119 Comments

Comments

luis mendez says ...
yes mr mackey iam very concern on capitalism, it would very dearly affect us, even though i am no longer with your company, i admire your work very much, your interest for better healthy eating, your interest in processing anything that comes to our table humanely. mr mackey i think that what ever action you decide to take on, would be the best way to go.
02/09/2007 8:45:21 PM CST
cricket says ...
I've really enjoyed reading your back-and-forth with Michael Pollan. I'm having a hard time accepting one of your points, though, and would love to hear you elaborate on it or provide some data. Specifically, it is what you say here: "I will say, however, that buying only local foods may be good for local farmers, but it can also be devastating to poor farmers all over the world who need to sell their products to the developed world to help lift themselves out of poverty. A strictly local foods philosophy is not a very compassionate philosophy." While this seems like a win-win situation on the surface, I wonder about a few things: 1. Are we potentially creating monocultures and dangerous dependencies on fickle western tastes by actively encouraging the growing of organic crops in poor countries for the purpose of shipping them to rich countries? There is a long history of poor countries rapidly shifting production to a very narrow range of crops to supply the needs of rich countries, only to get burned when tastes change or another country comes on the scene that can provide the same crop more cheaply. Are you concerned about this and if so, do you have any ideas on how to address it? As mentioned in Pollan's book, there are many farms in the corn belt in the U.S. that don't produce a mix of edible foods for the family living on the land to survive. Couldn't the same situation arise down the road in poor countries? Seems that it would be better for a poor country to always be able to feed itself first and foremost, regardless of the whims of the rich citizens of the world. 2. If you factor in the cost to the global environment of shipping these organic goods across the world, is it really a net gain? While it would help lift people out of poverty, how does that compare to the negative environmental impact and the potential for dependency I mentioned above. Given that oil is subsidized heavily (both by corporate welfare to oil companies and the cost of military actions to defend oil interests), I would argue that the true cost of an organic product shipped across the world is not accurately reflected in the price charged by the local Whole Foods. Cheers, - cricket
02/13/2007 2:18:36 AM CST
STEVENLEEQUARLES says ...
I was worried I would need to verbalize my concerns, but cricket's words are perfect. If there's not a problem don't fix it. Thank you Mr. Mackey for your renewed commitment to fixing the problem. I APPLAUD the work of you and everyone involved in helping people get better food, including everyone that has ever worked at your stores, activists, farmers and consumers. Thank you Mr. Pollan for inspiring action on an issue small organic producers like myself need help with.
02/14/2007 11:23:47 AM CST
Beth Ebbing says ...
Greetings, I just wanted to throw in a quick "two cent". I've worked for Whole Foods in the past in Arizona. In regards to educating customers to buy seasonal items...this is something I believe in and I'm educated in the Slow Food movement. With that being said, after informing a customer and giving them the knowledge to make an informed decision about why they should buy seasonal, if a customer wants strawberry shortcake in December...they will get it. We are still Americans. And although a great majority of the customers that shop Whole Foods are educated and more conscience of their buying choices, they still want what they want, when they want it. I also believe that now organics has become "trendy". This has it's pros and cons. I've worked with many customers that could care less about any educational information of the product or the company they are supporting. If it says "organic" that's all they need to know. In several of my experiences with the customers, what corporation owns which sour cream item is not important to them.(Although I support Organic Valley.) There is a balance, as in everything in life. You just have to learn that some are not as passionate about knowledge as you are. Thanks for letting me express my experiences. Have a beautiful day. Sincerely, Beth A. Ebbing/ Chandler, Arizona.
02/24/2007 11:20:40 AM CST
lisa says ...
Thanks so much to everyone for all the great ideas discussed here! I read The Omnivore's Dilemma when it first came out and was deeply impressed by it. Since then I have been working toward improving my personal commitment to local food, to the extent that right now I'm in the midst of an experimental attempt to eat only (or at least mostly) local food until Easter. I have been surprised so far to discover that there's actually MORE local food available right now at Whole Foods (and it's clearly labeled as local) than at my local food co-op (where, even if something is local, there's no way for me to find out unless I can find an employee who happens to know). Of course, 200 miles isn't quite as local as, say, the farmer right outside of the city who is probably the source for the local co-op food. But on the other hand, there are sellers at the farmer's market who come from 100 miles away, and I wouldn't dream of considering them anything other than local. However, I would love to see WF continue to work toward educating consumers about local and seasonal food. For me personally, it's been eye-opening to attempt a local food experiment in February--in just a week, I've already eaten countless foods I never would have dreamed of trying, from rutabagas to bok choi. As a city girl who two years ago ate mostly processed foods and didn't even know how to cook, I think I can speak for many WF consumers who want organic because it's trendy when I say that many would probably appreciate being educated, and even challenged, about the joys of local, seasonal food. That said, I do agree with Beth in that many people will not care...but WF could do a lot to push people forward who are close to the edge. Even if only by labeling some produce as "in-season," as they already do with local; as another comment said earlier, many consumers have no idea what is grown when.
02/27/2007 8:45:23 AM CST
John Bliss says ...
I have questions regarding the comment that organic pays farmers more for their products. That assertion is made in the discussion about supporting growers in developing nations. As a US organic grower I've observed that though a higher price is paid to organic growers, rarely does that mean a higher earning for the farmer. The higher prices are simply due to greater costs associated with growing organic- more labor, greater loss of product, often more intensive production, etc. When this reality confronts the relative ignorance of your average consumer who does not generally know what goes into the organic growing process and has a hard time accepting the higher price tag, the result is often a lower net revenue than would be earned growing conventionally. Case in point is our organic eggs. If I were to raise hens without organic feed (over twice the price of conventional feed) and market my eggs as simply "local, fresh, and free range" (only three of the dozens of egg terminology!) I know I could charge close to what I charge now and make a tidier profit. I can't speak for the organic farmer in the developing world selling wholesale to a global corporate buyer... but if this is our reality in the States, I have my doubts about Mackey's claims.
02/27/2007 8:10:56 PM CST
Zanmeera says ...
WTF's response to Pollan sounds defensive to me, and I become suspicious of where things are going with the company, especially in light of the purchase of Wild Oats. I am seeing "Whole Mart" or "Wal-Foods" as a likely outcome here. Is it WTF or the American public or both? All I know is that I faithfully shop at my local food coop, which I am happy to say is walking distance to my home. I shop seasonally, and do my best to buy locally. Living in Oregon with its abundance of small farms makes that not as difficult as it may be in other parts of the country. I do hope WTF will take Pollan's criticisms to heart, but am not optimistic, knowing the corporate trend toward always bigger...small is beautiful, and one day we will all be forced to acknowledge it, though probably against our will...
02/28/2007 2:42:40 PM CST
Alice Alexander says ...
I am reading Pollan's wonderful book "Omnivore's Dilemma" and learning lots of great stuff. I am also very excited about the propsect of WHole Foods selling compassionately raised meat. I plan to buy some, and, for the first time in about 20 years of being a vegan, EAT it! I can't wait.
03/05/2007 4:41:42 PM CST
Steve Kaye says ...
As a grower and former supplier to a Whole Foods predecessor (Freshfields) I am on Michael's side that Whole Foods is part of idustrial organic. Their bigness simply dwarfs the ability of small farms to supply a region and that's how their supply chain now works. Whole foods wants organic grass fed beef because they love the word "organic" as a label whereas grass fed signifies a qualitative regime of a different order. The new organic beef protocol is also label driven - they care more about the label than the quality of the product. Consumers will soon realize that local farm products are only available at farmers markets and small local stores and will head in that direction. If Whole Foods is serious about buying local, they will authorize store managers to buy direct from farmers. Steve Kaye Millbrook, NY
03/10/2007 6:04:42 PM CST
Kendall Oei says ...
The Ominivore's Dilemma is a great book, in that it makes you look at food differently, or gives more food for thought if you are already thinking about it. That being said, Michael Pollan takes an over-arching definition of organic and is very focused on an idealized set of practices. As a result, he is quite critical of individual methods, even when they represent significant improvement over the norm. The term "organic" has meant different things at different times, and many meanings and practices were brought together in the "organic movement". Mr. Pollan considers this synthesis to define “organic”. Omni's Dilemma acknowledges the variability as well as the synthesis of organic meaning, and gives some credit, followed by much, more intensive criticism, to any company that doesn’t include every aspect he wants covered under the O-word. This is how Whole Foods was represented. In my opinion, to require the term “organic” to cover non-chemical agriculture, transportation methods, humane treatment of animals, polyculture, corn exclusion AND “opting out” all at the same time would make organic food inaccessible to the general public. And if organic required all these practices, we would not have made as many improvements in agricultural & marketing niches as we have. We need to acknowledge progress… of which Whole Foods plays a large part. Perhaps, we also need to legislate certification to further differentiate between organic, humane, local, non-industrial, polycultural etc.. If we break these terms up, legislate and certify foods with them, consumers can make informed decisions and understand the impact they are having with their choices. Also, people who aren’t willing to read through 464 pages of text could take part in this food revolution. This is a great book that may have done some bad PR for a very good company. Happily, the dialog seems to be leading to even more improvements. Hurray for Michael Pollan for his contribution! Hurray for Whole Foods for their innovation!
03/13/2007 3:53:09 PM CDT
ChrissyD says ...
I've been reading the "Omnivore's Dilemma" which is changing the way I view our food industry. Thank you for your input, Mr. Mackey...it's a real benefit to hear your intelligent and informed response to some of Mr. Pollan's criticisms of your company. I feel I have so much to learn about being a responsible consumer and making healthy, ethical and economical food choices. You both have given me much to think about.
03/15/2007 8:00:45 PM CDT
David Norman says ...
The subject matter covered in Michael Pollan's book is obviously multilayered. I couldn't help falling into a state of ambivalence. One thing is clear though: Whole Foods are doing their part and more in pushing things in a new and more responsible direction. There is a phenomena in America that is accelerating at an exponential rate. I call it the Bigger Shinier Phenomena. Goods, and the environments in which these goods are sold, are becoming bigger and shinier every day, which in itself is a testament to over-consumption and excess. When I walk in to Whole Foods, I am assaulted by the glitz and glamour that adorns the walls and shelves, and I find it quite offensive. While I applaud the efforts of Whole Foods to bring conscious choices to the consumer, I am chagrinned by this aspect of the business model. I also can not help noticing that the Whole Foods parking lot is slathered is huge, chrome covered SUVs and shiny gas-guzzling sports cars. There is something inherently contradictory in the whole affair, and it seriously interferes in my willingness to do business with Whole Foods. I do however, shop there for my meats, and sincerely thank them for bringing more responsibly produced meat to the mainstream. On the flipside of the coin, when I visit by local employee-owned Winco, I see people of all creeds, colours and classes shopping together in a no-frills store that puts it's focus on bringing value to the consumer, without the glitz. The big downside though, is that one must be willing to purchase the bulk of their food from the conventional, industrial food chain, something that leaves me uncomfortable to say the least. It all leaves me exasperated. I have a choice of buying a thoroughly unsustainable tomato for $1.00/lb in a shopping environment that in many way supports more sustainable, minimalist living practices and access for all levels of income in the community, or I can go to Whole Foods and buy a sustainable tomato for $3.99/lb, knowing full well that a solid percentage of that dollar amount is going to fund excessive multi-million dollar infrastructure, with chromed adornments and polished wooden floors; solid signs of unsustainable living and mass consumption in their own right. I realize that the material adornments of a Whole Foods store are quite insignificant in terms of the big picture, both financially and environmentally, but the philosophical implications are not in the least bit, insignificant. I am absolutely blown away that this philosophical conundrum appears to have escaped the attention of John Mackey, Michael Pollan and the list of writers that have involved themselves in this discussion. It makes me wonder whether I am just too extreme, or whether others are just blind to the obvious contradiction I see? When the day comes that a merging of these two business models appears; a no-frills, bare bones (but clean) supermarket that brings sustainable products and methods to market, I will shop there with satisfaction and total loyalty, but for now, it is only meat that I buy from Whole Foods, because I can't find it anywhere else with any level of convenience. One must balance so many factors when making choices for sustainable living, and although they do well on so many levels, Whole Foods is failing me in a big way. I believe there is an underlying message they send to consumers via the opulence of their shopping experience that contributes to excess and unsustainable living in a deep, philosophical sense. It is this factor that leaves me feeling sick when I enter a Whole Foods establishment and relieved as I walk out the doors. I leave you with this thought, in response to the comment made by Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey: "If we don't buy their (Argentina’s) organic asparagus then how are they going to be able to afford to buy iPods from Apple, computers from Dell, or books from Michael Pollan?" Well John, just like Joel Salatin responded to Michael Pollan when he asked if Joel would Fed-Ex him a steak and a chicken ... "No, I don't think you understand. I don't believe it is sustainable-or 'organic' if you will ..." Perhaps we need to take the iPods out of our ears and open our eyes a bit wider and think about what sustainable living means in the broad sense of the phrase, not just whether our food is organic or local or humanely raised. Thanks for all of your hard work, both of you guys, John and Michael. I’ve learned a lot.
04/26/2007 12:16:19 PM CDT
Dave Taylor says ...
Mr. Mackey, I'm not sure if you're still reading this message-board, as it's been a year since it began, and understandably you are a very busy person. I've been extremely impressed thus far at your obvious interest in this issue. Most CEOs that have a "blog" will just post once and ignore all the comments, so that they appear to have an ear to their stakeholders. I believe that you honestly do. I have one observation, and one question for you. I've noticed in your language a hint of the Hypocrite Fallacy. You note that Pollan criticizes the distances that foods are shipped while globetrotting on his own book tour, as if to say, "See, Michael is a hypocrite. Therefore his argument is nullified." You also argue that if Americans already import computers, Ipods, and cars from all over the world, we should also import food in this way, in order to be "consistent" (my quotes). This argument could be rephrased like this: "Globalization is happening, folks -- get with the program." But this ignores that many aspects of American life are still national, city-focused, and neighborhood-focused. We like to think of ourselves as living in a "global village," but we humans literally live in counties, cities, and in neighborhoods. We live with LOCAL people, we send children to local schools, we hire our electricians and plumbers locally, we eat in local restaurants and cafes. So, inevitably, in 21st century America, we will live with our feet planted in two worlds -- the global and the local. This doesn't make us hypocrites. I can eat lunch at a local Greek cafe, catch a beer at a local bar, drink coffee at my neighborhood coffee shop, AND drive a Subaru, watch DVDs on my Panasonic, and surf the Internet. I try to keep my life balanced -- what's hypocritical about that? Right now, my balance is pretty heavily weighed on the multinational side, so if I shift my agricultural consumption from Cascadian Farms to my local farmer, then this seems perfectly consistent. "Pastoral," "Provincial," "Hypocritical," "Luddite,"etc, are the type of terms that Wall Street perenially uses to demonize a locally-based economy, but I'm prone to ignore these criticisms because they are so self-serving. It seems obvious to me that large corporate interests rarely coincide with the interests of the communities where people actually live. Or am I wrong? This would be my question to you, Mr. Mackey. You say in an earlier post that, "Neither success nor the corporate form of organization are crimes in my ethics." Many of your posts seem to buttress this concept that the public corporation, with its access to large sums of capital, pressure to innovate, and accountability to shareholders is our best hope for significant social and environmental good. I'd love to hear you elaborate on your corporate ethic. Here's my concern: Yes, locally-run private natural food stores, food co-ops, and farmer's markets do not make as large a dent in Industrial Agriculture as Whole Foods does. As many people have noted in prior posts, chains like Safeway and Walmart are aping Whole Foods, which brings even more land into organic production. This sounds great on paper, but for those of us who have worked in the environmental movement for many years, it all has the uncanny appearance of "greenwashing." Can we really believe that Walmart's ag products, shipped from untransparent China, are truly organic? Dan Dean's post above gives us some reason to distrust Walmart's committment to the environment. Susanna Murphy's post also gives reason to be skeptical of the notion that "investor co-ops," as you've called public corporations, care about anything other than their personal profit. These "co-ops" will happily greenwash their products, if it leads to higher profits. And of course, they have. According to a March 2006 Business Week article, "And large companies have tried to use their muscle in Washington to their advantage. Last fall, the Organic Trade Assn., which represents corporations like Kraft, Dole, and Dean Foods, lobbied to attach a rider to the 2006 Agricultural Appropriations Bill that would weaken the nation's organic food standards by allowing certain synthetic food substances in the preparation, processing, and packaging of organic foods. That sparked outrage from organic activists. Nevertheless, the bill passed into law in November, and the new standards will go into effect later this year." ("Wal-Mart's Organic Offensive," March 26, 2006) If powerful corporations simply redefine the term "organic" so that more conventional acreage qualifies for it, how is the environment and human health bettered? If BP, Walmart, Shell, and GE are all now peddling an environmental image without the substance, won't their cynicism eventually push more people away from environmentalism than draw them in? I can forsee a major crash of confidence in ethical folks who, like David Norman in his post, get disgusted by the dishonesty and just go to Winco. If the organic apple isn't really organic, why pay more for it? At least the small-scale natural food stores and co-ops are actually run by environmentalists.
05/17/2007 4:57:13 PM CDT
Michael says ...
This is a great dialog as it tackles the thorny issue of the globalization of the food chain. As someone who works in the poorest countries in Africa I can say quite simply that if Americans and Europeans stop buying bulk produce from poor countries the effects will be devastating. The idea of starting new agriculture projects in the Northeast of the US rather than buying from poor farmers in the developing world is absurd and perhaps immoral. Everyone complains about how much 'foreign aid' is wasted....The fact is that poor people want jobs not hand-outs and one job they can do is to farm. If we refuse to buy what they produce then we are just being selfish and self-defeating in our efforts to eradicate poverty. Give me a vegetable produced by a humble farmer in Nicaragua over one produced by a Yankee organic elitist anytime.
05/18/2007 3:52:08 PM CDT
Michelle Selvans says ...
this series of letters has been inspiring for its cordiality! for the most part. however, i have to take exception to something you say above: "A strictly local foods philosophy is not a very compassionate philosophy...Do you not feel any ethical obligation to help poor people around the world? What better way to help them, than to be willing to buy their agricultural products?" taking this statement to its logical conclusion, are you saying that gardeners who prefer the organic asparagus they've grown in their backyard are responsible for poverty in Argentina? and can't one act in other ways than through food purchases to affect poverty? the statement above is too sweeping and simplistic of an ethical stance to be convincing (in my opinion). for the most part, i see the different perspectives in this discussion as stemming from a difference of opinion over which is a higher priority, seasonality (and locality) or the organic farming method. Pollan places the former above the latter, WF does the opposite. is there even a same 'right answer' for everyone? while WF certainly can claim the moral high ground with respect to other large grocery chains, i don't think it can do so in this discussion...
05/22/2008 5:43:42 PM CDT
Amy Weis says ...
I thought it was productive how both sides continued to exchange contact with each other even though they were simply arguing back and forth. It could have been much easier for either Pollan or Mackey to just give in by not writing back, thus, ending their argument. I also found it respectable and admirable that the two opinions continued to insert quotations such as, “With all due respect, I appreciate the fact that you wrote...” through the whole argument. Even though I think it seems a little bit forced and faked, this shows professionalism by both members of this argument.
09/29/2008 12:39:36 PM CDT
Isobel Jones says ...
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11/05/2009 10:03:10 AM CST
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02/12/2010 2:03:26 PM CST
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10/27/2010 7:05:40 PM CDT

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