Working at Whole Foods

Whole Foods CEO: Poor People + Stupid Choices = Obesity

The CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, is offering up wisdom for the world on obesity in the New York Times. The whole world is getting fat, he says. But according to him, it’s definitely not a problem of access to healthful foods:

“People have got to become wiser about their food choices. And if people want different foods, the market will provide it.

“Whole Foods has opened up stores in inner cities. We’ve opened up stores in poor areas. And we see the choices. It’s less about access and more about people making poor choices, mostly due to ignorance. It’s like a being an alcoholic. People are just not conscious of the fact that they have food addictions and need to do anything about it.”

“Like Being an Alcoholic”

This man certainly has a way with words. Into just a few sentences he packed a whole lot of stereotypes. Poor, ignorant, alcoholic, and fat. Apparently in his estimation, all of that goes together. Those people really should make better choices. If they do, heroes of Conscious Capitalism like Mackey will step up and meet their needs.

If not, well, they made their choice. His market sells whatever they’ll buy and puts a health halo on it. He explained this some time ago:

“Basically, we used to think it was enough just to sell healthy food, but we know it is not enough. We sell all kinds of candy. We sell a bunch of junk.”

Unwelcome Righteousness

Mackey’s righteousness and wisdom didn’t go down too well. Alissa Sobo did a fine job of summing it up in a response to the Times:

“I’ve been a Whole Foods shopper for a long time. However, the paternalistic attitude of this man is disgusting.

“As a large woman, I don’t need this old guy talking to me about the complexity that is fatness. Thanks to this profile, I can now ‘make better choices’ about where to shop.”

Look in the Mirror

A bit of self-awareness might do Mackey some good. He’s opposed to labor unions and legal standards for a minimum wage. His employees say they’ve been punished for wearing face masks with Black Lives Matter on them.

So his concern about poor people making ignorant choices and getting fat does not ring true. And in fact, it’s possible that his role in health halo marketing helps people rationalize food choices that contribute to obesity.

Rather than pointing at stupid choices by poor people, Mackey would do well to look in the mirror and shed a bit of his self-righteousness.

Click here for the Mackey interview and here for a taste of the blowback it has generated.

Working at Whole Foods, photograph © Elvert Barnes / flickr

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September 28, 2020

5 Responses to “Whole Foods CEO: Poor People + Stupid Choices = Obesity”

  1. September 28, 2020 at 9:36 am, David Brown said:

    In my opinion, the food supply itself is defective thanks to government farm policy, industrial farming practices, and consumer ignorance. For example, In the United States, “American diets are increasingly derived from animals raised on corn-dominated diets in CAFO facilities (i.e., beef, poultry, pork, eggs, milk, and so forth). While industrialized CAFO facilities can differ in their operations, they share common features. First, CAFOs benefited historically from federal incentives and subsidies on corn and soy beans, resulting in CAFOs as a widely adopted industrial practice. While CAFOs produce vast amounts of protein for human consumption, concentrating animals into confined spaces has negative impacts on both groundwater contamination and animal health.”

    What about the impact on human health? The article also says, “As Americans, our diets have among the highest protein consumption rates and we are experiencing increased rates of obesity across all age groups. Here we reveal that consumption of corn-fed animal proteins are more common among lower socioeconomic status populations, which places these populations at a potentially greater risk for increased health problems.”

  2. September 28, 2020 at 10:08 am, ELIZABETH SCHULTZ said:

    The comment from the individual at WH begins with the noun “people”, no adjective. Not poor, or rich or large or small. Implied in the statement is that healthy food is available regardless of neighborhood. Businesses stock what the customer demands. Fundamental law of economics. Regardless of socio-economic environment grocery stores have nutritious and non-nutritious options. The consumers’ choice is not the duty of the purveyor.

    • September 28, 2020 at 12:34 pm, Ted said:

      Elizabeth, perhaps you missed the part where he said, “We’ve opened up stores in poor areas. And we see the choices.” So as a matter of fact, he was talking about poor people.

  3. September 29, 2020 at 12:23 am, Chester Draws said:

    David, the nature of animal raising has nothing to do with obesity. Obesity is high in countries, like mine, where basically no cows are raised on corn fed diets — it’s almost all grass here, supplemented a small bit by palm kernals. Most poultry are barn raised (and the most industrialised forms of egg and chicken raising are illegal). Pigs have always been fed all sorts, so no change there.

    So obesity is high in countries like NZ and Australia which have exemplary animal husbandry. It is low, by European standards, in Switzerland — which obviously has to have animals indoors much of the year and not feeding them on grass. I don’t see any correlation. (Incidentally, most cows in the US grow up on grass — the high corn/soy is only the last few fattening months.)

    It’s the *amount* of meat that people eat that is the problem, added to by how they cook it.

  4. September 29, 2020 at 8:22 am, carol olsen said:

    Whole foods has always been a big joke to me because there’s more packaged foods in there with pretty packaging to lure people in but when you look at the contents it’s packed with sugar and fats even if they say they’re healthy they’re way over the limits of being healthy for anyone you just get to pay more money. Who said it’s paternalistic well put it sucks going in the store sometimes to buy one or two things and everybody’s acting like they’re above you one example as I watched a snotty kid put their fingers into all the foods in the takeout section and when I pointed it out to the parent he just looked at me and shrugged his shoulders as if who cares I do I’m done going there!!