09/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Why I'm Done with Whole Foods

(Note: A version of this post originally appeared at

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has struck a nerve with his op-ed for the Wall Street Journal trashing President Obama's healthcare proposals. In his op-ed, Mackey writes that "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."


Whole Foods was already a big, big problem, especially on labor issues, where Mackey has been a leading opponent of the Employee Free Choice Act and compared unionization to "herpes." But on health care he's just lying. His op-ed propagates several lies and half-truths about the health care plan:

  • It's not an entitlement, like what social security is. That's a lie.
  • This is not a government takeover of health care. It's not even close. I wish it was! All the plan does is reform the insurance industry and create a public insurance option (if we're lucky) that will enroll a small percentage of Americans. Anyone who tells you this is a "government takeover" is lying, Mackey included.
  • The budget estimates are hundreds of billions over a decade. That's a lot, but it's not "unfunded" and it's minimal in the context of costs from the War in Iraq, Bush tax cuts, etc. The cost argument is a scare tactic that works because the numbers sound big, but in reality they are a small fraction of the massive federal budget.
Mackey's solutions are a deeply, deeply conservative platform that are right out of the George Bush "ownership society" playbook, and have all been proven ineffective in other industries: Deregulation. Tax cuts. Ending "mandates" of quality care levels for insurance companies. And the favorite right-wing straw-man, personal responsibility. If we all just took better care of ourselves (which of course includes shopping at Whole Foods) we wouldn't get sick.

That argument ignores countless realities of our society, from pollution to food/drink additives to a (still) severe lack of access to healthy, affordable food for many Americans. It's odd that the lifestyle Mackey espouses and his Whole Foods brand embodies -- organic, natural, healthy, sustainable -- is repeatedly undercut by the political platform he embraces: antagonism towards environmental regulation; a failure to confront the dominance of mass-scale factory farming and agriculture; and an unwillingness to confront urban poverty, where the problem of "food access" is the worst.

Mackey argues vigorously against the "health care as a human right" or moral case for health care, which I imagine puts him at odds with 80% of his customers.

Some people today have argued that what's really galling is how dramatically Mackey's op-ed betrayed and antagonized his own customers. That he doesn't understand his brand, and he's swatting at a hornets nest by being so vocal against health care. DailyKos had a useful piece; the great blog Fair Food Fight is all over this.

I also saw several posts that went into more detail about whether or not Whole Foods is bad for workers, and how the health care proposals Mackey is espousing are bad for the employees he claims to be taking good care of. That is up for debate; I've seen arguments for both sides of the issue, and I'll try to do a followup that goes into more detail this week.

To me, it's pretty basic: Mackey is working to oppose things I believe in, so I should stop giving him money. That's not easy: I spend a lot of money on food. I also spend a lot of money at Whole Foods. Being inside Whole Foods comforts me, and I'm susceptible to the (false) idea that just by shopping there, whatever I buy, I'll be healthier. I'm that guy. I could eat the their prepared chicken salad and those slabs of pizza all day. I worship those free sample prosciutto slices.

Nation Pocket Tote Bag

But now that Mackey has confirmed for me that my money is going to support deregulation of the insurance industry, lies about the current health care proposal, and a crusade to lecture people who can't access or can't afford healthy food, I'm just not going to go there. I'll have to take my Nation tote bag somewhere else, and then binge eat someone else's prepared flank steak instead.

The bottom line for me, reading Mackey's op-ed, is that by shopping at Whole Foods I'm supporting by proxy a donation to the RNC and to health-scare front groups like Patients First. I don't give money to anyone who injects misleading right-wing talking points into the public debate, so I won't be giving money to Whole Foods.

Two quick updates:

First, it's been pointed out that Mackey is a Libertarian. I have a lot of angry comments that I'm calling him a Republican when that's not his affiliation, and the only campaign contributions I found for him are to Libertarian candidates. My point, though, is that with his op-ed, Mackey is injecting in a high-profile way some of the very same half-truths and scare tactics that the R.N.C., leading Republicans and anti-reform lobbyists are using to mislead the public about health care reform.

Additionally, Mackey's "solution" hews very closely to the Republican health care plan presented in early August. His take varies, but the central tenant of deregulation is common to both his and Republican platforms. I don't think we should be deregulating the insurance industry or health care.

So whatever his affiliation at present, his role in this debate is parroting and advancing the current Republican lines of attack.

Second, I wanted to provide some links and resources:

Here is the Facebook group urging a boycott. There are over 10,000 members so far.

Here is some interesting perspective from Matthew Yglesias on the efficacy of a boycott.

Finally, you can call or write Whole Foods Corporate Offices at:
601 North Lamar St. Suite 300
Austin, TX 78703
512-477-1069 Fax