Leave Whole Foods Alone

I was speaking to someone several days ago who said he was an old high-school buddy of Whole Foods Market Founder and CEO John Mackey – a likely story, since the national chain opened its first store only a couple of hours away. Perhaps I can arrange to meet him and beg him not to give in to the demands of environmental extremists. A report from PR Newswire says that “the Sustainable Supply Chain Coalition, an alliance of environmental groups, food activist organizations and labor unions” is trying to push Whole Foods and their supplier into an agreement to change their business practices. The complaint?

“Whole Foods top management has denied the existence of climate change and violated an array of workers’ rights. Whole Foods, which claims healthy food is its priority, is also guilty of selling food products that are not certifiably organic and instead labeled as natural.”

There’s a Whole Foods Market within walking distance of our home. Though we get most of our groceries from other – more affordable – stores, we make a trip to Whole Foods 2 or 3 times a month, and really enjoy the quality and variety of products they offer. I suppose the fact that I’m not obsessive about organics and that I don’t completely buy into the anthropomorphic global warming story makes me a minority among Whole Foods shoppers, but it also puts me in a position to react quite angrily over this attempt to coerce the company into a political agenda.

First, it is absolutely the right of the company and its management to believe what they want on “Climate Change.” Such a belief has nothing to do with the products they provide. But, of course, that’s part of the complaint as well – not all of the products are “certifiably organic.”  Leaving aside the fact that “organic” is often no better for you or the environment than the standard model, go visit www.wholefoodsmarket.com and take a look at the top left of the page. You will see a logo, followed by a slogan: “Selling the highest quality natural & organic products.”  The company is dedicated to providing healthy alternatives, and nowhere is it said that organic products are the be-all-end-all of health food. To assert so reveals an ignorance and arrogance within eco-culture that I have become increasingly irritated with.

Now, there’s also a mention of workers rights being violated, though the article doesn’t give any clues about specific complaints.  I find this strange considering that for the last 13 years Whole Foods has been ranked by their own team members as one of FORTUNE magazines “Best 100 Companies to Work For.”

American liberals were angered at Mr. Mackey back in August over an article in which the CEO stated his opposition to the current health care reform bill: “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.”  A self-described Libertarian, Mackey advocated solutions that reduce government involvement, beginning the article with a quote by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

If Whole Foods’ customers are going to act like children because the company, while doing more for “sustainability” and healthy food choices than anyone else in the industry, isn’t a bastion for liberal causes, I say to the Whole Foods management, maybe you need to expand your customer base.

There is no reason why Whole Foods Market shouldn’t have mass appeal. Thus far, they’ve been largely – albeit mistakenly – viewed as a left-wing outlet, selling hippie food to hippie folks. Sure, they’ve got the cliff bars, TOMS shoes and recycled toilet paper, but it’s only because the company is value-driven toward good stewardship of our bodies, our communities and our environment (see WFM’s core values).  These are not liberal values, they are human values, and especially Christian ones, which are being supported through an organization who understands free trade and free people. And might I add that there are plenty of non-hippie items available as well.

I want to encourage you, Whole Foods Market, to keep with your current practices, and open up your marketing strategy to those of us (many Republicans, in fact) who shop at your stores because we like your products and the respect you show toward your customers and employees – not because you stroke our egos and support our ideologies.  And I feel I have some right to say this, because I’m not only a customer… I’m a shareholder.

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