, as they put it, "no nasty E-numbers" (the emphasis is theirs, not mine). Whether E-numbers are the Antichrist is something I've yet to be convinced of - I've been eating stuff with them in for years and there's nothing wrong with me other than being a socially inept borderline misanthrope. However, if it makes people feel warm and fuzzy inside to eat stuff that's all but got the dirt clinging to it, and they want to pay a huge markup for this, then to them I say well done, because they certainly have been.

They also have a policy of training their staff quite heavily on giving advice to customers, however, any and all such advice is couched in pretty deliberately ambiguous terms - it "may" help with joint pain, or arthritis, or whatever. This is because if they said it would, they'd be making a medical claim and thus flogging unlicenced medication. Also, from my eavesdropping and occasionaly asking questions of the staff, it seems they're drilled in what to say to various objections and things. For instance, I questioned them on their range of supplements, asking, "why do I need any of this? Surely, if you're eating a balanced diet, you don't need to take supplements?" To which I was replied, "Ah, but who has the time to eat a balanced diet nowadays?" with the poise and speed that can only come from being drilled in it. I didn't bother arguing with the woman over this, she was paid to hold forth about the joys of nipsy-shredding foodstuffs and chaining vitamin pills and as such it was a battle I could not have won owing to the fact that she was getting paid for it and I wasn't. So its staff are less like retail staff and more like salesmen, as well.

Okay. So we've established that Holland & Barrett is a quackery-peddling waste of store frontage, but to me, the ultimate irony is this:

A lot of people turn to "health foods" out of a combination of disaffection with other foods, a desire to be more "ethical" and "eco," and worries about the OBESITY EPIDEMIC, all undercut by a surfeit of misliking of multinational corporations - which H&B is only to happy to take advantage of with its marketing of stuff as organic and "carbon neutral" and coming from co-operative farms and so forth. But... look here! Guess who owns Holland & Barrett?

NBTY Inc, that's who. A multi-billion-pound US-based company that sells vitamin supplements and "natural" remedies and things under a variety of brands all round the world. In short, a multinational corporation. So put THAT in your organic quinoa and munch it, fart-knockers!

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