Interview with Jim “Jimbo” Someck
October 10, 2012
By Dr. Mercola
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jim "Jimbo" Someck, who has been in the natural food industry since 1973.
He opened the first "Jimbo's" store in 1984 and established a stringent non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) policy for all new products sold in his store in 2010.
He was named Whole Foods Retailer of the Year in 2012.
If you live in the San Diego, California area, you are probably familiar with Jimbo's natural food stores, but no matter where you live, the foundation upon which he built the stores – and the work he continues to do to support organic farming and provide an outlet where you can find non-GMO foods – is worth noting.
A Man With a True Passion for Organic Foods
What you'll quickly learn about Jimbo if you watch the interview above is that he is truly a man of passion and principle. His love for organic foods started when he began volunteering at a local food coop in San Diego. For the next 13 years, he learned about organic foods and natural foods, while at the same time honing his business skills to help the coop grow.
Eventually, he branched out onto his own, but kept the strong ideals for providing only wholesome organic food that ignited his passion for this industry in the first place. Jimbo said:
"When I started that first store, my philosophy was, 'Whether I fail or make tons of money, the most important thing to me is to be able to do it with honesty, integrity, and respect.' As long as I held true to that, I was okay."
In this rough economy that we're going through, Jimbo's "model" – to dedicate yourself wholeheartedly to what it is you feel passionate about – is one that many of you may benefit from.
If you're passionate about something, you're almost always going to be rewarded eventually. If you go into business solely to make money, you're almost guaranteed to fail. When you are truly passionate about your endeavors, the rewards and the finances tend to follow. Getting back to Jimbo, this passion has translated into a food store that is really a cut above the rest. Its mission is based on a fundamentally guiding principle, a commitment to:
- Sell and promote products containing organic ingredients whenever possible
- Sell and promote the highest quality whole foods possible
As part of this mission Jimbo’s does not carry any products that contain:
- Refined white sugar and synthetic sweeteners
- Bromated or bleached flours
- Artificial colors and flavors
- Harmful chemical additives and preservatives
- Growth hormones, antibiotics, nitrates, and other chemical additives.
Jimbo's Makes a Statement by Saying "No" to GMOs
"…As I got involved in the GMO issue, I realized that I became as passionate about that as I did about organics. So, as I got more involved in it and realized the level at which GMO foods had infiltrated the food system, I've realized that we needed to take a stand.
I thought about what would be the best way in which to do that, so we came out with a policy at our store that basically said we would not bring in any new products that contain at-risk GMO ingredients, unless those ingredients were certified organic or unless the product itself was verified by the Non-GMO Project.
…We put a stop to it, in the hopes of also eventually taking out the products that have been sort of 'grandfathered in,' replacing them with newer products that are similar in taste or as equal in taste and have good value, and replacing them with better ingredients," Jimbo said.
Given the established environmental and human health risks of GM foods, it would be a major turning point if more stores shared this approach, but this won't come until there is enough consumer demand. Jimbo continued:
"The conventional side, unfortunately, even though [organics] is growing, really comes out of customer demand. There is no passion around carrying organic foods. It's really, 'Hey, if there are enough customers that want it, then we'll sell it.'
That's why for a number of years, you see it ebb and flow back and forth between 'Yes, there's a pretty good selection of organics' to 'Well, no. There isn't.' Then it goes back around and around. It's because there's no commitment to the belief that organics are better.
Until that happens – and that may only happen when consumer demand is great enough – it will always be that way. I think that's the difference between a natural food store and a conventional store."
Many of you may be surprised to learn that even Whole Foods, which is arguably the most well-known health food store in the United States, does not carry all organic or non-GMO foods. In fact, the majority of their foods are conventionally grown, and this is likely in response to consumer demand. For instance, whereas Whole Foods may get anywhere from 40-60 percent of their produce as organic, small natural food stores may get up to 90-95 percent organic.
Even popular boutique food chains like Trader Joe's, which are generally regarded as more "natural" than traditional grocery chains, are not actually health food stores by definition. Trader Joe's, for instance, has been criticized by Greenpeace for selling endangered species of seafood like Chilean sea bass, red snapper and orange roughy, and was initially reluctant to sign the Fair Food Agreement, which addressed allegations of mistreatment of migrant tomato pickers (they have since signed the Agreement).1
At Jimbo's, they pride themselves on working with as many local, organic farmers as possible, and this means not only fresh produce, but a stronger community.
Look at the Store Ethics When Considering Where to Buy Your Food
As an individual consumer, you have a profound influence with your pocketbook by making smart choices and helping to create a market for natural, organic foods. You can also choose to support those companies that are actively working toward a better planet for all of us, rather than those companies that are systematically destroying it.
Jimbo's, for example, gets involved in a variety of community events and charities, as their founder believes a business has a responsibility to give back to the community that it's in. They also run their stores by a "Bill of Rights" that defines their mission and includes:
- Listening closely to customers
- Being socially responsible and actively involved in their community
- Providing a positive, friendly, supportive and caring work environment and taking care of employees
- Being an economically viable company that creates value for their ownership, employees and community
- Embracing honesty, integrity and respect on their path to excellence
Toward that end, Jimbo's is also working to help the passage of California's Proposition 37, a bill that would require labeling of genetically modified foods.
Vote with Your Pocketbook, Every Day
Remember, the food companies on the left of this graphic spent tens of millions of dollars in the last two labeling campaigns—in California and Washington State—to prevent you from knowing what's in your food. You can even the score by switching to the brands on the right; all of whom stood behind the I-522 Right to Know campaign. Voting with your pocketbook, at every meal, matters. It makes a huge difference.
As always, I encourage you to continue educating yourself about genetically engineered foods, and to share what you've learned with family and friends. Remember, unless a food is certified organic, you can assume it contains GMO ingredients if it contains sugar from sugar beet, soy, or corn, or any of their derivatives.
If you buy processed food, opt for products bearing the USDA 100% Organic label, as organics do not permit GMOs. You can also print out and use the Non-GMO Shopping Guide, created by the Institute for Responsible Technology. Share it with your friends and family, and post it to your social networks. Alternatively, download their free iPhone application, available in the iTunes store. You can find it by searching for ShopNoGMO in the applications. For more in-depth information, I highly recommend reading the following two books, authored by Jeffrey Smith, the executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology:
For timely updates, join the Non-GMO Project on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter. Please, do your homework. Together, we have the power to stop the chemical technology industry from destroying our food supply, the future of our children, and the earth as a whole. All we need is about five percent of American shoppers to simply stop buying genetically engineered foods, and the food industry would have to reconsider their source of ingredients—regardless of whether the products bear an actual GMO label or not.