Whole Foods takes the heat


Greetings, earthlings. Before I hit the road this evening, I want to draw your attention to the following controversy: the Organic Consumers Association’s escalating campaign against Whole Foods Market.

This is something I’ve been following for a while, through the OCA’s e-mail newsletter mostly, which has detailed over the last months the tangled issues: Whether Whole Foods treats its workers fairly. Whether it sells too much junk food. Whether it engages in greenwashing via the unregulated term "natural" on product labels. And lately, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has attracted more ire from the OCA by opposing health care reform.

I have the distinct impression that OCA must be milking some increase in donations because of all this noise they’re making; their communications tend to be squarely in the overly-simplified, of-course-we-have-the-answers category—like, well, campaign ads. So I take their arguments with a big grain of salt.

That said, a lot of the salient points ring true. Mackey himself has said that Whole Foods sells "a bunch of junk." The company’s efforts to stop unionization are indeed troubling. This blog has delved before into the question of greenwashing, or at least diluting the rigor with which organic foods are identified for customers.

Personally—and I speak only for myself here—Whole Foods is becoming less and less of a mainstay in my grocery life. I once was happy to graduate to Whole Foods from the more mainstream stores where I’d previously shopped. But at the same time, my awareness was growing about local foods, CSA farming, and local economies generally. As the years have gone by I find myself much more comfortable giving my dollars directly to food producers or, failing that, to locally-owned natural food stores. (We actually have a great one in Nelson County! Next time you’re in Nellysford, check out Wintergreen Groceries.)

Anyone else been following the OCA campaign? What do you think about it?