Sunday, August 23, 2009

Boycotting the Whole Paycheck?

I am not sure about this move to boycott Whole Foods Market ("Whole Paycheck"), because of the comments of the CEO John Mackey. Unless I missed something in his op-ed in the "Wall Street Journal," Mackey did not come across to me as one of those scary, strange and apoplexy edging town hall protesters. He presented 8 reform suggestions. Is there something wrong with considering them on the merits?

What fascinates me about this hullabaloo is that Mackey clearly does not share the political perspective of many of the people I know who haunt the P Street Whole Foods. These markets seem to appear in the affluent/soon to be affluent/hip urban neighborhoods. I don't think too many of these neighborhoods are hotbeds of conservatism (though the few conservatives in my neighborhood are most likely gay).

I mean, for this lot, one of the signs of a revitalizing neighborhood's "arrival" is the presence of a Whole Foods. I vividly remember the strong push to gain a Whole Foods in Columbia Heights a couple of years ago, even with the opening of a pretty snazzy Giant supermarket. But to the newest members of the Columbia Heights community, only a Whole Foods would have the "transition" complete (Harris Teeter came to nearby Adams-Morgan instead).

In spite of the politics of the CEO, I am confident that the sales at Whole Foods will not diminish significantly. Too many people still seem invested in being seen with the ubiquitous Whole Foods paper bag. It's a status symbol, a lifestyle indicator. There are just some things that politics will not penetrate.

Now where is that organic brine soaked crumbled feta cheese?


Fiona said...

Well, one thing he said that I found really interesting was that he didn't understand the impulse to insure everyone. He seemed to me to take the position that there is no "right" to, nor is there any social obligation to provide, health care.

Now, that's a position one can argue, as you say. But it's really, really out of step with his customer base and I think it's pretty awful. So part of the hullabaloo is about people disagreeing with him. And when you disagree, one thing you can do is take your marbles elsewhere. Nothing about that is particularly extreme or violent, so I think it's a reasonable response.

I wrote him a letter telling him that I disagree with him. But in my letter I made it clear I won't be boycotting Whole Foods. Here in Lex, our WF stocks rotting fruit and has a fish counter that stinks. So I don't go there. No reason to boycott!

hscfree said...

I do think that there should be a right to health care in this country, even though there isn't one.

If the P Street WF had rotting fruit and such, there would likely be a boycott of that, and Harris Teeter would be chomping at the bit in wait for the wave of customers.

I agree that it is a boycott is a reasonable response. I just don't see it really taking hold. But, I really want to hear a real debate on health care reform, and that really hasn't happened. I give the man credit for not going down the "Obama is a Nazi" road to make an attempt at a counter argument to what is being made into sausage on the Hill.

Anonymous said...

I read "Boycotting the Whole Paycheck?" twice but can't quite find the central point, if there is one.

Clancy said...

Do you really think that people frequent a grocery store solely because it is somehow a reflection of their status? I understand the argument (from an urban perspective) that having a Whole Foods in your neighborhood could potentially reflect well on your investment and quality of living, but actually shopping there? Please tell me the folks around you aren't that shallow.

Whole Foods has much to offer that the other groceries in my area do not: mostly fresher fruit, much more organic foods, food without HFCS, and a fantastic selection of bread and cheeses. I hate to give that up, but I also have a organic co-op and two grocery stores within walking distance, so a "boycott" is easier for me than it might be for others.

I found Mackey's letter insulting, not because he disagreed with me, but because he chose to adopt the inflammatory rhetoric of the right (utilizing the phrase "Obamacare," and invoking "socialism" to describe a program that is decidedly not socialistic). However, I was mostly troubled by his flawed logic in interpretting the Constitution and Declaration regarding his standard regarding the superiority of "intrinsic" rights. . . not to mention his disturbing decision to bolster this argument by noting that food and shelter also were not intrinsic rights.

hscfree said...

@Clancy: for some folks, I believe WF simply is a place to be seen, though I doubt that it's the majority. I'd only heard of WF when I moved back to DC, and it was right there by the Metro station I used. I'd heard many of the same reasons for shopping there that you've cited.

Did Mackey resort to snarky barbs at the current efforts? Yep. But, he also made some suggestions worth considering, like those ideas in David Goldhill's article in The Atlantic. And it's more than what the Hill GOPers have suggested.

I suppose the term "Obamacare" doesn't really bug me. I feel sorry for the people throwing the term socialism about all willy nilly. I would guess that a solid proportion of them do not view Medicare or veteran's hospitals as socialistic or necessarily bad.

We need more people like MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell reminding that lot of the socialism that they seem to have no problems with.

Ultimately, I think that in Washington, at least, there will be some who will be mad about the language and tone of Mackey's op-ed, but I think many will continue to shop at WF and express their dissatisfaction in other ways.

Clancy said...

It's true that time will tell if this has any impact at all, however, your assessment seems decidedly limited to your neighborhood's reaction. I don't know if this is a terribly solid foundation on which to place much of anything as your neighborhood is hardly representative.

I will say this: if I owned stock in Whole Foods, I would be more than a little upset with Mackey. At this point in time, my confidence in his business acumen would be soundly shaken, given that he so publicly picked a fight at odds with the sensibilities of his customer base.

hscfree said...

I am definitely thinking quite locally on this issue. But, I did include a link in my follow-up on a story that focuses more on the national effort, which seems like it is growing quite steadily.

And I totally agree with you on the stock holder perspective. You know that Mackey must know his market, and unless he thinks that a horde of folks from the right will now suddenly flock to WF to show some support, then he has certainly taken a real risk with his market.

Anonymous said...

What I find interesting is that a lot of folks on the right have been arguing that this new plan is going to some how take away resources from medicare. Seems they can'
t decide whether they support a social program or not...flip floppers!

Micheal Sisco said...

Wow. I had no idea that a mass market grocer (and that's pretty much what Mackey is) would warrant so much attention in the health care debate.

Don't you think this "boycott" thing is getting pretty ridiculous? It's one thing to boycott a Beck, who spews racial hatred. Entirely another for boycotting someone who just so happens to have an opinion that differs from you. I think this obsession waters down the whole point of a boycott (kind of like trying to turn the Oprah Shopping Incident into a full-blown race controversy).

I'm not silly enough to be one of those who believe that we possess ONLY those rights that the Founding Fathers enshrined into the Constitution, but I also believe that once we start making secondary impulses (to steal a phrase from Mark Steyn) "rights," the state gets bigger and bigger. And that's never a good thing. I am a Democrat. Always will be. Is health care a right? I really don't know. I think the problem with making it a right is that we absolve people of responsibility. To that end, I would like to see high taxes on sodas, fast food, ANYTHING made with lard (as an Appalachian, I'd be run out on a rail for suggesting this), and all manner of food that is toxic to us. Physical education should be mandatory for all grades. We're kidding ourselves if we think that we can supersize our diets and wave the magic health care reform wand and solve the problem.

Anonymous said...

"....Please tell me the folks around you aren't that shallow...."

Silly superficial queens--the kind who would derive self-worth from carrying a WF paper bag--on that block of P Street? Horrors! Impossible! Say it ain't so!