Whole Foods Update

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Recently, Paul Hsieh noted the good news that debate over physician slavery has shifted to a more fundamental level than politics, and become a moral debate. In addition to that encouraging development, there is also the matter of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey taking this debate to the home soil of the pro-slavery side.

As with all battles, each side fires shots, and forces join each side. According to the Huffington Post, two labor unions have decided to come to the aid of the pro-slavery side:

As the NY Times write-up of "the most unexpected" sideshow to the 2009 Health Care Debate put it: "Reaction from pro-reform [sic] Whole Foods shoppers was swift and vociferous." Now the Change To Win Investment Group and United Food And Commercial Workers Union -- both a part of the Change To Win federation of unions representing six million workers -- have put out statements criticizing Mackey and encouraging a boycott of the store.

CtW called for Mackey's removal as chairman of the board and CEO. "Mr. Mackey attempted to capitalize on the brand reputation of Whole Foods to champion his personal political views, but has instead deeply offended a key segment of Whole Foods consumer base," the group's executive director Bill Patterson said in a statement. UFCW has begun handing out pamphlets to Whole Food shoppers. The group said Mackey's op-ed was an "attempt to undermine Obama's health-care reform." (Whole Foods is not unionized.) [bold added]
So a bunch of dumb thugs who can scarcely read are going to pass out paper with stuff printed on it?

That's potentially very good news: Let's hope this accelerates the process of "a key segment of Whole Foods consumer base" actually reading Mackey's editorial. Many of these shoppers now reflexively support "healthcare reform," but perhaps after they read the editorial and think about it, they will instead come to reflectively oppose physician slavery, as Ann Althouse recently suggested they might. (She posts an update of her own here, and points to a BBC story on the boycott as well.)

Perhaps, if a few of them think about the issue enough, they will come not just to oppose physician slavery, but support freedom for all individuals. Dumb opponents can be a godsend, so to speak.

This Southerner recently made his first post-transplant visit to Whole Foods here in Boston when he discovered that his usual grocery store, despite having a "Southern and Southwestern Cuisine" aisle, does not stock Tabasco sauce. (He also enjoyed confounding the checkout girl with a "third" (nearly-extinct) word beginning with the letter "P" when asked whether he wanted a bag for his purchase.)

On that trip, I remember thinking that it's nice to have a place for occasional purchases of the more "exotic" items in my diet, but now, I will make it a point to go there each week in support of its CEO. As Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post put it, "Now is the time for all good capitalists to shop at Whole Foods."

I don't have a car. I am on a budget. My usual store is ten blocks closer and I'm mostly happy with it. I couldn't do all of my shopping at Whole Foods even if I wanted to, but I am sure I can find an excuse to make the trip once a week. The excuse will be the food, but the reason will be to thank Mr. Mackey for standing up when it counts.

-- CAV


Dismuke said...

I have an idea - next time one has to buy a gift for a Leftist, especially if it is more of an obligatory type gift such as an office party gift exchange or a relative or in-law you are not especially close to, buy them a Whole Foods gift certificate. I do know that they sell them because I have bought them for people in the past (on more normal grounds that the recipient LIKES what Whole Foods sells and would ENJOY such a gift). Anyhow, give the Leftist a Whole Foods gift certificate. If they fail to follow marching orders and use it and enjoy it - well, you have given support to Mackey and gave a gift that was enjoyed. If they refuse to use the certificate - well, so much the better as Whole Foods will not even be required to forfeit merchandise in exchange for the money you gave them. That will make your transaction all the more profitable. And if the Leftist balks in your face about how evil Whole Foods is, put a kind of clueless and hurt look on your face and say something to the effect of "gee, I thought that you might enjoy the variety of food that they sell that is hard to find at other places." Do it in a way to put the Leftist on defensive in order to underscore without having to explicitly say it how kooky they are.

Personally, I shopped at Whole Foods for years before I knew that Mackey was pro-capitalist and just assumed that everybody associated with the venture was a rabid environmentalist and Leftist. I shopped there because they offered me VALUES. For years, they were about the only place on could go locally in order to get a decent selection of specialty teas. And some of the items sold in their bulk section are actually quite economical compared to what one would pay in a non-bulk situation. In other words, I am not as bigoted towards other people with viewpoints I disagree with as the typical Leftist. But of course, it has been very clear for a very long time that Lefitsts are an intolerant lot.

Now, I DO refuse to purchase Ben & Jerry's ice cream because they label pretty much makes a pitch that one should buy it in order to support a Leftist environmentalist agenda. That is a bit of a difference between the owners of a company merely HAVING a viewpoint I disagree with and trying to tie that agenda with my purchase of the product. And there are a LOT of other ice cream brands to choose from.

Whole Foods has lost quite a bit of my business in recent years simply because the HEB grocery chain opened one of its Central Market stores not far from my house. I prefer Central Market because they are more oriented towards gourmet and specialty products than they are "natural" products - plus they have a much better tea selection and better prices. And the nearest Whole Foods is about 15 miles away in a suburb so convenience of location is also a factor. But had I refused to shop at Whole Foods back when it was the only game in town for certain types of items on the basis of my assumption that the owners were Leftists - well, it would have been ME who would have suffered they greatest lost. I assure you giving up decent tea would have a bigger impact on my quality of life than my lack of tea purchases would have had on WF's bottom line.

So that is another aspect of the boycott that I think is kind of neat. By doing so, the Leftists are also going to be punishing themselves by having to give up products they enjoy. In many cities, this will mean that they will instead have to shop at stores where they will rub elbows with people who, in their eyes, are boorish bumpkins who drink the sort of coffee served in truck stops and gas stations. And they will complain to produce managers "Eeewww! Your vegetables were grown with and tainted by FERTILIZER and PESTICIDES. Don't you know that both are EVIL......" In other words, they are going to be inflicting misery upon THEMSELVES. But, of course, isn't that pretty much the story of most Leftists' lives? They are certainly not known as being a very happy bunch of people.

Gus Van Horn said...

(1) The gift certificate is a both a good and a hilarious idea.

(2) I really miss HEB. Back in Texas, I split most of my shopping between it and Fiesta Mart. Kroger was closest, but I used it only for emergencies.

LB said...

As good capitalists, we made our Friday night date into a trip to the closest Whole Foods market over 30 minutes away. And we plan to do it again this weekend! We'll have to plan better and bring the cooler so the milk doesn't go bad on the trip home.

Gus Van Horn said...

Hah! Yeah, right!

I think you liked going to Whole Foods so much that you "forgot" the cooler on purpose so SB would have to take you again!

Brad Harper said...

"So a bunch of dumb thugs who can scarcely read are going to pass out paper with stuff printed on it?"

New keyboard please... Mr. Horn.

On a serious note, I do think the conversation has shifted slightly towards the moral essentials. I still think it will pass, but I believe there are enough freedom-minded conservative-libertarian types that understand that this is not their grandmother's welfare scheme, and who'll start to consider the debate in a more philosophical context. I hope this will open the door for Objectivists to present rational ideas to an audience eager to convert their implicit leanings into explicit ideals...

*I hope*

Gus Van Horn said...

"New keyboard please... Mr. Horn."

That's "Van Horn." Doctor Van Horn. (That was said in a menacing voice as I raised an eyebrow and stuck a pinkie up to the corner of my mouth.)

The "Van" is part of the last name.

Well, okay... Strictly speaking, so is the "Doctor," but I tend not to make a fuss over that since I find the casual use of academic titles pretentious.

Meet me halfway with "Mr. Van Horn" and I'll be happy...

"I still think it will pass..."

I hope not, because if it does, we're in deep hoo-hah.

On a still more serious note, don't be too fast to write off what I'd call "default lefties" -- average people who end up supporting Democrats simply becaus ethey were brought up in blue states or around hippies. People have free will, and they'll often surprise you. Conversely, there are lots of conservatives who will positively seethe if you dare to imply that selfishness -- the ethical basis for capitalism -- is good.

There are hidden enemies and hidden allies all over the place in this war, and half of them are hidden from themselves!

Mike N said...

"There are hidden enemies and hidden allies all over the place in this war, and half of them are hidden from themselves!"

An insightful observation and very true. I have seen a little of this myself as a few people at tea parties I attended said that they voted for Obama but all these bailouts are not what they had in mind.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks. Of course, Bush and McCain's setting the table for the Democrats' weak, but charismatic candidate helped Obama get elected.

Still, this is better than McCain. We were going to get bailouts and "something" statist done or attempted about the failure of central planning in medicine no matter which candidate won.

Obama's helping some people wake up where McCain might not have.

Tim Peck said...

Thank you John Mackey.

I read the recent article on health care solutions by CEO John Mackey with great interest. I too believe that the government must reverse its inappropriate manipulation of the health care industry and turn to free market solutions to repair the problems that prior government intervention has created...[cont.]


Paul Hsieh said...

I'm delighted that Mackey's OpEd is getting the attention it deserves. Too many people equate "health care reform" with "government-run universal programs". His proposals represent *real* reforms and should be part of the discussion.

Both Diana and I sent supportive letters to Whole Foods:


[My letter]

Dear Whole Foods,

My wife and I have been customers of Whole Foods for many years now, here in the Denver metro area.

We were delighted to read CEO John Mackey's excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal proposing genuine free market health care reforms rather than the usual heavy-handed top-down government-mandated "solutions", which is all we're hearing lately.

In particular, I applaud his recognition of the fact that there is no "right" to health care. This is the fundamental moral issue underlying the health care policy debate. Any attempt by the government to guarantee a false "right" to health care must necessary violate the actual individual rights of patients, providers, and taxpayers.

Hence, I'm glad that Mr. Mackey is proposing solutions that will lower health costs for Americans while respecting our individual rights.

This country was founded on principles of freedom and individual liberty. I'm glad that CEO Mackey recognizes and respects that fact. As a result, my wife and I are delighted to continue to give our business to Whole Foods and we will encourage our friends and colleagues to do so as well.

Paul Hsieh, MD
Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine (FIRM)

[Diana's letter]

Dear Whole Foods --

I have been a regular shopper at Whole Foods for the past year, but now I have more to appreciate about your stores than your fine nuts, hearty meats, and pungent cheeses. I salute CEO John Mackey for his op-ed proposing free market health care reforms.

I am particularly grateful for Mr. Mackey's clear statement that health care is a need not a right. Too often, people think that their want creates an obligation on the part of others to satisfy it. In fact, a person is responsible for satisfying his own needs and wants in life. His rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness enable him to do that: they allow him the freedom to act in pursuit of his own goals without forcible interference from others. They do not allow him to rob and plunder his neighbors. If that is permitted by law, the results are exactly as Ayn Rand portrayed in "Atlas Shrugged."

I realize that many Whole Foods shoppers support socialized medicine, so I particularly appreciate Mr. Mackey's willingness to speak out on this issue. Such courage is rare in America today.

Thank you!

Diana Hsieh (Ph.D, Philosophy, CU Boulder)
Sedalia, Colorado

Gus Van Horn said...

Paul, Diana, and Tim,

Good to see some more support for Mackey out there, especially from a couple of his regulars!

Here's a non-broken link to the letter Tim wrote to Whole Foods.

Thanks for your support!


Megan Reichlen said...

While I have not often shopped at Whole Foods before now, Mr. Mackey's letter has given me incentive to seek one out near me. I've been routinely disappointed with the produce section at my local chain stores anyway, so now I have two strong reasons to start shopping at Whole Foods.

Honestly, I was quite surprised to read Mr. Mackey's letter, considering how focused it is on individual responsibility and happiness - up until now, I had thought of Whole Foods as a representative of the environmentalist or green movement. Clearly I was wrong. Thank you, Mr. Mackey, for standing up for my rights - you've gained a customer because of it. And thank you, Dr. Van Horn, for pointing out the morality component of the health care debate.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thank you, Megan.

And, while I'm at it, here's the direct link to the We Stand FIRM post Paul mentioned earlier.

Rob said...

"Obama's helping some people wake up where McCain might not have."

Good point!

Katrina said...

Megan, you aren't wrong. Whole Foods is most definitely a representative of the environmentalist movement. I may see more of it because I am in San Francisco, however the company definitely promotes sustainable everything, plus "Free Trade" products and dubious nutritional views (organic, natural, and low fat.) They have posters and table tents all over their store in my neighborhood promoting coastal cleanup day, pushing those reusable bags, and patting themselves on the back for buying overpriced coffee beans. Just take a peek at their website. http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/values/corevalues.php#caring

I will say that I rarely if ever see them promoting - forced - environmentalism, but I certainly don't think you can call their business philosophy selfish.

I'm very happy about Mackey's stand on health care and I have definitely increased my Whole Foods patronage accordingly, but don't make the mistake of generalizing his stance on this issue to rationality in general. Most people are extraordinarily adroit when it comes to compartmentalization.

Amit Ghate said...

Thanks for this post Gus. And I like Dismuke's idea of giving WFMI gift certificates--I'll be sure to do that when an occasion presents itself.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks, Rob and Katrina.

"I will say that I rarely if ever see them promoting - forced - environmentalism..."

That much is a something of a relief to hear.

LB said...

The cashiers' patented look of disgust when you tell them you have no recyclable bags should not be overlooked in this discussion.

Still, it is the only store we know where the express aisle sign states "10 Items or Fewer" making my shopping partner unreasonably happy every time.

Gus Van Horn said...

Heh! True.

My other store also knows about that word, too, though.

I would have to say that common knowledge of the word, "fewer" is one of the unexpected small, pleasant surprises that has come with my move to New England...

Sorry for the delayed posting, Amit. Your comment was in the queue, but I wasn't notified of it over email like I was supposed to be.

SecFox HQ said...

Now that I've seen Mr. Mackey's pro-freedom ideas concerning health-care, I definetly will check out his store, just a few miles from where I live here in Connecticut. More CEO's need to read about his ideas, for sure.p

Dismuke said...

I did my good deed tonight and went to the WF in Arlington, Texas which, while the closest to me, is a bit out of my way. I had a really great fresh baked pizza with a pesto instead of tomato sauce. I had a cherry Danish for desert and for breakfast tomorrow I got a cranberry scone. And I picked up some fresh chard - one of my favorite greens and that will be a nice treat. Oh, and I got some stevia sweetened soda pop. Stevia is an herb a few hundred times sweeter than sugar with no calories and not bad for your teeth. It is in common use elsewhere in the world but, until recently, the FDA outlawed its use as a sweetener. I like it much better than other diet sweeteners.

The staff I interacted with was very helpful and gave great service - which has always been my experience with the chain.

Only negative: they have done away with their bulk specialty tea section. Not sure if it is a chain wide policy or just that store. Had that been a few years ago, I would have been very disappointed and actually would have contacted the corporate offices. But I can get bulk specialty teas at Central Market so it is not as big of a deal as it once was.

Nevertheless, this is one way you can do something to give support to somebody who deserves it that is both FUN and DELICIOUS.

Interestingly enough, Walmart is pushing FOR socialized medicine. My guess is the execs of that company probably have a gun to their head - it wouldn't surprise me at all if some czar/thug told them that they MUST support it or face the sort of anti-trust suit that the Left has been agitating for against the company for years. Still, I wonder how many of those who are boycotting WF will be consistent and, therefore, shop at Wal-mart. I know the answer: very few. Shopping at Wal-mart is beneath such people

Gus Van Horn said...

Good to hear. You both accidentally reminded me of something I need to add to my post on the Buycott...

blnelson said...

We do not have a Whole Foods store nearby (Prescott AZ); however, I wrote the Scottsdale/Phoenix stores the following in support the stand of their CEO:
"I understand people are boycotting some Whole Foods stores; am not sure if they are doing it in Phoenix/Scottsdale, but just in case I wanted you to hear at least one Arizona voice in support of your stores and your CEO's policy against socialized medicine. Thank him for me if you get a chance to."

Here is the response I received:
"Thank you for contacting us here at Whole Foods Market. Every person who either shops or works at Whole Foods Market has a vested interest in making it successful. We are very appreciative of those who demonstrate a sense of ownership for our stores by taking time to contact us with their feedback.

Everyone has their own opinion about health care reform and we celebrate that diversity. Despite all of this attention, Whole Foods Market will continue doing what we do best by offering you the best natural and organic products available in an inviting store environment. We are proud of all we do to promote positive change in the world. We take so much pride in serving you and contributing to our community and early on, we adopted a set of core values to guide our purpose which we follow everyday: [list of values]...I would like to thank you again for taking the time to share your support of Whole Foods Market and we certainly value your patronage.

Best regards,

Debbie Hounanian
Regional Customer Information Manager
Whole Foods Market-Southern Pacific Region"

Matt said...

If someone had told me last year that I would be boycotting Wal-Mart and "buycotting" Whole Foods, they would have gotten the ol' single raised eyebrow. Thankfully, there is a WF right by one of my favorite bookstores and my favorite diner, some I'm in the area quite often.

Gus Van Horn said...


Good for you for writing them!


I know EXACTLY what you mean.

Where I am now, I "boycott" Wal-Mart by default. There are only Targets near where I live.


Wendy said...

John Mackey is very brave to do what he did, and I appreciate his taking a principled but inconvenient stand in defense of our individual rights. Unlike many CEOs, he clearly understands that over the long term, enacting a welfare state and enslaving the American people is not in the financial interests of the stockholders of ANY company.

Gus Van Horn said...

Well put!

Peter Namtvedt said...

I am not a Libertarian, but I support Mackey's pure free-market solution. I have started to shop at Whole Foods.

There is no "right to medical care." The lack of competition that is driving up costs is totally due to government.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks for your support.

Anonymous said...

As a whole foods shopper here in Virginia, I applaud Mr. Mackey's pronouncement and will continue to shop there because of it. More CEO's of large corps should have the same level of intellectual fortitude to oppose the liberty hating crowd in Washington, DC

Henry said...

I have never shopped at Whole Foods, mostly because it is several long blocks from where I live, and I am not a fan of the "natural food" movement. Now, I have a strong reason to shop there. I will be visiting my neighborhood store to find out how to maximize my Whole Foods shopping list.

Gus Van Horn said...

I completely agree, Anon.

And Henry, I'm not a "natural foods" person, either, but luckily, that's not ... the whole show!

Reed McGrew said...

Thanks to John Mackey for his courageous editorial.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks, Reed.