Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Revolution Devours its Own (Food-Providing) Children

During the ongoing, acrimonious debate about "health-care" reform, at least one note of highly ironic levity has been sounded. Reacting to Whole Foods Markets CEO John Mackey's WALL STREET JOURNAL op-ed arguing for a reform package "provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges," a group of self-described "deceived progressives" have gotten up a boycott of Whole Foods stores. The boycotters have suddenly discovered that Mackey, whose company is listed in FORBES' top 20 "best places to work" and is well-regarded for its environmental standards, is an "Ayn Rand-loving libertarian," a union-buster (while Whole Foods employees are extremely well compensated, they are non-union), a seller of "dubiously" organic foods, and a craven tool of the extreme right. And Mackey didn't even metaphorically raise his voice: he simply described Whole Foods' health insurance plan and suggested it as an alternative that would give people adequate choice while respecting their health-care needs. Perhaps if he hadn't opened his piece with a quote from Margaret Thatcher about the drawbacks of socialism, his well-mannered op-ed would've slipped by without much notice. Then again, in this age of instant message-transfer and ever-speedier knee-jerk reactions, that was probably an unrealistic expectation.

I've always been leery of businesses which subtly or overtly push a political agenda in the guise of serving customers. It tends to make those who regularly shop there (or, in the case of Whole Foods, can afford to shop there) act Pharisaical and those who are not "part of the crowd" feel uncomfortable when they visit. That's not to say that a business can't maintain a distinct point of view: Ukrop's Supermarkets in Richmond have done quite well, thank you, with a Christian-based philosophy in which the stores sell no lottery tickets, tobacco, or alcohol, remain closed on Sundays, and support all manner of charitable activities in the community. Whatever the Ukrop family's politics are, however, they remain well hidden. The one Whole Foods I've visited in my life -- a basement store at the Time Warner complex near where Nicky's mom used to live in Manhattan -- was considerably less subtle in its stab for the dollars of progressive "metrosexuals" and single professional people. Placards and consciousness-raising displays were everywhere, and UTNE READER took the place of the usual tabloids and TV GUIDES at the checkout stand. The irony was that Nicky's mom, on a severely limited income, couldn't afford to shop there on a regular basis.

In today's Gospel reading in church, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for criticizing the apostles for not washing hands before eating, reminding them that that which defiles a man comes out of his heart, not from outside his body. Those who boycott Whole Foods out of a sense of "betrayal" should keep in mind that, no matter how "correctly grown and prepared" the foods they prefer to buy and eat are, they will bring their own intolerance and closed-mindedness with them into whatever store they patronize, whether it's Whole Foods or Wal-Mart.

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