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Whole Foods, Free Speech, and cat food?


How do you reward a company that is renowned for social responsibility? That donates over 5% of its profits to community and non-profit organizations? That is committed to sustainable agricultural? That is recognized by Greenpeace as one of the top three stores for sustainable seafood? That offers domestic partners same sex benefits? That ranks among Fortune Magazine’s Best 100 Companies to work for?

You boycott it, of course.

Such is the plight of Whole Foods, that grocery store where you can find everything organic and virtually nothing toxic. The store where people who are concerned about their personal health and the health of the planet shop. The store that is now the victim of a highly coordinated boycott. And it’s not a bunch of right-wing, anti-environmental radicals leading the action – not even close.

On August 11, an op-ed piece penned by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey appeared in the Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405297020425140457434217007286507...) offering a market-based alternative to Obama’s healthcare reform plan. Mackey’s proposal is based on eight specific steps designed to open the market, reduce costs, reform Medicare, increase competition and provide more options for consumers. And what’s wrong with offering an alternative? After all, the President has consistently expressed openness to “all and any” ideas that will achieve his healthcare goals and Nancy Pelosi herself stated, "If someone can come up with a better idea, let them put it on the table.” (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/08/20/MNOD19BJGC.D...).

But not everyone agrees with Obama and Pelosi. On August 21, Russell Mokhiber of Single Payer Action and a leader of the Whole Foods boycott appeared on the Greta Van Susteren show and declared Mackey “a bad guy” because he opposes a single-payer system (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZxAH7aI13w).

He then went on to announce organized protests planned at a number of Whole Food stores for the following day. When guest Crystal Mae suggested that the boycott would hurt Whole Foods employees more than the CEO, Mr. Mokhiber seemed unconcerned about such collateral damage. Since that time, the boycott has received extensive support from the left. And on 8/26/09, the Phoenix Business Journal reported that The United Food and Commercial Workers Union and CtW Investment Group, an arm of several unions including the Service Employees International Union, had joined the action (http://www.bizjournals.com/phoenix/stories/2009/08/24/daily56.html). In other words, openly oppose government healthcare – even worse, offer an alternative - and you and your employees will be punished.

I was not surprised to find a lot of activity on facebook immediately following Greta’s interview of Mokhiber. One group I looked at was organized by Crystal Mae herself in support of Mackey and Whole Foods (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=146664290604). Folks were joining the group faster than I could read their comments and for the most part were discussing the Greta interview, congratulating Crystal Mae on her handling of Mokhiber. And many who were not regular Whole Foods customers were saying that they were heading out to the nearest Whole Foods store – to shop, not protest. Interesting.

It was raining gently when I arrived the next evening at the Whole Foods store at 20th & Callowhill. No protestors in sight. It was my first ever visit to the store, immaculately clean and staffed by almost overly-helpful employees. I didn’t find any Fancy Feast and wondered if the cat would eat all-natural cat food. Cats can be picky. I did a little better for myself, being a closet organic food junky.

The fellow working the check-out was a gangly 20-something with disorganized hair and a thin beard. But a big and genuine smile. “No protestors this evening?” I asked. “No…” he replied almost apologetically as he deftly slid the cat food over the scanner. And then the smile was replaced with lips turned inward and a pensive gaze outward toward nothing in particular. A sigh. “You know,“ he began, “we’re really treated well here. And what other company gives so much back to the community? What do these people want, anyway?” I was ready to say, “they want you to think just like them and are willing to punish you if you don’t.” But instead I simply left it with, “they just need to get a life.” We both laughed.

If Mokhiber got his way and everyone stopped shopping Whole Foods, that young man – and about 54,000 other employees – would lose their jobs and their healthcare benefits. Mokhiber would prove his point – under government-controlled healthcare, you are still covered even if someone like Mokhiber destroys your job. Maybe he feels justified in threatening innocent people’s jobs and well-being because he claims that Mackey is a “right wing libertarian” “union buster” and everything else evil. And worst of all, Mackey dares to disagree.

But enough - I’m making my list to shop again at Whole Foods. Good people there. And yes, the cat loves that all-natural cat food.


George Leon is a political savant and a guest writer on Philly2Philly.com  George would like you to attend the second annual SWCC Run Walk & Roll, a 5 race through the SouthWest Center City neighborhood of Philadelphia.

For more information, please check out www.swccrun.org


1:11 AM
Mon Aug 31 2009
Nice article, George.  I

Nice article, George.  I don't know who Russell Mokhiber is but I love Whole Foods.  Too many people with time on their hands to stand around and waste time boycotting.  Maybe if they had to actually work for their money, they'd be Whole Food employees.