I'd love to find some excuse to continue shopping at Whole Foods, but I just couldn't live with myself if I went with anything I can come up with.
I am a serious cook, I make a real dinner for Barry and myself virtually every night, sometimes including friends as well, and I take my food sources very seriously. I was delighted to learn around nine years ago that a branch of Whole Foods was going to be opening at the end of our block. We already had Garden of Eden on 23rd Street, about the same distance away, and I could easily visit the Union Square Greenmarket, Citarella in the VIllage, Balducci's on 14th Street and Buon Italia and the other shops in Chelsea Market. I could reach just as many more good food outlets if I ventured a little further, and I often did.
I immediately found Whole Foods very convenient, and I had a certain amount of confidence in the quality of what they sold, perhaps buying too much into its own hype and the excitement of its fans. The store became a very big part of my hunting and gathering activities. I soon began to think of the store as almost indispensable. It didn't hurt that since it was only a few hundred feet from our apartment I could walk out my door at 9 in the evening or even later, having no idea of what I was going to buy, and still get back in time to make a proper dinner for the two of us.
But Whole Foods has been out of my life since last Thursday (except in the telling of this story). I'm going to have to make some adjustments and I'm definitely going to be planning ahead from now on. I regret having to make the adjustment, but I may be more disturbed about the fact that it took me too long to get to this point.
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that for a long time I found it convenient to ignore what I began to hear early on about the Whole Foods management preventing its employees from unionizing (I did not then know the extent of its larger political involvement fighting the union movement, including opposing the Employee Free Choice Act). And then late last week the news broke about co-founder, Chairman and CEO John Mackey's Thursday Wall Street Journal op-ed on health care, "The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare". I could no longer ignore the fact that my money was supporting reactionary politics (the agent of the transaction was boldly broadcasting it to the world). Mackey opened his odd, obsessional piece with an ignorant, plainly specious quote* from scary Margaret Thatcher, and went on to argue against President Obama's health reform proposals. In fact he railed against any government involvement in the regulation of health care, positing instead eight of his own ideas for reform.
Revise tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren't covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
From its beginnings this food chain, anointed (with some justification) as more wholesome than any of its competitors, has assiduously cultivated an image of social responsibility. But it's an image which is, at the very least, at odds with much of its social and political conduct, especially because of the activities of the increasingly-eccentric John Mackey. The long arm (money, power, influence) of this very successful, wealthy corporation now manages to touch the lives of everyone, even those who have never entered one of its stores.
Even if the expected (and already dramatic) negative reaction of Whole Foods customers to the revelation of Mr. Mackey's Right-wing adventures isn't enough to frighten the corporation's investors, I would be surprised if they haven't already started to question his judgment, his ability to perform his job. Any competent CEO is well-advised to avoid political activities which offend and damage the best interests of his firm's clients and customers - or at least avoid being discovered or outed as an extremist nut.
I'm not going to pretend that my decision to no longer darken the threshold of the Chelsea Whole Foods outlet is of much consequence in the grand scheme of things, but I know I'm not alone in wanting to see John Mackey relieved of his duties. Stranger things have happened, and corporations are not known for courage, or preferring stupidity over the bottom line.
Should he be removed, John Mackey, the free market libertarian, should be able to appreciate the irony of the marketplace deciding that it had to be.
"The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out
of other people's money."
[image from gezellig-girl's Flickr photostream]