Thursday, September 10, 2009

Whole Foods Update


The other day I got an email from the folks at Food Democracy Now who not only have an essay and petition calling for CEO John Mackey to resign (my response when I first read his editorial) and also a poll.

They also link to the letter Michael Pollan wrote about how he is still shopping at Whole Foods. He believes their support of local farmers and long history of good deeds is more important then Mackey's thoughts on health care.

Tom Philpott weighs in at Grist he's not a big supporter of Whole Foods, nor does it sound like he shops their much. He points out a few interesting tidbits that were news to me like:

Fetishizing the creed of personal responsibility is a bit much, coming from a man who once assumed an Internet identity to pump up his own firm’s share price and talk down that of a competitor, which he was simultaneously trying to buy.

Apparently wikey wacky Mackey is well know for his out there behavior.

In the end Philpott concludes:

I deplore Whole Foods’ active lobbying to gut the Employee Free Choice Act. But I don’t shop there much anyway. I can’t be bothered to actively boycott Whole Foods—or denounce those who do.

In his article he mentions and links to a piece Barth Anderson wrote for Huffington Post.
Anderson comes closest to describing what I feel, which is not that I am so outraged by Mackey's views on health care, which I do find repulsive, (actually what I find more repulsive is that the OP ED in the WSJ started out with a quote from Margaret Thatcher: "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money." What? That makes no sense. People who pay taxes shouldn't get something for them? It is everybody's money and is for the common good). It's that I feel duped, conned and lied to.

Anderson points out that the real issue here is how shoppers at Whole Foods, like myself, feel betrayed. The "core" shopper as we have been identified by natural foods marketing researchers Hartman Group. A core shopper is someone who shops:

with big concepts in mind (sustainability, worker rights, environmental, and various political issues), and you want food label claims proven to you. You like research, you like information, and you like knowing how things work in the food world.

He goes on to talk about how core shoppers are trendsetters, the point that really rings true to me is this:

The core consumer is more likely to choose to buy the product, then decide where to buy it. The "where" decision is based on a number of emotional factors, including which stores have a knowledgeable staff, which stores are perceived as having values similar to the shopper's, and which stores the shopper feels most comfortable in...

Bingo, emotional factors here I was spending all this money thinking I was supporting a good progressive, fair, company who was trying to do the right thing, not only by farmers, but by their employees and for the environment, only to realize that the guy who runs the place thinks it's all just a clever marketing tool to manipulate his shoppers so he can increase profits.

Michael Pollan's claim about not wanting to hurt farmers seems a little far fetched, as I see it their is very little local food at Whole Foods and the products carried are only from the biggest farms and rarely organic. Most of their produce is either from large California Organic companies or from "conventionally grown" mega farms in Chile, Mexico, New Zealand and other far off places.

There are a ton of disturbing inconsistencies with Whole Foods that I have mentioned here before, like what I see as their misleading labeling of seafood and the use of the MSC logo, but that is just the tip of the melting ice burg.

More than anything I don't feel like I am capital B boycotting Whole Foods, I just feel like I am over them. I'm really enjoying shopping at my local East Village "natural" store and spreading my dollars out to more local retailers. I'm lucky because I have the time to go around to smaller shops to get the things I need. My shopping is, and has been for a long time now, centered on farmers markets. This is where I go to first.

What Whole Foods really succeeded in doing very well was creating a nice place to shop in where you could get everything you needed under one roof. They capitalized on the "natural food" movement at an early critical point and exploited it for their profits. They cleverly marketed themselves as the we care we really care grocery store chain in order to give all their core shoppers the warm and fuzzy feeling we all wanted when shopping for our daily food.

More then boycotting them I feel I have just moved on, they aren't the only game in town and if I am going to be true to myself and my core belief's I need to make the extra effort (and it's not really much of an effort) to not only eating locally and seasonally, but to support local shops, not some big Texan owned multinational run by a freaky Ann Rand spouting Thatcher quoting nut job.


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