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Posted by on Aug 17, 2009 in Economy, Politics | 10 comments

Whole Fools

I rarely shop at Whole Foods, which has two locations in the Twin Cities. If I am looking for organic foods, I tend to look for them at the regular grocery store I shop at or go to Trader Joe’s, which one person described as the “poor man’s Whole Foods.”

But I might consider shopping at the grocery chain more in the near future because of the insane and asinine boycott going on by some on the Left. Why would people who normally shop at the organic retailer decide to abstain? Because their CEO wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal denouncing the Obama plan and offering a plan of his own.

I read that oped and thought it was interesting. I didn’t agree with everything, but Mackey made some good points and I thought nothing more of the article.

But obviously it did upset some people who expected that Mr. Mackey would support what they support. This is what was written in a guest voice post at the Moderate Voice:

The thing is, when Rupert Murdoch published an anti-health care security op-ed from Whole Foods CEO John Mackey in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, a few progressive latte drinkers decided they didn’t need to buy their arugula at Whole Foods anymore, and called for a boycott. After all, the big marketing gimmick for Whole Foods is that they’re a socially responsible company which sells food that is actually good for you (even if the products are very over priced)…

Whole Foods has always marketed itself to a fairly educated and financially secure customer base. This is why they can successfully sell healthy (and primarily organic) foods, at a higher cost. The company has also fostered the image that it has an altruistic streak in supporting progressive causes.

With a single op-ed in an uber conservative national newspaper, this wholesome image has been blown to bits. In the course of writing 1,165 words, CEO Mackey has caused more potential damage to the Whole Foods corporate image than an e-coli outbreak in the meat room.

In calling for support of the boycott of Whole Foods, I’m making an educated guess that their average customer is very politically progressive in nature. And that is why, if liberals and progressives quit shopping at Whole Foods, the impact would be quickly apparent to the company’s Board of Directors. By quickly, I mean by this coming Monday morning when the weekend receipts are tallied.

A Facebook group has been set up and has about 10,000 members. Here’s the description of that group:

Whole Foods is NOT a company that cares for communities and they have built their brand with the dollars of deceived progressives. No more. My $ will no longer go to support Whole Foods’ anti-union, anti-health insurance reform, right-wing activities.

Whole Foods? Right-wing?

I decided to take a look at the activities going on at my local Whole Foods in Minneapolis. They have a program where you save 10 cents on using reusable bags and you can donate that money to a local charity. The Whole Foods Blog has a campaign to have fresh and healthy school lunches as opposed to the processed foods that kids eat. From my cursory glance, this is hardly a right-wing operation.

Radley Balko shares some of what this “right-wing operation” has done:

Let me see if I have the logic correct here: Whole Foods is consistently ranked among the most employee-friendly places to work in the service industry. In fact, Whole Foods treats employees a hell of a lot better than most liberal activist groups do. The company has strict environmental and humane animal treatment standards about how its food is grown and raised. The company buys local. The store near me is hosting a local tasting event for its regional vendors. Last I saw, the company’s lowest wage earners make $13.15 per hour. They also get to vote on what type of health insurance they want. And they all get health insurance. The company is also constantly raising money for various philanthropic causes. When I was there today, they were taking donations for a school lunch program. In short, Whole Foods is everything leftists talk about when they talk about “corporate responsibility.”

And yet lefties want to boycott the company because CEO John Mackey wrote an op-ed that suggests alternatives to single payer health care? It wasn’t even a nasty or mean-spirited op-ed. Mackey didn’t spread misinformation about death panels, call anyone names, or use ad hominem attacks. He put forth actual ideas and policy proposals, many of them tested and proven during his own experience running a large company. Is this really the state of debate on the left, now? “Agree with us, or we’ll crush you?”

Blogger Freddie DeBoer thinks all the harping on the right about this (in this case a blog post by Rod Dreher) is hypocritical, but the fact is there is a lot of hypocrisy on both sides. Liberals tut-tut when conservatives try to strong arm those who don’t agree with them and ignore their own attitudes towards those who have different ideas.

What is interesting here is how so many who used to support Whole Foods think that the company should basically affirm their views. If they support health care reform with a strong role for government, well, then so must Whole Foods. They also tend to assume that because they are “green” and organic, well then they must be left-leaning just like they themselves are.

The fact of the matter is, one can care about the environment and also be a libertarian. One can be into organic foods and vote Republican. Just because someone buys fair-trade coffee doesn’t mean they voted for Obama. It just means they like fair trade coffee.

When I buy ice cream, I tend to get Ben and Jerry’s ice cream even though I tend to disagree with them politically. But I also know they do some good things in the world and they have good ice cream. I don’t need my ice cream company to agree with me 100 percent.

The problem here is not that Mackey doesn’t support the President’s plan. The problem here is assuming that Mackey should mirror the viewpoints of Whole Foods’ customers.

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Copyright 2009 The Moderate Voice
  • DrToast

    The whole argument against the whole foods boycotters has been nothing but a continuous stream of strawmen, and this article is no exception.

    The CEO can believe whatever the hell he wants. But when he pens an article with discredited right-wing, Frank Luntz talking points, he can and should expect some backlash.

  • JasonArvak

    Right. Because while people are freely allowed to disagree with liberals, actually expressing it requires punishment.

    Thanks for setting that straight, DrToast.

    • Jcavhs

      It isn’t punishment it is people exercising their preferences. Some people refuse to shop at Wal-Mart due to some of Wal-Mart’s business practices. That is their preference. This is a comparable situation. No one is punishing Whole Foods for the views of its CEO – they are just refusing to support it. If I receive poor service at a store or restaurant and choose not to shop there, I’m not punishing the store I’m just choosing an alternative that fits my preferences better. That is part of the free market.

  • MaryL

    You’re absolutely right, Jason. The socially responsible thing to do when you disagree with a social or political stance taken by a CEO is not to withhold your money from his business, publicize the reasons for your choice and encourage those who may agree with you to join the boycott. That’s childish and unfair. Ordinary people have to live with the consequences of their words and actions: CEOs don’t.

    The responsible thing to do would be to shadow every public appearance the CEO makes in a state that allows you to openly carry a firearm, and ostentatiously loiter and preen with your gun and ambiguously threatening t-shirt or sign. This should happen over and over and over again. It’s just as legal as a boycott and I see no earthly reason why the CEO should feel at all intimidated by a campaign like that.

  • pk22

    If it was just Mackey’s opinion, then it wouldn’t be anything more than annoying. But the op-ed is titled “Whole Foods…”, not “John Mackey’s…”. John Mackey is not cashing in on his fame to get into the WSJ, because he is not famous. He is cashing in on the Whole Foods brand name. A brand that was built on left-wing values and sells primarily to left-wing “elitists”. Sorry, but that does make a difference. It is no different than right wing people boycotting Colt when they were working with Clinton on safe guns.

    They were actually driven out of business. Did you comment on that boycott? Probably not.

  • casualobserver

    I say let the lefties boycott to their heart’s content………..not much margin in arugula and sprouts anyway.

  • jeff_pickens

    Mackey: “While we clearly need health-care reform, the last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us much closer to a government takeover of our health-care system.”

    Well, I guess that is one way to look at it: if one suggests that all of this “entitlement” will be done with “no new taxes!!!” and if there is something inherently and obviously wrong with a “government takeover” of health-care reimbursement. I say: tax away! Put my $730/month (for private health ‘insurance’) to taxes and give me some reasonable non-employer options, without pre-existing clauses, and without the ability to drop me without due cause… prevent me from bankruptcy if I happen to need to spend a week in the ICU…


    Mackey: “While all of us empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter?

    “Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges. A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That’s because there isn’t any. This “right” has never existed in America.”

    …this is the meat of the rebellion, I believe. Food and shelter arguments seem a little far-fetched to me, but they come up often. And it’s a little odd that he’d bring up the food argument as his food prices are anything but accessible to all, although I understand the costs of the “green” methods. The current health care situation is not a “voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchange”, or there wouldn’t be any discussion currently. You don’t have thousands of Americans showing up at charity health clinics if the system is mutually beneficial to all.

    There are a lot of things that a careful reading of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal. It’s not about what we’re legally bound to do or about what “right” supersedes another right, it’s about what we, as American people, can do for other Americans. It’s about the absolute shame we should have as a nation regarding the percentage of income spent on health-care services, and about how bankruptcy is the financial outcome for many who have the audacity to get sick.

  • JasonArvak

    So if someone were to choose not to support a store because it was owned by a black person, would that also just be the free market in action?

    I think that all the various reasons for choosing not to patronize a business are not equally legitimate. And basing it on the perceived views of the owner or, worse, just the CEO seems to me the same thing that most liberals would object to if the tables were reversed.

    • So if someone were to choose not to support a store because it was owned by a black person, would that also just be the free market in action?

      I think you’ve grabbed an orange out of the apple bin, Jason. Being black isn’t a political position.

  • JasonArvak

    Yes, its not. But the race and the perceived political views of a CEO are both analogous as being equally irrelevant bases for choosing whether to try to put someone out of business, in my opinion. That was the only point I was trying to make.

    I don’t think that economic coercion should be a tool used to enforce compliance with a political agenda.

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