Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fuck Whole Foods

Yesterday I spent $7.34 for green beans at Whole Foods. That alone should fill me with guilt. And it did. Still, I bought the expensive beans in garlic and olive oil because I needed something to dress up the lasagna (a fairly low-brow creation of mine) I was serving to Dave and Tim in celebration of Dave’s birthday. (Dave’s birthday is next weekend; however, they’re going to France on that day.)

As if $7.34 for green beans is not enough to kick myself over—what with people still starving in the world … and, closer to home, having not paid my American Express bill this month, there is this editorial in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, in which John Mackey, CEO and co-founder of Whole Foods, attacks the current effort to reform health care from a conservative libertarian stance. He even has the nerve to name his position “The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare,” compelled to extend product branding even to his own thought processes.

He states that “health” is not a guaranteed “right” in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution:

“Many promoters of health-care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care—to equal access to doctors, medicines and hospitals. While all of us empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter?”

And guess what? Mackey sees no “intrinsic ethical right” to food or shelter either. “Empathetic” as he is, in the usual muted compassionate-conservative fashion, somehow he sees no connection between health, food, and shelter and “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” He might also be interested to know that the nation’s founding documents are similarly mum on the free market and capitalism in general—though almost certainly he recognizes—and ignores—that fact.

He then boasts that at Whole Foods he offers a “high-deductible health-insurance plan,” in which employees are responsible for the first $2,500 of their annual health-care costs (which strikes me as considerably more than most people pay for health care in a given year anyway). He says, “This creates incentives to spend the first $2,500 more carefully.” No shit. Fewer checkups, refusing emergency care, buying $7.34 green beans instead of blood pressure meds can cut health-care costs significantly!

(For the record, and by comparison, my Blue Cross plan has a $300-$600 deductible.)

Offsetting this, Whole Foods pays “up to” $1,800 to employees’ Personal Wellness Accounts—which I guess means that the highest paid employees would have to pay no more than $700 towards the deductible. But apparently only the highest paid employees—that tricky phrase “up to,” which promises only “absolutely no more than.”

He further calls, in the interest of getting the government’s hands off our health and well being (leave that to the empathetic “professionals” at Whole Foods and UnitedHealth), for the repeal of “government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover.” Right now various states require insurance companies to cover adopted children, contraceptives, autism treatments, mammograms, eye exams, and so on. Without these pesky restrictions, Mackey argues, costs could be lowered by “billions of dollars.”

“What is insured and what is not insured should be determined by individual customer preferences and not through special-interest lobbying,” he says. What I imagine this means is that I would be able to look over some sort of menu of diseases, disabilities, and injuries and decide for myself which of these I’m most likely to suffer—checking off cancer and automobile accident, but leaving blank diabetes and victim of violent crime—sort of like a Lucky Lotto card. If my numbers come up, I’m covered; if I suffer a mishap not on my prescribed “preferences,” I guess I’m shit out of luck.

Underlying all of this, as I said, is the idea that health, food, and shelter is the individual’s responsibility—not the government’s. Of course, this is mostly true. But there are precedents for the government protecting its citizens from the abuses of health-care providers and food suppliers—the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was founded to protect citizens from contaminated foods and the wildly fictitious claims of sellers of patent medicines, laws were passed to protect “free and willing volunteers” from being duped into participation in unethical human experimentation, and the right to sue for malpractice (now regrettably turned into a money game—largely by the legal and insurance professions) is a fundamental protection of citizens from flagrant quackery and negligence.

I would add that, in addition to the precedents, most Americans, unlike Mackey, do see health, food, and shelter as fundamental aspects of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—and therefore rights protected under the Constitution.

At the moment I don’t intend to boycott Whole Foods—though the economy seems to be effectively keeping me out of its aisles anyway—largely because I don’t imagine that Kroger, Food Lion, Target, or, for that matter, the vendors at my local farmers' market are any more “empathetic” than Whole Foods. But Mackey’s self-righteous and self-aggrandizing screed seriously pisses me off, so “Fuck John Mackey,” I say, and “Fuck Whole Foods.”


  1. I was addicted to WF for some time. It started out of necesity--my son is allergic to caisen & gluten (milk & wheat)--but slowly progressed into recreational use. (The resemblence to illicit drugs/pain meds is intentional.) I knew I had a problem but justified it through the time & gas 'saved' by not driving to multiple stores. Thankfully, reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan cured me. I eventually plan to see Food, Inc. I now order gluten-free food from amazon and only patronize WF when truly necessary.

  2. Mark, let me know what you think of Food, Inc. I'm waiting for the dvd. I still buy a few things at Whole Foods. I'm not a good boycotter. But I have drastically trimmed down the amount of money I'm willing to spend there--I don't buy anything at Whole Foods that I can buy anywhere else.



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