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Whole Foods CEO Shoots Self, Company in Foot

I don’t often write about food subjects as I once did in this blog. But John Mackey’s latest comments force me to change course a bit. I shop every week at Whole Foods. It’s one of the best food markets I’ve ever encountered (not the best, but close). It has an astonishing variety of foods (almost all at uniformly high prices). But you don’t generally shop there for economy’s sake. You shop there for excellent service and the wonderful types of foods and high quality you find.

I didn’t shop at Whole Foods this week. Instead I spent over $200 at PCC Markets, one of Whole Foods local competitors. PCC’s stores are smaller, they offer less variety. Nevertheless, I will spend as much of my food dollar at PCC as I can from now on. Why? Because John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO is an idiot. Plain and simple.

boycott whole foodsI know all the arguments in Whole Foods’ favor. I’ve mentioned a number of them above. In addition, almost all surveys rank Whole Foods as one of the best companies to work for. They offer decent health insurance and benefits for their workers. They’re a progressive company. But I’m sorry; none of that can cancel out Mackey’s idiotic libertarian effusions over the past few years.

Among them: most recently he claimed that Obamacare was “fascist:

“Technically speaking, it’s more like fascism,” Mackey told NPR. “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.”

Earlier on Terry Gross’ NPR program he called it “socialism.” Later, he “clarified” the fascism statement, but only insofar as to say he used the wrong word because it was so “freighted” with bad connotations. Gee, dya think?

On a related matter, he said climate change wasn’t necessarily a disaster because it would open new business opportunities for eager entrepreneurs. Perhaps he’s think of filling the Arctic north with farms that will grow Whole Foods produce and drive down his company’s costs. Perhaps he’s thinking of those ships that will now be able to navigate the far northern reaches and ferry French and Italian delicacies from overseas to his stores here in the U.S.

In a recent NY Times Magazine interview he was asked to comment on the stores’ high prices. Instead of graciously conceding the chain had high prices and explaining why, instead he pointed to the gradually declining overall cost of purchasing food in the U.S. as a percentage of income. A total non sequitur response. And insulting.

John Mackey explains the success of his company as due to a slavish pursuit of the needs of the customer. Yet in his public relations approach he insults his audience’s intelligence. Why the disconnect?

Frankly, I don’t know what he was thinking in making such statements. But as far as I’m concerned, I don’t want to hear John Mackey’s opinions on anything but running his stores. If he feels he’s got to opine on subjects that make him look like a total idiot, so be it.

If he wants to cater to Texas Bluedogs, Ayn Rand devotes, or readers of the National Review, so be it. But if he wants to play in the Big Leagues, that is, where the rest of America lives and eats, he better learn to understand he’s in a minority and act accordingly. If not, he’ll have only himself to blame when customers like me turn away. Either the company’s board muzzles or fires him, or I take as much of my business as I can elsewhere. So far, there’s no word that anyone on Whole Foods’ board is troubled by his nattering. So my $200 a week is going to PCC.

Mackey studied philosophy in college. Apparently, he didn’t study political philosophy. If he had he couldn’t possibly be as much of an idiot on these subjects as he is. Or else he studied at the Ayn Rand Institute of Libertarian Thought.

All this is a terrible shame because I genuinely like Whole Foods despite the high prices. But I will not brook a CEO whose views so deeply offend mine.

{ 29 comments… add one }
  • ed January 23, 2013, 6:41 PM

    You might also look into Whole Foods’ competitive practices. They have not always been very pretty.

  • Linda J January 23, 2013, 6:50 PM

    They are employing scab labor: http://www.unfidrivenbygreed.com

    Don’t shop there!

    • Dave Terry January 24, 2013, 8:36 PM

      My daughter has worked for whole foods for over 10 years. Just WHAT are you insinuating about her? Is she dishonest? Does she not work hard? The only thing I can figure out is that you are saying that she has
      not sold here soul to the powers of organized labor? Is that it?

      • Richard Silverstein January 25, 2013, 1:55 PM

        So you hate unions. Sounds like you should apply for a Whole Foods management job. Mackey will love you. As for being dishonest, how would we know whether your daughter is honest or dishonest. Generally Whole Foods staff in Seattle are wonderful. They’re victims of the disgusting behavior & attitudes of their CEO.

        • Dave Terry January 27, 2013, 9:33 AM

          I don’t hate ANY group whose membership is VOLUNTARY, unless its purpose is to extort money from property owners or conscripted members. That, pretty much defines “UNIONS”!

          I don’t NEED a management job, from Mackey, or anyone else! I have been in management for well over half my life. I even owned MY OWN business for 6 years. You should TRY it, if you think it is so easy and cushy. It is a VERY educational experience. EXPENSIVE, but educational!

          IF, as you claim, employees are victims of their Corporate owners, WHY would you approve of the derogatory term “scab” for such employees?

          • Richard Silverstein January 27, 2013, 4:43 PM

            So that must mean you hate your religion, your country, even your species since membership in them is mandatory and not voluntary.

            Unions serve a critical role in society. You’ve never had to rely on one to maintain your livelihood and job prospects. You’re clearly a member of the 1%. I don’t expect respect or sympathy for hard-working honest union members from the likes of you. One quality you lack is the ability to empathize with those who are not members of your class. I find your level of prejudice and political sloganeering to be distasteful.

          • Dave Terry January 27, 2013, 6:16 PM

            It must be very frightening for you to alone under your skin; without your religion, your country and the illusion of tribal self-esteem that you obviously require. I on the other hand am a self-contained individual living as my mind deems appropriate, i.e. without paying homage to any man nor requiring such of others.

            As far as being among the 1% (depending on WHICH 1% you’re referring to). I currently live on social security and the income of a part time job were I make $15.00/hour. But you are right, I have NEVER had to depend on membership in any collective to make ends meet. NOR, for that matter, have you or your union member friends.

            They MAY however, have convinced themselves that union membership is necessary for them to attain the level of income that they “FEEL” is befitting them. They ALL have a greater income than I, but whereas I have never resorted to force or fraud to earn more than what the “free market” allows me; I DO consider myself of a superior “class”; that of self-respecting individualist. I do not empathize with a group of wolves and a lone sheep deciding what to have for dinner. —- Social-democracy in action!

          • Richard Silverstein January 27, 2013, 8:23 PM

            @Dave Terry: That’s a truly weird locution to be “alone under your skin.” I think I know what you were trying to say–sort of.

            So you have no allegiance to country, God or anything else. You’re just a contemporary version of Ayn Rand. A regular Thoreau in the woods. How admirable.

            So you claim you’ve owned your own business with extensive management experience, yet you now live on social security & a barely living wage. Something happened, I guess. Or perhaps you change your argument depending on what’s said to you.

            Unions by definition are collectives which work for the betterment of the whole. Which is something you’d know if you grew up in Detroit in the 1930s or if you grew up in millions of households which attained middle class status thanks to the achievements of unions.

            I’m getting tired of this and your sour disposition. So you’re done dissing unions. Move on to another thread if you choose. THis thread is closed to you.

          • Zhu Bajie January 30, 2013, 8:30 PM

            Re: “alone under the skin”, most of us share our skins with bacteria (normal flora).
            we can’t get along without them!

  • pabelmont January 24, 2013, 5:47 AM

    Why did he talk at all? Is he a blogger (as Richard and I and many of us are) whose opinions are his most visible and valuable product? (No.)

    Food prices as a declining proportion of income? Maybe at the level of TOTAL NATIONAL INCOME, but if you look only at the bottom 20% of income, I think you’ll find food spending rising. I know, I know, these valuable folks are not likely to be customers at WF, so he doesn’t know and doesn’t care about them.

    As to competition, it is the buzz that new Whole Foods stores made a practice of forcing local competitors out of business with low introductory prices, soon corrected after the competition was no more. However, I have not found this on internet.

    • Fred Plester January 26, 2013, 4:34 AM

      You’re quite right that food prices are increasing as a proportion of income for the bottom 20%, but with drought affecting large parts of the US Harvest and the oscillation between drought and flood wrecking many European harvests altogether, it wouldn’t surprise me if it became true for the bottom 40% of wage earners by the end of this year.

  • Elliot Stoller January 24, 2013, 11:37 AM

    Youtube has pulled an undercover ‘Organic Spies’ video questioning Whole Foods employees as to whether or not any of the products within Whole Foods contained GMO ingredients. Created to show how even the employees themselves are misinformed (or even dishonest) about the very real presence of Monsanto’s GMOs in a store like Whole Foods that is supposed to promote health and wellness, the Organic Spies video received over 100,000 views in a few short days.


  • Rupa Shah January 24, 2013, 5:15 PM

    Not everything is right with Whole Foods…..

  • norlanda January 26, 2013, 2:58 AM

    This sounds very suspiciously like a manufactured scandal perhaps initiated by Whole Foods competitor? The only thing else I would add is CEOs of corporations should learn to keep their political opinions to themselves.

    • Dave Terry January 27, 2013, 9:41 AM

      I see, people who have invested their lives and fortunes in an enterprise and who depend on the success of that enterprise, should “keep their political opinions to themselves”. BUT Union bosses, who have no financial interest in the success of that enterprise can speak volumes AND contribute $millions (of other peoples money) to their socialist politicians. Simple! I get it!

      • Richard Silverstein January 27, 2013, 4:40 PM

        My comment rules insist on factual statements and that opinions be supported by facts and evidence. Calling politicians “socialist” is a violation of my comment rules unless you can prove that statement (which you can’t). I don’t permit this sort of sloppy argument. You are warned that you’ve violated comment rules and future comments will be evaluated carefully to determine you respect the rules, which you must read.

  • Fred Plester January 26, 2013, 4:28 AM

    It’s more offensive because of the association between Fascism and Nazism, but it is correct to say that in that kind of corporate state, the state controls rather than owns the means of production. (Nazism was different partly because the shareholders of the cartels which did own the means of production, had more than a little control over the Nazi state. If Herman Goering is one of your ministers, he’s going to control the means of production as a minister and own it when he gets home and counts his share certificates.)

    A less contentious fascist leader than Hitler, Peron, say, might still impose a structure on how the rich and powerful owned the means of production. In fact, Peron ended up with far more control than Hitler, because he forcibly merged companies to produce big combines owning whole industries, and at the same time he limited trades union membership for workers in those industries to an officially-approved union for each key industry sector. (Mubarak did something along those lines with the Egyptian cotton industry, I believe.) The state didn’t exactly own anything, but it did control it. And Argentina went from being the world’s richest country to being one of the most bankrupt during the course of Peron’s long and distinguished political career.

    Obama’s health care reforms arguably don’t affect a means of production. But if you see the methodology in completely unemotional terms and ignore all the associations triggered by certain words, and treat them solely according to their literal meaning, Obamacare more or less is what you’d have got if you’d set Colonel Juan Peron the same task. That is: it’s an attempt to have socialist organization without upsetting (or beheading) the rich and powerful, which is the basic Fascist mission statement. Indeed, even with the Nazis, Himmler’s early speeches on Nazi ideology were incautious enough to let slip that it was “very nearly Leninism” and this went down so much like a lead balloon that the racial and mythical creed which we all associate with Nazism, had to be rapidly invented to save the party from oblivion.

    It’s rather ironic, that America is in fact taking a two-pronged path towards Fascism, because many of Obama’s rich liberal supporters, if not the man himself, do see his administration as a way of imposing their own ideals of social organization on a less than willing nation, whilst the neo-con opponents are essentially using the same mechanisms to impose their own ideals on a nation which is no more enthusiastic about traveling to that extreme.

    America doesn’t really have a struggle between left and right: it’s got a struggle between Obama’s neo-peronists and the likes of Donald Trump and Sheldon Adelson, who wouldn’t put a Hitler in the Whitehouse but who would stick an Americanized Herman Goering or an Albert Speer in there without a second thought.

    I am not optimistic about America’s future. Nor am I optimistic about Britain’s future, because I’ve realized that the consensus between all three “main” political parties on Europe exists solely because they see the EU as the best available mechanism for politicians to have control of every damn’ thing. Despite the bewildering variety of political parties and ideologies in Israel, the way the country actually functions underneath all the political infighting and confusion is 100% Peronist. Egypt has effectively been a Peronist state up till now, too, in that the country’s main industry has been run along Peronist lines even if farmers and shopkeepers have been left to their own devices.

  • gloopygal January 28, 2013, 5:35 PM

    I worked at Whole Foods many years ago. They didn’t treat me well. Since then I’ve heard that the management at that store changed completely, but all I know is I didn’t feel like a valued employee during the time I was there. I felt like a punching bag.

  • Dave Terry January 28, 2013, 8:23 PM

    [Comment rule violation–comment deleted. You are now moderated.]

  • Zhu Bajie January 29, 2013, 4:34 PM

    So why does the US not have the daily farmers’ markets most countries (developed or developing) have? I don’t need Whole Foods if I can buy my veggies directly from a grower.

    • Richard Silverstein January 29, 2013, 9:15 PM

      The U.S. now has tens of thousands (if not more) farmer’s markets in every part of the country. But it’s still hard to find them in the winter in many places.

      • Zhu Bajie January 30, 2013, 8:27 PM

        Once a week, in one or two locations, in my experience, and it’s quite hard to get permisison to set up a stall. If NPR, 15 or so years ago, is correct, local Safeways, Krogers’, etc., spread around campaign donations, and get local zoning ordinances severely restricting competition.

        I’ve seen daily fresh veggie markets in NE China, with a climate like that of Minnesota. The local farmers build greenhouses and have a cash income from veggies throughout the year. Every neighborhood has a market.

  • Zhu Bajie January 29, 2013, 4:35 PM

    So what kind of philosophy did Mackey study? Where?

    • Richard Silverstein January 29, 2013, 9:14 PM

      I believe Univ. of Texas but don’t know which branch of philosophy. Undoubtedly he majored in Ayn Rand.

      • Dave Terry January 30, 2013, 7:50 PM

        And you majored in Hebrew Literature! How does that make you any more of an philosopher than Rand?
        Ironically, outside of philosophical beliefs, you have many similarities to Rand. She TOO was a self-obsessed, self-righteous pontificator who brooked no dissent OR disagreement in her quarter.

        • Richard Silverstein January 30, 2013, 8:14 PM

          I never said I was a philosopher, and literature is not philosophy.

          As for the insults, the next time you wander into off-topic territory that violates comment rules, you won’t be commenting here any longer.

          • Dave Terry January 30, 2013, 9:50 PM

            So, WHAT’s off topic. You were discussing Rand and Philosophy, Nothing was mentioned about Trade Unions or semi-automatic rifles. Do I REALLY have to pretend I respect your overbearing nature to participate in YOUR Blog?

          • Richard Silverstein January 30, 2013, 11:40 PM

            Off-topic are comments on your personal opinions about me or my personality. You don’t have to pretend anything. But keep yr opinions on what type of person I am to yourself. No one is interested except you. And I don’t like people talking to themselves here.

      • Zhu Bajie January 30, 2013, 8:29 PM

        Ayn Rand was a philosopher? Really? Like Plato or Plotinos?

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