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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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Comments (75)

This article just goes to show how inherently stupid people are. There can be no reform without some tough choices. John Mackey simply represents another viewpoint, and as someone who formerly made a living in the insurance business, his plan makes much more economic sense than the President's. HSAs and HDHPs offer the best coverage and an opportunity for the banking industry to receive a huge new market segment and new money to invest through the HSAs. There is no doctor in America who will not allow a client to pay out the deductible after initial care is rendered. The current system allows insurance companies to invest all of the money we pay in, and their track record is not great. Mr. Mackey did not leave out the poor in his proposal. People should be upset that the President is investing hundreds of millions in a campaign to garner public support for his plan, a plan written by attorneys, not healthcare professionals. It is not his job to campaign for issues, he simply provides congress with an initiative that he favors, and then the rest is up to the people to decide. Instead, he is spending our money to sell us something that takes down a road that most Americans don't want to go. Has he even told America about other options? No. He is a crybaby that wants everything to go his way and throws a tantrum when people disagree. His name-calling, blame games, and pure partisan rhetoric seem to befit Congress, but are shameful, weak, and disgusting in a President. He flaunts an arrogant dismissal at the separation of powers, blatantly linking the executive branch of government in with the Legislative branch, which is unconstitutional and illegal, forming a sick regime of power and disgusting neo-liberal fascist tyranny. If you disagree, then you must be a Bush Republican according to the Liberal press. In fact, not one single credible economist trusts or agrees with the public option. He stupidly justifies competitiveness with a public option by invoking the example of the USPS compared to UPS and Fed Ex. UPS and Fed Ex fill a gap created by market demand that the USPS could not fill. But as he uses this analogy, he inherently provides us with a reason NOT to trust a public option - the Fed can't deliver, even when subsidized heavily by Tax Dollars. Is everybody in America who supports this plan really that stupid? I am ashamed at all the weak sheeple, and the stupid press who want us to be more European. John Mackey has it right people, wake up.

Better health care? Yes

Government health care? No way!

Boycotts? Child-like

Protest? Yes, it's the American way!!

Less government in my life? The only way to live!!!

These boycotters are idiots. The WF CEO is correct in his statements. If I find a WF store near me I'll buy lots of things from them. Let the idiots shop elsewhere.

Cool! I've been looking for a new supermarket.

Good for you Mr. Mackey!! Thanks for speaking your mind. Yes, we need health care reform for about 5% of the American population, but the rest of us are just fine. Here's an idea fix tort reform!!! Fix the medicare system! If the government could do this then maybe we would be more acceptable of the government health care system. We are a great democratic country, I don't want to be know as the United Socialist of America.

I don't shop at Whole Foods for a couple of reasons:

1. The nearest one is 20 miles away.
2. It's overpriced crap.

So, uh, yeah, I'm boycotting them, heh!

im going to start buying whole food may even see if they offer stock . if the liberals hate it its worth buying

I am a 70 year old and have been an intermittant shopper at Whole Foods for the past few years. One other large local chain is about two blocks from my home while Whole Foods is about a mile or more away. After reading Mr. Mackey's bold and sane comments about the Obama Health proposal and witnessing the wrath of the irrational respondents to his remarks, I have decided to support John Mackey and Whole Foods by making an effort to drive (maybe even walk) to Whole Foods for all my grocery needs. I am in agreement with My Mackey on the need to find a cost effective way to meet our dependent citizens needs. I am against wasteful spending on any government funded program. God Bless America

i will travel 26 miles from my home to shop at john mackeys whole foods this week end. i believe in his 8 ways to reform health care and i will support him 100%

The CEO is right, we should take more responsibility for ouselves, and it start with changing our eating habits. It should be illegal to sell or feed people with hormone-antibiotic infested, geneticly modified, sodium nitrited out food. Eating right is not a liberal or conservative thing, we and our kids are so brainwashed by all these commercials, why do you suppose there is a fast food restaurant and a drug store at every corner? Maybe if we are not fed with all this crap, we wouldn't need a hospital or a drug store. As for the protesters, they are misguided. What do they want? Eat burgers and pizzas everyday and let the government take care of your health needs? No Thanks, I rather pay a little more and eat real food than going to the hospital for some chemo therapy at $8000 a bag.

Quoting Megan McCardle without the disclaimer that she's into the Amway religion of objectivism nullifies your attempt to be droll. So Mackey thinks he's a social crusader as well as an insider trading huckster? That's by no means a new one, but the last time I checked only Wonderbread gumming snuff dippers believed that Reagan and Thatcher were the second coming of Christ.
Mackey, McArdle, and the rest of the twee libertarian set are likely suffering from a biochemical deficiency in the brain that renders them incapable of empathy. And their fluffers seem to be suffering from Heritage Foundation sponsored dementia.
Been hanging with Donut Jonah, much?

I know what I know ... HR3200 is scary ... and Mr. Mackey is someone I support. I have never been a purchaser of organic foods, but I made it a point today to stop by the local Whole Foods in Winston-Salem, NC to buy $32.45 worth of products for this week's lunch. This guy, Mackey, has bent over backwards to support his workers who ware now being assailed by those who would try to pummel him for expressing constructive dissent from the party line. I just may have to go back to the WF store in W-S from time to time. Oddly enough, the clerks were unaware of the issue. Maybe those posting "against" WF and Mackey just live as an extreme, Left-Wing "MOB" ...

Good sumary of the controversy about boycott effectiveness.

Sometimes dreams are the beginning of change.

Mackey makes eight points in his original WSJ editorial. I respond to each point in my blog. See:

Dennis Allard
Santa Monica, California

Hooray for John Mackey! His argument for healthier living and eating makes more sense than the "I can continue to eat my triple cheeseburger, large fries and 32 ounce soda" healthcare plan that Obama is putting out there. Hey, lets just throw a Trillion dollars at a problem without looking at the root cause of many of our problems...obesity, alcohol, smoking, ________(Insert your problem here.) If we had a Whole Foods store in our town I would shop there exclusively.

Rather than boycott, why not have an intellectual discussion about the pros and cons of what Mackey said? These knee-jerk reactions do nothing to further the discussion or solve problems.

The government cant run the post office, medicare or medicade even social security! Have you been to the DMV latelly?? How about the abuse of power by the IRS??? And Libs want to have government health care? You guys are nuts! Freedom means providing for your self, not the government providing for you. You do not deserve what you did not earn. Equal rights mean equal in value, not socialism.

Thank you Mr. Macky for speaking the truth, it seems to be a commodity that is in short supply these days. My wife and I were going to shop for the month at Costco but decided instead to spend the monthly budget at Whole Foods.
Way to go!


The only thing boycotts accomplish is giving the boycotter a sense of self importance. I do shop Whole Foods from time to time and I will continue to do so. Frankly, I don't care what John Mackey has to say (though I do agree with him). He sells groceries, I like the stores and the products, I will therefore shop at them.

@ He11razor - sounds like someone can't afford to shop at whole foods!! Bitter are we? And smart too - "I'm going to boycott something not because I understand the logistics of the debate, but simply because someone told me to do something! I like to jump off bridges too, did I mention?" Nice.

I was never a Whole Foods customer before but I sure am now. How sad that people can't voice their own opinions without punishment...always by the same people who profess to be so liberal and open minded. They're only liberal and open-minded when you agree with them!

I am generally appalled by the media take on boycots. The first thing they do is quote people saying it won't work, or that habits can't be changed. If that's how you make your money, fine. What real choices do consumers have, if not where to spend their money? The idea behind the boycot is to force changes in behavior, no one expects to change thinking.

Many of us involved in this would like to see a national health-care plan. A few facts should be reviewed here (to JJ and others): life expectancy and overall health is better in roughly 40 nations, as compared with the U.S. These countries include the ones most villified by the right: Canada, the UK, France, heck, even Cuba. Yet we spend more money per capita than any other country on earth. The above facts come from the CIA, the CDC, the World Health Organization, in fact, all the sources out there. Or, would you like to argue that health care and life expectancy aren't related? I have lived in France and saw very little of what has been attributed to its healthcare system. What I have seen in the U.S. is companies defrauding the government, and my health care insurance company fighting over every legitimate claim I make (hoping I will go away... they don't actually want me to die, because then they won't get 20% of my income, and give me nothing in return. Not a bad racket!).

I will look for any legal and moral means to improve the quality of life for my family, my co-workers, my friends, and my fellow citizens. The lies and misrepresentations of nationalized health care fly in the face of the facts. What we have is the most expensive and poorest performing health care system in the industrialized world. There is no evidence whatsoever to dispute this. Ranting about socialism and what not does not change reality.

Christopher K.

One in a million people is aggressive enough by nature to become a CEO. The rest are not that aggressive. They have no elaborate plans for fleecing their fellow humans. That makes them easy prey for the Alpha elite -- unless some powerful force steps in to regulate. That's the worst that can happen if you're like Mackey and friends. Well, screw 'em.

I was just in Whole Foods this morning in Ann Arbor, Mich., and was admiring all of its goodies and commitment to high quality, wholesome food (and come to think of it, it was kind of dead in there). I remember thinking, as I walked by the sumptious locally grown veggies and fruit, the tempting bakery and tubs of homeade gelato, the yummy and nutritious soup and salad bar, the awesome wine and cheese selection and tasting bar, what a great new asset this is to our community, and I hope it thrives here a long, long time. I, too, support healthcare reform, but find it silly to punish Whole Foods for one op-ed in the WSJ.

TNgyuen --

"It should be illegal to sell or feed people with hormone-antibiotic infested, geneticly modified, sodium nitrited out food. Eating right is not a liberal or conservative thing, we and our kids are so brainwashed by all these commercials, why do you suppose there is a fast food restaurant and a drug store at every corner? Maybe if we are not fed with all this crap, we wouldn't need a hospital or a drug store. ..."
"No Thanks, I rather pay a little more and eat real food than going to the hospital for some chemo therapy at $8000 a bag."

I live in Louisiana. Have always been physically active, don't drink, don't smoke, am not 46 I was diagnosed with cancer. So, you might want to re-think what causes cancer.

With all that said -- the CEO is correct. Government run anything is an absolute nightmare!

You go, JJ!! :-]



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