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The Whole Foods boycott -- much frothing on the Web

August 20, 2009 |  5:08 pm

Poor old Whole Foods Market. As if that "Whole Paycheck" joke wasn't mean enough, now there are lots of shoppers who say they won't go there to buy things anymore.

To recap: On Aug. 11,  the Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece by the company's chief executive, John Mackey, in which he spoke against deeper government involvement in the nation's healthcare.

Americans, he said, should be responsible for their own health. Like, for example, by eating healthy food (of the kind Whole Foods sells). 

"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," Mackey wrote.

That editorial led to a call for a Whole Foods boycott by a group called (aptly enough) Boycott Whole Foods. It says its membership now stands at more than 20,000.

There's a Boycott Whole Foods Flikr group. A Boycott Whole Foods Facebook page. (It can only be a matter of time before there are Boycott Whole Foods resistance songs.)

There are images: "Flickr member bluheron sends us this proof of her money being spent elsewhere," the Boycott Whole Foods site proclaims. It's a photo of a receipt from a different store.

"Keep the photos coming!...Send us images of … defaced WF bags, and images of picketing or pamphleteering. Show them you mean business!"

On the Boycott Whole Foods Facebook wall, tips are traded, losses shared: Where now, to buy Rice Dream ice cream? How to manage without the cheese?

"Wait -- is it a boycott if I just can't afford to shop there?" writes Richard.

Mark E Rosenthal, who started the boycott, posted as membership passed 15,000— and then posted an e-mail he received: "I see you've hit 15,000 members! What a glorious day! Unfortunately, I just looked up the "Care Bears" group. They've got 65,239 members."

An article at the Washington Postnotes that other company executives have spoken out against healthcare reform — such as Safeway Chief Executive Steve Burd -- "with nary a ripple." No surprise, it says, because Whole Foods customers are of a different stripe — more liberal and politically involved.

At The Big Money, writer Mark Gimein -- in a post titled "Has Whole Foods' CEO Gone Completely Bananas?" – says that Mackey is dreaming if he thinks people are going to radically change their behaviors:

"The solution to our health care woes, Mackey seems to believe, is for all of us to become like him—hyper-rational in evaluating our options, hyper-responsible in following through on them, and devoted to healthy living (that plant-based diet!).That, in a nutshell, usefully sums up just what we can't do. As a friend at the Wall Street Journal put it to me with a raised eyebrow, 'It's pretty strange to think that the easiest way to change health care is to change human beings.' "

At the Atlantic, Megan McArdle writes, "The CEO of Whole Foods is not allowed to have a different opinion from you on a national domestic policy issue?  Rilly?....Here's why boycotts don't work: the vast majority of customers don't care. And yes, that includes the vast majority of Whole Foods customers, a surprising number of whom drive SUVs and even -- I swear! -- occasionally vote Republican."

Check out the NPR story here, and read all kinds of commentaries at the Huffington Post.

-- Rosie Mestel

   

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