Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Whole Foods: What's the Whole Story?

Last Wednesday, John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, wrote an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal on health care reform. His piece, entitled "The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare" has caused a lot of buzz over liberal blogs over the past week.

Mackey, a self-professed libertarian, began his piece by quoting Margaret Thatcher: "The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money." He, as noted, accuses the Democrats' plan of socialism and avers that health care is not a right.

The end of his piece is heavy on the logic of individual empowerment/fault, i.e. if you aren't healthy, it is your fault.

He writes,
"Recent scientific and medical evidence shows that a diet consisting of foods that are plant-based, nutrient dense and low-fat will help prevent and often reverse most degenerative diseases that kill us and are expensive to treat. We should be able to live largely disease-free lives until we are well into our 90s and even past 100 years of age."

Although this point is true, it completely ignores the issue of access to such food (as discussed in Food, Inc., Fresh, and many other documentaries), and it also ignores the expansive array of health problems (from injuries to inherent conditions) that cannot be reduced as easily. Believe me, I am all for advocating dietary habits (I can go on for hours about the needed reform of the "American diet"); however, not everyone can afford Whole Foods, a farmer's market, or other such options. We at Georgetown are lucky to have a 4 Whole Foods stores within 3 miles, over 5 Farmer's markets in that same range, a Trader Joe's, and a few small natural markets. However, this is not the case everywhere.

Mackey's critique--especially the use of the misnomer "Obamacare"--has brought about much negative attention for Whole Foods. You can read about some of the blogging rage here. Many are calling for a boycott of Whole Foods because of Mackey's talking out of line and out of touch.

Moreover, Whole Foods has been called out in the past for its troubled relationship with labor issues, having forbidden its workers to unionize.

However, one point that I think is important not to ignore is this simple fact: Mackey's salary is only $1. Back in 2007, he decided to reduce his salary and donate his stock to charity because he didn't feel that he truly needed the money.

A boycott on Whole Foods, thus, would not be hurting John Mackey's bank account.

Whole Foods also has been one of the biggest champions of green power purchasing, animal cruelty prevention, an array of community organizations, and organic farming. Whole Foods, with its branding, has attracted many people to organic and all-natural foods, improving their health and the soil at the same time.

Whole Foods has founded the Animal Compassion Foundation and the Whole Planet Foundation to expand our notions of community, and it donates 5% of its net profits to charitable causes every year.

So, whoever out there has also been following the Whole Foods controversy, what are your thoughts? I don't think that the op-ed is reason for a full-out boycott. However, trying to buy more of your produce locally is always a good idea--if that's what you decide to do (which I have been trying to get myself to do).

Regardless of what you do, always remember to think before you buy an think before you bite.


  1. I agree that first and foremost, people probably shouldn't be relying on Whole Foods for the majority of their food anyway--shopping locally is best.

    But it seems to me that this is the main question: should you boycott a business because you disagree with the owner's opinions, even when that opinion does not have a direct bearing on the business itself? I would wholeheartedly support a boycott if Mackey's opinions on healthcare affected the healthcare of his "team members"--if Mackey did not make sure that his employees, one way or another, had adequate healthcare. But it appears that WF employees do have good healthcare, for the most part. On the other hand, I do support boycotting Walmart because those employees have such horrible healthcare, and I would support that boycott even if Mike Duke (Walmart CEO) had exactly the same opinions as I do about healthcare. So I guess my opinion is: a boycott is justified if the issue has a direct bearing on the business itself, and in the case of WF Mackey's opinions about healthcare do not seem to be detrimental to the healthcare of his employees.

  2. i think it's pretty stupid to boycott whole foods over this.

    i think there are a lot of problems with the health care plan that's being proposed in congress right now... and for mackey (rightly in my opinion) to merely say that he disagrees with shouldn't even be news.