What’s the whole story behind Whole Foods?

Ahh…the Whole Foods saga rages on.

I’ll take a moment to recap a few things that have happened other the past year with Whole Foods and their CEO, John Mackey. Mackey wrote in this op-ed to the Wall Street Journal, basically arguing against universal health care and offering his solutions for reforming health care in the United States. There was a huge uproar against this, of course, because of the “progressive, left-leaning crowd” that frequents Whole Foods. An Anti-Whole Foods Facebook group was created, called ” Whole Foods is Anti-Health care Insurance Reform – Lets Make Them Pay!” (I would like to point out that this group is misinformed–Mackey is not anti-health care reform, he just has completely different ideas about what health care reform should entail.) There were also groups created and blog entries posted all over that supported his stance.

[My general feeling about health care reform is that there is no all-or-nothing that is going to solve our health care woes. But I haven’t done the type of research to really feel comfortable posting my political views on this topic; I haven’t really formulated my opinion yet.]

Then, most recently, there is this whole new controversy over Mackey’s institution of a new voluntary policy where Whole Foods employees are able to enroll in a program where they have a health assessment and then are graded, which will determine what kind of employee food discount they can get (between 20-30% discount). Read more about it here. Basically, it rates employees based on their BMI (height and weight worked out to a number with a calculation), their blood pressure, and their cholesterol. The idea is that this program incentivizes getting healthier by offering employees a better discount if they get healthier. One of the problems I see is that the factors it takes into account are not really the best, the be-all-end-all of health. For example, I have high cholesterol that runs in my family. I take some vitamins to control it and I don’t eat meat or very much dairy and I eat loads of oatmeal, but I’m probably never going to have perfect cholesterol because of my genes. So, if I were a Whole Foods employee, would I feel discriminated against because of this program? Perhaps. Also, shouldn’t the more unhealthy employees be offered ways to get healthy, instead of just not getting “healthy Whole Foods” for cheaper? Maybe Whole Foods could partner with local gyms to get discounts for their employees…things like that.

I think the even more important story behind Whole Foods is the fact that their practices aren’t as good for the environment as they claim to be. This article does a really excellent job of looking at both the positives and the negatives of Whole Foods. They point out, just like in Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, that big organic is NOT always local. In fact, most often, it is not. And big organic is kept in business by Whole Foods. This article from The Chicago Tribune underlines the problem with big organic companies, like Earthbound Farms and Cascadian Farms, and how they are more likely to sacrifice quality in order to turn out more food and more of a profit.

Now, my take is this: I shop at Whole Foods, but with the knowledge that they are a corporation, they are a greedy, capitalist corporation just like the Giant. It’s not like I feel self-righteous for shopping at Whole Foods. I prefer to shop at farmers markets over any grocery story, the taste and experience is simply better. When I shop there, I try to grab all the items marked “local,” because to me, that is my way of “voting” for the local farms (For example, the hummus I buy there is made in Virginia.) Other grocery stores don’t have these local options. And I like having the organic option,  because generally speaking, it is the healthier option and is also cheaper there than at Giant or Safeway. But Whole Foods isn’t perfect. It is a fabrication of the farmers market experience. It is deceiving. But like everything else, I try to learn as much as I can so I can walk in knowing exactly what it is I am paying for, and what I am getting for it.

So, what do you think about all this? Do you shop at Whole Foods? If you don’t, why not? Do you think their employee practices are fair, and should that affect whether or not we choose to shop there?

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by joerotondi on February 9, 2010 at 11:37 PM

    the Whole Foods benefit plan is not generalizable to the public, and is pretty unrelated to his subsequent bullets. there’s one point he gives in the Op-ed that is almost completely ridiculous:

    “Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover…”

    They increase costs because more people are being treated, duh. repealing the mandates means less reimbursement to patients which is less healthcare. What Obama and congress are trying to ram through now is more mandates, specifically enforcement to cover pre-existing conditions universally.

    Personally, I dont think (smart) CEOs make their political beliefs known so obviously because they focus on their business. But this guy even takes that too far with the weight plan thing and this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Mackey_%28businessman%29#Yahoo.21_Finance_postings

    Reply

  2. I agree–I have no idea why he found it necessary to air his political beliefs to the world–wouldn’t usually expect that from an obviously “savvy businessman” like himself.

    But then again, it doesn’t seem to really be hurting WF. http://247wallst.com/2009/08/25/brand-image-did-mackey-really-hurt-whole-foods-wfmi Their stock has actually risen slightly since the op ed ran.

    Reply

  3. […] must follow the same regulations as corporate organic farms (you know, like the ones that supply to Whole Foods)–which often means buying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment that smaller […]

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  4. […] marketing that has further confused consumers and created a divide between people and wholesome, nutritious food. This divide is a cultural side effect of our current food system that will take much work to […]

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