John Mackey and Whole Foods: Biting The Hands That Feed Them

My local Whole Foods Mkt.

My local Whole Foods Mkt.

When I first moved to Boston in 1967, there was an amazing natural food store on Newbury Street called Erewhon. It was started by Michio Kushi and his wife Aveline and focused on Kushi’s macrobiotic diet. You could get all kinds of interesting foods there like tamari sauce, miso, natural peanut butter made out of just peanuts, and all kinds of strange grains, beans, and vegetables. The store had sawdust on the floor and big barrels with foodstuffs in them. I used to take the T downtown to shop there and then drag my purchases home in great big cloth bags. Eventually Erewhon expanded and opened a store in Cambridge and it got easier to shop there. Erewhon was a pioneer in making organic foods available to the public.

In the late 1970’s another natural foods store opened in Brookline. It was called Bread and Circus, and the company soon expanded into Cambridge, Wellsley, and a few other Boston suburbs. It was a great place to shop and didn’t have the “health food” aura of Erewhon, where you would see lots of sickly-looking macrobiotic mavens. Unfortunately, in the early 1990’s Bread and Circus was bought out by the Texas company, Whole Foods Market. And it’s been pretty much downhill from there. The prices are sky high and the standards for what constitutes “whole foods” have slipped.

Under co-founder and CEO John Mackey, Whole Foods is much more focused on marketing than on health. Mackey is an obsessive libertarian, who in 2009 wrote an obnoxious op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he suggested that Obama’s health care initiative was socialistic. Here’s just a taste.

With a projected $1.8 trillion deficit for 2009, several trillions more in deficits projected over the next decade, and with both Medicare and Social Security entitlement spending about to ratchet up several notches over the next 15 years as Baby Boomers become eligible for both, we are rapidly running out of other people’s money. These deficits are simply not sustainable. They are either going to result in unprecedented new taxes and inflation, or they will bankrupt us.

While we clearly need health-care reform, the last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us much closer to a government takeover of our health-care system. Instead, we should be trying to achieve reforms by moving in the opposite direction—toward less government control and more individual empowerment.

john-mackey

In 2010, Mackey tried to save the company some money by punishing employees with exercise and garcinia cambogia supplementation for those whom he deemed to be too fat, giving them smaller discounts for their purchases from the stores than thinner employees got. The reaction was swift and negative, and from what I can tell, the initiative was quietly dropped. The company would have been sued over it anyway. Oh, and Mackey hates unions too.

I don’t know who shops at Whole Foods in Texas, but around here it’s mostly the ex-hippies like me along with what we used to call “yuppies” and other politically liberal types. As Mackey found out in 2009 and 2010, his libertarian lecturing doesn’t go over too well with his clientele. After each of these episodes, I became less interested and wasting my “whole paycheck” at Whole Foods. I still go there sometimes, but usually only to buy things I can’t find anywhere else. After today, I’m going to feel even less enthused about shopping in Mackey’s Markets.

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that today Mackey told NPR that Obamacare is worse than socialist–it’s fascism! It’s seems Mackey has a new book out called Conscious Capitalism. He told NPR that his goal is to convince people that corporations aren’t really “primarily selfish and greedy.”

Mackey sat down with Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep to discuss his philosophy and the new book he co-authored, Conscious Capitalism. Part 1 airs Wednesday, Part 2 on Thursday….

When Inskeep asks him if he still thinks the health law is a form of socialism, as he’s said before, Mackey responds:

“Technically speaking, it’s more like fascism. Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn’t own the means of production, but they do control it — and that’s what’s happening with our health care programs and these reforms.”

Apparently NPR has been dissing Whole Foods for awhile now. There was funny piece about it at The Atlantic in 2011: NPR Is Slowly Breaking Up with Whole Foods. Mackey would probably be more comfortable appearing on right wing talk shows; but he wouldn’t reach his target demographic that way, so he has to go on NPR. There’s a real mismatch between this CEO and his customers.

Well, around here, lots of the supermarkets carry organic fruits, vegetables, eggs, butter, dairy products and meats now, so there isn’t as much need to go to a specialty store with sky-high prices. My biggest problem is that Whole Foods recently bought out a local food chain that ran the most inexpensive and convenient store in my neighborhood. By next fall, the closest grocery store to me will be a Whole Foods. Can I resist stopping there and drive 15-20 minutes to get to another store when I’m in a rush or tired? It won’t be easy but I’m going do my best.

Anyway, this is an open thread. What’s on your mind tonight?