the whole story on whole foods 25


Rather than continuing to defend a fellow citizen’s right to have an opinion contrary to my own made before an audience of his peers without being made to suffer for it, I am going to try and explain my evolution from eating shit food to demanding no less than a Whole Foods on every corner.  Apparently there is some confusion as to why someone who wants to live a long and healthy life would deign to shop at such a repressive company.

Well, allow me to retort.

I have been married for nearly three years now and prior to that state of renewed enthusiasm for life, I was a confirmed bachelor until the ripe old age of 35.  I rarely paid attention to the ingredients in the food I picked off the shelves at whatever store happened to be closest to my current home, which changed quite frequently.  Corner Market or Safeway or NEX, it really didn’t matter.  I had spent most of my adult life eating Navy chow or fast food or using a grill for assorted meats.  I had certainly never shopped at “Whole Paycheck” or a Farmer’s Market because neither were on my radar as the indispensable services they are today.  My wife had proceeded along the same sort of path with regards to her weekly shopping until we got together.

No real thought put into the process of what we put in our bodies.

As we became more politically aware, we began to pay more attention to how national chains and giant food manufacturers were conducting business.  We stopped shopping at Walmart.  We started recycling.  We paid more attention.  It wasn’t until a small Farmer’s Market moved into our DC neighborhood where we bought our house that we began to make the connection to our weekly trips to Safeway as being part of the problem and not part of the solution.  One odd week, the experience at the local Safeway was so dysfunctional and the cost of our groceries had always come in around $150 that we figured how could Whole Foods be any more expensive.

It only took a single trip to realize we were right.  What we didn’t calculate was the change in how we approached food shopping from that moment on and the long-term cost reductions we would reap by way of a new, more healthy eating regimen.

We still spend about the same amount of money for the same amount of food, but there is literally no comparing the quality of products we purchase.  It’s like comparing apples to orangutans.   We are fortunate enough to be able to supplement those trips with regular visits to the second largest Farmer’s Market on the east coast in Dupont Circle, but there are many choices from local growers at the Whole Foods we frequent.  We even occasionally go to the regional Yes! Organic Grocers, though they have a limited selection and are a bit more pricey than Whole Foods.  Trader Joe’s is not really in the same league and is about the same amount.  We have tried going back to Safeway and tried Harris Teeter, neither of which allowed us to find the same quality items at the same price.  They were a steal on the Everything with Corn & Soy aisles, but the organic and all natural selections were premium priced and much less abundant.

We don’t want to support their business practices anyway.  They should not be rewarded for keeping King Corn alive.

I understand how truly blessed my family is to have a reality that affords us the opportunity to have these luxuries and to make these choices.  We earned every last reward, though, so I am not going to feel guilty about.  It makes me sad that every market in the country could be carrying the same exact items as Whole Foods does today, thus bringing the price down for everyone, but for one the most asinine food subsidy policies in the history of mankind and the foolish actions of a single misguided man.  We are being poisoned by our own hand and the one food distribution company with the national clout to change the paradigm and a mission to actually make a difference is being pilloried by liberals for having a CEO who supports a more market-based approach to health care?  How does that make a lick of sense from a strategic standpoint if you care one wit for progressive political goals with regards to the state of our food supply chains?

Yes, I am linking to blogs I already wrote because I hate to repeat myself.

Our problems are so much larger than health care reform alone or some rather predictable  answers to making it work from a libertarian point of view that I find it hard to believe Mackey’s comments made as much of a stir as they did.  They are hardly revolutionary from an ideological perspective.  No less so than Medicare-for-All being the rallying cry for so many on the left.  I was also surprised at the lack of Whole Foods patrons coming to the store’s defense who understand the complexity of the issues.  I have no problem advocating for a service that I find to be exemplary in nature.  In fact, we would be super bummed if they went away since nothing really exists to replace Whole Foods.  Crushed was the word my wife used, though neither of us think the company is going to do anything other than thrive in years to come as people’s expectations slowly change to embrace sustainability.

My family is more than happy to support Whole Foods

corporate mission by continuing to do our weekly shopping there.   We wish more people would do the same.

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25 thoughts on “the whole story on whole foods

  • bluebell

    We had a local co-op organic food store long before Whole Foods brought itself to town. It’s not the only place you can get good food. It just has a big corporate identity. Other grocers are out there if you look and they are more than likely locally owned and support local growers.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      There are coops here and there depending on where you live. There are only a couple in DC and it is a huge metro area.

      I am not denying the part they have played in bringing these things to light, but Whole Foods is really the first national chain to use coop principles in sourcing its products and the coop movement was never going to get us there on their own. Ditto for regional grocers who do a bang up job as well. All a piece of the larger discussion and solution set, but none able to do it alone.

      I am not talking about the exception to the rule, though, I am talking about the vast majority of choices on the shelves in American grocery stores is toxic for long-term human consumption.

      • bluebell

        Well, there are zero Whole Foods stores in some whole states. They saw a market niche among the upwardly mobile in large cities who want organic food. You don’t find them in crummy neighborhoods or small towns.

        You can get organic at Target now and it costs less and it is more likely to reach buyers who don’t have any extra cash.

        I’m not saying Target is a better corporate citizen, I’m just saying Whole Foods is more market image than anything else. I do shop there sometimes but alas I always seem to leave with more chocolate desserts than vegetables.

  • Lalo35adm

    My takeaway is that awareness, understanding and the power of consumer choice are better long-term weapons then any kind of executive order, hourse resolution, pitchforks and populist proclamations of election-minded politicians.

    Not everyone will want to know and not everyone is going to choose healthy food. But that’s also a choice and they should be free to make it, without being punished by the government or others.

    And I have absolutely no problem with the fact that Whole Foods is making a profit by marketing and selling healthful foods.

    Thanks, Jason, great post.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      Great points, though I think it is a matter of government doing more of the right things and less of the wrong ones.

      Killing all farm subsidies and lifting restrictions on industrial hemp would be a great step in the right direction. At least it would level the playing field for other crops and allow our soil to start healing from its oil-induced stupor.

      I don’t think people should be punished for choices that society makes a fait accompli because of piss-poor policies.

      • Lalo35adm

        I love your comment on farm subsidies.

        This is such a shameful fact and every single politician has exploited it since the 1920s.

        Why are they not compared to the insurance companies??

        They are killing the farmers in Africa and Latin America and keeping prices artificially high for all Americans.

        • Jason Everett Miller

          Yet Whole Foods and John Mackey are ruining America for all progressives and destroying health care to boot? It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad and so counter-intuitive to what I would consider solid political strategy.

          I am pretty sure I heard that “keep your enemies closer” thing somewhere before, so it seems a no-brainer to use any attempt at dialogue to win another convert. Even the craziest of comments on the Lanny Davis thread admitted there were one or two things they liked. That is more than enough combined with the rest of Mackey’s obviously progressives ideals.

          Liberals crack me up sometimes. They can’t sell great ideas to a public thirsty for innovation after decades of shit governance.

          I definitely joined the right party. The GOP may have been immoral and improperly focused these last forty years, but they have singularly effective. Now they just need new leaders to take the party in a new direction and incumbents are extremely vulnerable in the primaries these days given the low turnout percentages.

          Thanks for dropping by. Should be some sparks flying in here if it pops up top somehow and assholio below is any indication of the wingnuts it will bring out.

  • Aunt Sam

    Jason,

    Good post. While I don’t have much empathy or support (!) for the Whole Foods CEO’s stance and manner of delivery, I enthusiastically endorse your stance on the perils and facts regarding processed food ingredients v. organic.

    I doubt if the vast majority realize exactly what it is they are ingesting and the havoc it can create within our bodies and immune system (especially as we get older).

    I’ve always applauded the state intent of Whole Foods and their mission, but not their CEO’s in this matter. Again, it’s basically because of his manner of delivery, timing and premise.

    Thanks for a good post.

    Rec’d.

  • bluebell

    I will say it is totally absurd to boycott Whole Foods now that it has become apparent that the Democratic Party is not serious about healthcare anyway. How can I get hissy about a grocer CEO when the Dems have sold out to big insurance?

    My local organic food co-op is a real co-op. The Blue Dog insurance co-ops will not be. They will just be a BIG LIE.

  • AnswerFrog

    I think WF should be less greedy. Keep prices down, give more to their employees. They don’t need huge profits. Modest sustainable profits will serve them better. Mackey will still be rich but their image will fair better.

    Perhaps this is the result of being publicly held? Trader Joes is privately held and thus isn’t under constant pressure to rake in cash every quarter, so they can give good prices.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      Thanks for the comments, but I don’t find their pricing to be outrageous as I hoped to make clear from my post.

      As to Trader Joe’s, perhaps you missed this link, but saving a $1.90 on a $100 food bill is a negligible difference in my book. Given the lack of similar commitments to sustainability as a part of the corporate culture as Whole Foods, I would say TJ’s is the inferior choice for a number of important reasons.

      As far as I can find, Whole Foods profit margins haven’t been substantially higher than industry competitors, though they are obviously more successful on the whole while providing a vastly superior product. I would say Safeway’s 23% margin is much more of a rip-off than Whole Foods’ 35% because of the way in which they operate and the vendors they support.

      I just can’t see any direct comparison between the product being offered by Whole Foods and that being offered by all their national competitors and most of their regional ones.

      • AnswerFrog

        I’ve shopped there quite a bit and they are indeed expensive, at least for non-wealthy people. Take a bar of soap.Sometimes you just want a cheap bar that is not loaded with phthalates (labelling only requires they call that “fragrance”) They sell lots of $3~4 bars of soap. That’s pretty darn high if you need a few bars per month. It adds up. TJ has an organic bar of tree oil that has almost no additives and is like a buck and change. (Their wine is pretty darn reasonable as well.)

        WF is a good store, and has plenty of great farms and producers supplying it. I just fear that they’re losing their way ethically, like not covering dependents of their FT workers. Mackey’s WSJ piece grew out of his belief that his chincey high deductible plan is actually a good thing. It’s not, it’s crap and he should fix it. They should take the backlash as a wakeup call.

        • Jason Everett Miller

          You can’t take a single item out of context and use it to dispute a fairly comprehensive price-comparison that disputes your claims. TJ’s is no less expensive, overall, than Whole Foods.

          Again, take that same shopping trip at Safeway and you save ten or fifteen bucks and get no where near the same quality of food. It is a myth that Whole Foods is only great to shop at if you are wealthy or well.

          I am far from either state and wouldn’t shop anywhere even if you paid.

          • AnswerFrog

            You are simply wrong.

            TJ is cheaper than WF. I’ve shopped at both for years. I know what I’m talking about.

          • Jason Everett Miller

            I have shopped at both in the last few weeks as well at various times over the last few years. The linked comparison is about what I have found to be the case more often than not. Are you calling me a liar or perhaps your shopping list and mine may differ?

            This is the sort of polemic partisan nonsense that does nothing to promote a robust and reasonable discussion. You can’t even come to the barest hint of an understanding that not everything in this world is going to mirror your own experiences. I never went so far as to isolate specific items. Yes, TJ’s has a great wine selection with a few very cheap brands.

            When it comes to subjective opinions like “expensive” versus “inexpensive” a comparison shopping list that reveals essentially no difference between the two stores is more compelling evidence than your claim to have shopped at both and came to the conclusion that Trader Joe’s is the cheaper of the two.

          • no exit

            sorry. TJ’s may be comparably priced in your neck of the woods, but, here in SF it is A LOT cheaper.

            and you know what? mackey may have a right to his opinion, but, it’s just more unhealthy corproate swill and i hope people boycott his stores. i would, if i didn’t already, for the reasons below.

            here are some things to think about;

            (1) Aggressive monopolization. – They’ve thus created a near-monopoly in the natural foods grocery business. Consumers are better served by a diversity of stores, but Whole Foods has been trying to wipe out the competition — and has been quite successful at doing so.

            (2) Failure to support farmworkers. When United Farm Worker activists passed out literature at an Austin Whole Foods Market, Whole Foods called the cops and had them arrested. Embarrassed by the public outcry, Whole Foods then promised to support the UFW’s grape boycott, but then broke that promise when it moved the store a couple of blocks away, saying the agreement applied only to the old location.

            (3) Fierceless devotion to profit. It’s not unusual for a business to try to maximize profit. But when the business puts on a socially-responsible face, consumers have the hope that the business will put “Doing the Right Thing” above “Making More Money”. That’s not always the case at Whole Foods. It’s precisely why Whole Foods swallows its competitors, sells certain questionable products, and keeps wages as low as possible.

            (4) Refusal to carry only turle-safe shrimp. When Earth Island Institute asked Whole Foods to carry only shrimp caught in nets certified to protect endangered sea turtules, Whole Foods flatly refused.

            (5) CEO posing as someone else on the Internet. For seven years, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey posted on the Yahoo Finance board about his company and its competitors while pretending to be someone else. By trashing rival Wild Oats, their stock price could drop and he could buy them out for less money. Mackey also had the gall to anonymously praise himself. (“I like Mackey’s haircut. I think he looks cute!”) (6) He didn’t stop there: He also criticized specific employees, under the cover of anonymity.

            (6) Poor working conditions. Workers organizing for a union in Madison said, “The ridiculously high turnover rate, wages that are lower than the industry standard, pervasive lack of respect, constant understaffing, absence of a legally-binding grievance procedure, and other poor and unfair labor practices-all of which have led to widespread low morale-highlight the simple fact that workers ultimately have no say in the terms and conditions of their employment at any Whole Foods Market-not just Madison.

            (7) Anti-Union. Whole Foods is so fiercely anti-union it has actually fired employees who were trying to organize one. As Common Dreams says, Whole Foods matches Wal-Mart in its reputation for corporate anti-unionism.

            (8) Low Wages. Whole Foods has been widely criticized for keeping wages low. “Companies such as Whole Foods or other non-union chain competitors are paying many of their hourly employees what in late 1960s dollars would be equivalent to the minimum wage or below.”

            (9) Misleading shoppers about its support of small farmers. Signs at Whole Foods Market say, “Help the Small Farmer — Buying organic supports the small, family farmers that make up a large percentage of organic food producers.” What they’re not telling you is that while the number of family farmers is a large percentage of the total, overwhelming majority of organic output comes from corporate farms.

            (10) Obfuscating executive compensation. Forbes magazine says, “Media reports frequently tout Whole Foods’ pay policy, which caps the chief executive’s salary and bonus at 14 times the average worker’s pay. The Wall Street Journal, Slate.com, Harvard Business Review and BusinessWeek have all mentioned the pay cap, generally in favorable terms. But they all omitted one thing: stock options.” When you count stock options, Mackey really made close to $3 million, or eighty-two times the average workers’ salary.

            (11) Forcing smaller competitors to hand over private financial data. Whole Foods has been trying to force many of its smaller competitors to hand over private sales and financial data about those smaller stores. Whole Foods already holds a massive advantage due to its size, but that’s apparently not enough for them.

            So I’m glad you appreciate WF’s so much you’re willing to look the other way concerning their false claims to being a progressive compnay, but, i think Mackey deserves a boycott for his reprehensible op-ed, among other things, and i am confident if WFs were to suffer, there’d be an easy replacement.

            if corporations are held accountable they will never change, and Mackey is bringing this on himself by pretending to be something he’s not, a socially progressive company.

          • Jason Everett Miller

            Again, you provide no links to back up your assertions. No context either.

            I could go through each on of these points and provide alternate information, but what would be the point? You have made up your mind and no amount of evidence to the contrary will change your mind. Like much of the criticism of the chain, it is anecdotal evidence that easily contradicted by other pieces of anecdotal evidence.

            As to your opening remark, I suppose we are just supposed to take your word for it that TJ’s in San Francisco is priced so much differently than a comparative metro market like DC.

          • no exit

            TJ’s in San Francisco is much cheaper than WFs. I’ve been in both.

            I find it hard to believe that WF’s anywhere is cheaper than TJs because TJs big innovation is that they own the supply chain.

            They own the farms and producers of the products they sell so you don’t get markups at every point of sale up the chain to the store.

            Here are your footnotes for every point I made.

            Footnotes
            (1) Texas Observer, “Minding the Store” by Eric Bates, Sep. 11, 1998

            (2) Common Dreams, “Welcome to ‘Whole-Mart’: Rotten Apples in the Social Responsibility Industry”, by Mark T. Harris, May 2, 2006

            (3) The Prism, “Whole Foods Plays Dirty”, by Paul Ortiz, May 1998)

            (4) United Farm Workers, 1998

            (5) Stuff White People Like, “Ex-WFM’er”, (comment by a 14-year veteran of Whole Foods), May 31, 2008

            (6) New York Times, “Whole Foods executive used alias”, by Andrew Martin, July 12, 2007

            (7) Daily Kos, “Whole Foods union-busting online”, by Woodhouse, July 20, 2007

            (8) Silicon Valley Insider, “Whole Foods CEO, Blogger: Back On The Web, Not Terribly Sorry About That Whole Yahoo Message Board Fiasco”, by Peter Kafka, May 25, 2008

            (9) Whole Foods, “Back to Blogging”, by John Mackey, May 21, 2008)

            (10) New York Times, “Love the Worker, Not the Union, A Store Says As Some Organize”, by Aaron Nathans, May 24, 2003

            (11) Forbes, “Food Porn”, by Seth Lubove, Feb. 14, 2005

            (12) Green America, “Responsible Shopper: Whole Foods”, June 12, 2008

            (13) Social Funds, “Shareowner Action on Product Toxicity Shifts from Isolated Resolutions to Become a Campaign”, by Bill Baue, February 09, 2006

            (14) Slate, “Is Whole Foods Wholesome?”, by Field Maloney, March 17, 2006

            (15) Social Funds, “Whole Foods Market Gags Shareowners at Annual Meeting”, by Bill Baue, March 10, 2006

            (16) Forbes, “Whole Foods: Spinning CEO pay”, by Hannah Clark, April 20, 2006

            (17) Sea Turtle Restoration Project, “A Story of a Mercury Poisoned American”, by Stacey Reynolds,

            (18) Sea Turtle Restoration Project, “Mercury Warning Sign, Supermarket Compliance Survey” (PDF), Nov. 24, 2003

            (19) New Seasons Market blog, “We’re just trying to mind our own (local) business”, Dec. 1, 2008

            (20) Mother Jones, “Are Starbucks and Whole Foods Union Busters”, April 6, 2009

          • Jason Everett Miller

            Sorry, but that is definitely the case here in DC and in at least one other location as the link I provided demonstrates.

            The fact that Trader Joe’s owns the supply chain makes their packaging processes even more unforgivable.

            They then have no reason to individually wrap fruit except to avoid having scales with the regulations and maintenance that goes with them. Further, they have no reason to can their coffee beans rather than offer them in bulk. I find a varied supply chain with numerous small label vendors and local farms a much more compelling model.

            I accept that you have found sources to reinforce your opinion about places like Whole Foods and Starbucks. I doubt you will ever agree that I could find as many stories to counter your opinions as your did to support them. As such, that makes these sorts of conversations meaningless.

            I refuse to debate these sort of issues on ideological grounds.

  • Saladin

    Sorry Jason.

    I am boycotting. Dudes a fucking prick who should have kept his mouth shut (see NCsteves great blog from yesterday). Its TJ’s and the local grocer for me.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      No need to apologize, but please see the blog, Sal.

      TJ’s isn’t even in the same league and certainly does not have the same overarching mission as Whole Foods does. I understand that you think Mackey is a prick, but it does no good to punish every single local farmer and small label manufacturer that depends on those stores for their main source of revenue.

      I think it also has a chilling effect on debate when a respected business leader who is very progressive in a great many ways – though unabashedly “conservative” in others – is unable to contribute his thoughts to the national dialogue for fear it will drive his stock price down.

      This is the same shit the right did for so many years that I was hoping we wouldn’t see come out of the democrats when they took the reigns of power. It is a sad and ironic moment for me to admit that I was right. Democrats are no more likely to listen to a dissenting view than a republican is without getting mortally offended by something the “other” has to offer.

      Frankly, I had come to expect more from you based on all our interactions, but please follow your own conscience where it leads you.

  • Michael A

    You are just an uninformed and blind repuke d*ck. Go play at lush’s website and leave us alone. Pimping for whole paycheck? With lies? Pathetic. Thank you.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      Really? This is the best you have? Rush Limbaugh and repuke and Whole Paycheck as epithets? I would respond in kind but that would be counter to my stated goals, so I will stick to a critique of your contributions to the debate thus far since you have yet to add anything of worth.

      Those chunky bits of gristle you have spewed forth been refuted time and again by actual objective facts. You provide single-sourced opinion pieces that confirm your preexisting ideas and pretend they are profound. It is quite funny from an observer’s standpoint as exasperating as it can be from a participant’s.

      It is clear from your comment that you didn’t read what I wrote let alone follow any of the links or you would know how idiotic this statement really is.