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Whole Foods health-care boycott gathers momentum

Human Rights Watch
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  August 24, 2009

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Unfortunately for Whole Foods Market CEO and founder John Mackey, those who appreciate his store for the healthy, eco-friendly (read: left-leaning, progressive) lifestyle it promotes are the same citizens who support universal health care. Mackey alienated some of his customer base with a Wall Street Journal opinion piece last week, in which he endorsed conservative health-care solutions and said, "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."  
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Among other things, Mackey's piece rejected the idea that health care is a basic right. "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," he wrote (though all three are enshrined in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights). "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."

In response, a campaign to boycott Whole Foods is burgeoning on the Internet. Loyal shoppers say they feel betrayed by Mackey's position, which, although it's his and not the company's, seems to go against his customers' values. On forums and Facebook pages, they're exchanging ideas of alternative places to buy their organic cheese and pristine produce (farmers' markets, Trader Joe's, local co-ops).

"Whole Foods has built its brand with the dollars of deceived progressives," organizers wrote on the "Boycott Whole Foods" Facebook page, which boasts more than 13,000 members. "Let them know your money will no longer go to support Whole Foods' anti-union, anti-health insurance reform, right-wing activities."

The movement has gained enough steam — and disgruntled consumers have been sufficiently vocal — to warrant the creation, on the company's Web site, of a Health Care Reform forum (more than 1400 discussion threads, and 10,000 posts so far). There, a hearty discussion of health-care policy has emerged; at the same time, Whole Foods has cultivated a new set of fans.

"We will be patronizing the stores even more now, because they are managed by a wise CEO," one commenter wrote. "Everyone who agrees that socialism is bad for the economy should patronize Whole Foods more to offset the idiotic boycott."

But even if they attract some unlikely new patrons, Whole Foods representatives know a potential PR nightmare when they see one.

"[I]t's very clear that John's piece offended some of our customers, other members of the communities we serve and some of our team members as well. We offer you our sincere apology," the company says in a letter distributed to customers and reporters. "John's Op/Ed piece was written in favor of health care reform. In response to President Obama's invitation to all Americans to put forward constructive ideas for reforming our health care system, John was asked to write an Op/Ed piece and he gave his personal opinion. John titled the piece 'Health Care Reform,' but an editor at the Journal rewrote the headline to call it 'Whole Foods Alternative to Obamacare,' which led to antagonistic feelings by many. That was not John's intention — in fact, John does not mention the President at all in his piece. John has posted the unedited piece to his blog where people can read it as it was intended." (In addition to the headline modification, there are a few minor differences between the two versions.)

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Related: The Fox and the Wolff, Freegans raid Whole Foods, Health-care's big moneyman in New England, More more >
  Topics: This Just In , Barack Obama, Politics, Health and Fitness,  More more >
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10 Comments / Add Comment

Jessamine

His op-ed piece in the WSJ, the only paper I subscribe to, makes me want to shop at Whole Foods more.

Posted: August 21 2009 at 11:04 AM

Fake Name

I have never set foot inside Whole Foods, but I plan on shopping there in the future. His editorial is the most articulate and cogent piece I have read on the subject. Everyone should read it.
Posted: August 21 2009 at 3:46 PM

Fake Name

//reason.com/blog/show/135584.html
Posted: August 22 2009 at 1:13 PM

Sarah222morrow

I totally agree that Mackey has the right to express his opinion.... and as a consumer, I have the right to shop elsewhere now that I know what a reactionary the Mr. Mackey is. I'm lucky, I live in Seattle.... lots of other places to buy, besides Whole Foods. PCC (Puget Consumers' Co-op) has better prices anyway.
Posted: August 23 2009 at 1:22 AM

Delta Pearl

This story has been out now for over a week and anyone who has read any of the earlier reports knows that Mackey answers to a board and the shareholders of Whole Foods Market which is a publicly held corporation. He wields no special power in the health care reform debate. WFM has made it clear that he is simply expressing his own, albeit idiotic, opinion. He is not speaking for WFM Corporation or any of the thousands of shoppers or stockholders or employees of WFM. So what's the big deal. The funniest part of this whole "controversy" is that all the people I've spoken to or corresponded with about this---the ones who state that they aren't going to shop at WFM, aren't WFM shoppers anyway. They either can't afford it or they simply choose to shop elsewhere. This renders their criticism dishonest at worst, disingenuous at best. For selfish reasons---I shop in a couple of WFM locations regularly and I was kind of hoping the crowds would thin out a little. But as far as I can see it's just a bunch of media types and Facebookers yammering. I don't see any evidence of a boycott....at least no yet. I'm an Obama fan and support all his reforms including his health care reforms, but I'm not about to stop shopping at Whole Foods because of the CEOs opinion. If I did that, I'd have to stop shopping just about everywhere in America.
Posted: August 23 2009 at 3:41 PM

Fake Name

Delta Pearl- You were "kind of hoping the crowds would thin out a little"? So if a couple of low-wage workers on the loading dock get laid off because of a boycott, that's OK with you because you'll feel more comfortable shopping? And you're sure that all the people who are part of the boycott "aren't WFM shoppers anyway" because you've "spoken to or corresponded with" them about this? Really?
Posted: August 23 2009 at 9:23 PM

Mike Mitchell

I used to shop  at the Whole Foods alot every week.But after the CEO mr Mackeys statement on the health care i will not shop at whole foods again.Also my friends will not.I say stop shopping there BOYCOTTWHOLEFOODSBOYCOTTWHOLEFOODSBOYCOTTWHOLEFOODS.

Posted: August 24 2009 at 3:40 PM

anonymous2009

I'm in Canada, and sadly, this is just more incentive not to shop at Whole Foods anymore. I WAS purchasing all of my groceries at my local organic store called Capers, over $500 a month, for probably 5/6 years (probably amounting to over $30,000 in this time), and when Capers was bought out by Whole Foods, I still shopped there; until I noticed all the regular staff that had been there for years were gone, those they were hiring for cashiers were young & inexperienced and packaged the groceries so they got all bruised, my favourite Canadian brands of food started disappearing off the shelves (um, what's with alll the organic apples from New Zealand?), not to mention the sudden hike in prices and the refusal to make a juice in a reusable cup. There are still a few employees working there I know, but since it became Whole Foods and therefore trendy, I find myself being shoved while shopping and now buy my organic food at farmer's markets, the corner store & at Choices, which is Canadian owned, has many more local brands, more pleasant staff, and pays their employees better wages (I asked). Find your locally owned organic store, or farmer's market, or anywhere were the staff are happy to be there, and buy from them instead.

Posted: August 27 2009 at 11:40 PM

anonymous2009

I wanted add that hopefully this didn't come out sounding anti-US, I'm just opposed to publicly traded stores that stop selling local products made and grown by people you know, and also hire all new staff, and don't pay union wages. Hey, it just doesn't make sense that you can buy locally made organic jam from the orchard itself within a few hours of the city, but then have Europe or Europe jam choices in the store. It makes more sense to buy produce from Washington State rather than halfway around the world, too. Support locally owned!
Posted: August 28 2009 at 12:14 AM

Anita Quintanilla

John Mackey's stores are not only expensive and cater to the wealthy but it also appears that he's against the general welfare and equal rights of everyone else.  Of course this food market supremo is going to be against government interference and regulations.  Mackey is not only for more individual empowerment but wants to keep grabbing a larger piece of the pie.  He has already proven himself to be a dirt ball for being against a union and humane conditions for the farmworkers who pick some of the fruits and vegetables for his stores. This conniving mega-businessman with megastores seems to also have little compassion or apathy for poor and working-class folk or for the small businesses he squeezed out.  I wonder if he thinks about their hard lives while he takes it easy on his megaranch.  It is his type of selfish individualism that is destroying our communities, our culture, and society at large.  I believe a boycott of his stores will send a strong message to him that health care is indeed an intrinsic (inalienable) right that belongs to all us as members of the human race.  People of good conscience always use nonviolent methods to stop injustices and moral thoughtlessness which can easily warp into moral depravity.
Posted: August 28 2009 at 8:09 PM
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