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Mackey Regarding Word Choice on Health Care

In an interview with NPR on Wednesday, Whole Foods Market co-CEO John Mackey discussed his new book, Conscious Capitalism, along with other topics such as health care. Today, John revisited his remarks on the Huffington Post and we are sharing them here.

I made a poor word choice to describe our health care system, which I definitely regret. The term fascism today stirs up too much negative emotion with its horrific associations in the 20th century.  While I'm speaking as someone who works hard to offer health care benefits to more than 73,000 team members, who actually vote on their overall benefits packages, I am very concerned about the uninsured and those with preexisting conditions. 

I believe that, if the goal is universal health care, our country would be far better served by combining free enterprise capitalism with a strong governmental safety net for our poorest citizens and those with preexisting conditions, helping everyone to be able to buy insurance. This is what Switzerland does and I think we would be much better off copying that system than where we are currently headed in the United States.

I believe that health care should be competitive in the open market to promote innovation and creativity. Despite the criticism of me, I am encouraged that this dialogue will bring continued awareness and a better understanding of viable health care options for all Americans. There is an alternative to mandated health care in free enterprise capitalism based on voluntary exchange for mutual gain. This alternative allows individuals and businesses to innovate and develop customized solutions to health care where a “one size fits all approach” fails.  Creativity and progress are stifled when government regulations dictate the parameters of what health care plans can be offered. Creative businesses, and the people who work them, can make something that has value for all stakeholders.

I need a new word or phrase to describe the state of health care now because it is something that I, like all folks entrusted with the wellbeing of a team, grapple with daily in this era.  I think for now I will simply call it government-controlled health care to distinguish it from free enterprise capitalist health care.  Clearly, I would prefer free enterprise capitalism in health care because it would greatly increase innovation and progress —just like it does in every other aspect of our lives, wherever it is allowed to exist. I hope those who are my critics, would recognize that we are all after an improved state of society, and not be distracted by the poor use of an emotionally charged word. 

If you would like to hear more from John, you can listen to him here:

CBS This Morning: “Bad Choice of Words”

Huffington Post

NPR Interview Part 1

NPR Interview Part 2

You can read more about John, his philosophy and his new book, Conscious Capitalism at:

Forbes: “Why Companies Should Embrace Conscious Capitalism”

Financial Post: “Making Money Need Not Be A Zero-Sum Game”

Investor Business Daily “John Mackey Built Healthy Food Empire”

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1163 comments

Comments

Dave Richardson says …

I've been spending much of my grocery money at Whole Foods ever since they appeared in Portland, Oregon. No more. You can take your free-market health care and shove it, Mr. Mackey. Insurance companies denied my brother-in-law coverage because of a pre-existing condition and he wound up relying on frequent trips to the ER until he died last year before he turned 60. Your free-market system dealt him a fatal blow, Mr. Mackey. Obamacare might have saved him.

steve fagone says …

John Mackey does not let his in store staff work full time, so he does not have to provide health care coverage for them. Here's a tip John, treat your employees as you would expect to be treated. Retain your talented employees by offering them full time shifts and benefits including retirement matching 401k plans. Create a culture of "Excellence"....not a culture of "At your own expense"!! Sincerely, A customer.

Kate O'Hara says …

Yes, sir, it was a bad choice of words. But at least now we know that shopping at Whole Foods has been a bad choice for my family. Fortunately, we have other choices for healthy organic foods in Salt Lake. It's so ironic that someone who charges higher prices for produce and other foods on the grounds that it's better for the consumer and society would be the same person who balks at a health care system that costs a little more but is better for consumers and society. But whatever. We're so done with Whole Foods ... and we used to shop there at least 4 days a week.

Not insured says …

As a woman in her mid-30's, who has been unable to find affordable individual health insurance that would cover a pregnancy, I am offended by anyone who thinks the open market system works. I will not be shopping at whole foods anymore!

Katie Barnett says …

I wish companies like Whole Foods would not push political agendas. I will no longer be shopping at whole foods. This company had a reputation as an excellent employer. What I heard in the NPR interview was a man that through providing decent healthcare options to his employ's was not worth it.

Food Allergic Family says …

In my family we have multiple, life-threatening food allergies. In addition, it is very important for me to provide my family with as much organic food as I can. Whole foods has monopolized the allergy-friendly and organic grocery market in my area (Northshore suburbs of Chicago). Other grocery stores cannot offer the same products at a better price because they cannot sell enough of them before they spoil, or to make it worth their while to keep them in stock. So we have to shop at Whole Foods, particularily for organic produce, dairy-free and peanut/treenut-free products. Whole Foods prices for some products are very high-- but because of our food allergies and organic preferences I have nowhere else to shop. I feel that they take advantage of customers like me-- and end up limiting access to consumers who can't afford their products. The CEO's comments really angered me. If anyone is acting like fascists it's Whole Foods. Whole Foods doesn't own all means of food production for the allergy-friendly or organic market; but it feels like they control a lot of it. I think the CEO's comments are insenstive to the health-conscience consumer, and I will be taking extra steps in my food preparation so that I don't need to rely on them as much as I have in the past.

nora kelly says …

You have lost my business, Sir.

Scott says …

First off the insurance is via private companies so much of what Mackey says is BS. As far as fascism getting a bum wrap in the 20th Century yes it did, I'm curious when the CEO thinks fascism was a great thing? I used to buy some items at WFM because I can walk to one and the quality is good but I'm done. After what he said last year I joined a local co-op and get most of my groceries there now but now I'll get the remaining items at Trader Joes, or one of the other local markets and not feel like a hypocrite for giving my money to a business that is clearly at odds with what I think is right and fair. Good riddance WFM.

Mrs. Hoover says …

Mr. Mackey said what he meant and meant what he said. He's done so on a number of occasions over the past few years. Of course he feels healthcare is the right of those who can afford it and those who can't might as well just die. Whole Foods is overpriced and carries just as many processed foods as any other regional or national retailer. I will no longer patronize Whole Foods and urge everyone I know to do the same. Obamacare will do two things: Increase access to care and Reduce the deficeit (See the report of the CBO.) Free enterprise capitalist healthcare, as Mr. Mackey would now call it, has led to a system characterized by high costs, many tens of thousands who go without care and thousands of needless deaths annually. For the richest country the world has ever seen, one supposedly founded upon Christian values, these results are an uncionscionable evil. Be ashamed, Mr. Mackey.

David Damroth says …

I am a shareholder. Please keep Mr. Mackey's comments private. They can be just as damaging to the stock value as BP's oilspill was to it's value. He has a right to speak but the extreme nature of his comments over time do not serve the interests of the company.

Ira Hecht says …

Instead of fascism use Obamanible.

Settina says …

I don't think you should take a stance on this. I am NOT for obama care one bit!!!!!!! I think health care needs to change. But you need to look at ALL the facts. I am pro health and I take steps to try to stay healthy. I am saddened that such smart people are making such poor choices. It makes me not want to shop with you anymore

Diane Navarro says …

I always viewed Whole Foods as a progressive leader in providing consumers with a wonderful variety of organic and healthy food. I have done my weekly shopping at WF for years. I was truly shocked to hear Mr Mackey's comment regarding health care. Your comments were offensive and hateful. Sorry to say, I can no longer patronize your business.

David says …

I shop at WF three or more times a week spending hundreds of dollars a week at this store. No more. I will not spend another cent until the John Mackey comes out in full support of the Affordable Care Act and even donates dollars toward the support of a public option. THE NARRATIVE OF WF BEING INTO HEALTH IS A SHAM!!! John is a pig and I will support real businesses that care about the health of their customers and their role in society!

YNPGal says …

Wow.. first you allow GMOs to live quietly in the foods you sell, then the head of your company speaks what must be assumed to be what he really believes...before he realized what a fiscal, customer-angering action it was. I agree that he probably back peddled to save WF face and customers. Sadly for you guys, the GMO problem caused me to cut way back on my spending in one of my favorite stores on the planet. This guy's antics and total disconnect from what many Americans deal with...and the blatant disrespect of the office of the President... I'm officially finished and won't shop there again in the foreseen future. Bummer for me...and bummer for you.

Gerrit Botha says …

Dear John Mackey, isn't the free market wonderful? Now I will never shop in your stores ever. And I'll make sure my family hears all about it.

Linda says …

An explanation/apology is warranted. I think the problem is that by no means are all, or even many, corporate execs as conscious or concerned about their employees as John Mackey. And that is why the gov't. has to be involved. Left to their own devices, I suspect most execs would NOT provide any health care or even a tissue! That's certainly optimistic of Mr. Mackey to think we should entrust corporations with caring for employees.

colleen Gilgenbach says …

Competitive health care and insurance in general is far too expensive. A third of our income goes to insurance (and that is with HIGH deductibles). We have never made a claim. On top of this they do not cover any alternative or homeopathic choices. Hmmm, another third goes to Whole Foods. I don't like the Obamacare program just because it still leaves us with very high profit insurance companies, highly expensive costs to medical facilities to process those insurance forms that the insurance companies very seldom just pay for so there is more charges to refile, and constant irritation. Free enterprise is NOT serving us well in terms of healthcare. I would say Mackey, like most corporative executives is more into profit than quality of life.

Laurie says …

Sorry, but I think someone in your position should be able to recognize what the word "fascism" connotes before a public outcry causes you to reconsider. Presumably, you thought the word choice would help sell your book. Speaking as someone whose child cannot rely on the existing free enterprise system to provide adequate healthcare without bankrupting him, I couldn't disagree with you more. But I do agree that the free enterprise system works in some cases and I believe you will find that customers our family will chose to our shopping elsewhere.

Russ Stromberg says …

Sorry, John. You have a big league job. I refuse to return to Whole Foods so long as you are the CEO. You are responsible for brand management, which to me is now a manipulative lie so long as your hand is on the wheel. Second, this country spoke - and you know full well liberals love your brand. Your customers chose the path that we want to take care of millions of uninsured Americans now. Exactly when was the free enterprise alternative going to solve that problem??? WFM is publicly held, accountable for quarterly and yearly results by its stockholders. Our society is accountable to its citizenry. The majority shareholders, if you will, in USA voted for Obamacare. Your only words should be, "Our customers and the shareholders of this nation have spoken. I embrace the direction this country has chosen to head and WFM will join the effort to make sure its employees are fully covered."

Joan Friedenberg says …

Your unfortunate use of "Fascism" was the least of your faults. You claimed that The Affordable Care Act forces DOCTORS to offer certain services when in reality it forces INSURANCE companies to offer certain services. You claim to favor the Swiss model of healthcare. The Affordable Care Act was modeled on the Swiss one and the main difference is that insurance companies in Switzerland must be NON-PROFIT! Thats what you want? Really? Me, too!

Terrence Feirer says …

You have lost all my families business, all seven families, and most, if not all my friends over John Mackey's choice of a word. Backtracking once it is out there is pure BS.

John Siena says …

Basically, what you are saying is that - actually - you want no insurance for the poorest people or those with pre-existing conditions, and that they can all go hang as far as you are concerned. You are actually saying this because in the real world, the public option was never going to happen: as a result, the only alternative, therefore, was doing nothing, which seems to suit you just fine. That's the reality, whether you want to admit it or not. And all of this is despite the fact that Obama-care was a Republican idea: with a Democrat president pushing it, it became intolerable. Sorry, the hypocrisy is just too much - twenty years of loyalty. Gone. Well done.

Beth Hammer says …

You may have chosen the "wrong" word but I will not. I will NOT shop at Whole Foods any more. I refuse to give any money to your ilk. And I hope that many of my friends and neighbors will also join me in NOT shopping at Whloe Foods. Beth Hammer

Greg Lemon says …

You know what they say a gaffe is in Washington. When a politician says what he really thinks. This is what John Mackey did today on NPR this morning. This is the same guy that hid in Yahoo investor chat rooms under a false ID and pumped up his stock. He really believes Obamacare is facism, although lord knows how he gets from here to there. Then the nonsense about worrying about American's health. Well, not exactly. He is worried about what they eat, not their health. If he were genuinely concerned about the health of Americans, he couldnt sleep at night while 50 million of his fellow citizens, including millions of children, go to bed without health care. We are the ONLY civilized country on the planet with universal health care, regardless of how its provided. Mackey says dont worry, I will take care of my employees. Even if this paternalism were true, what about the guy across the street who couldnt care less about his employees? Shame on you John Mackey, for abandoning your principles in pursuit of growth for the sake of what? Personal wealth? Fame? Surely not the kind of legacy that Michael Pollan will leave. Shame on you John Mackey, for your hypocrisy. Now, will you have the guts to publish this? Or will your underlings squash it.

Richard Schoenbrun says …

I will never again set foot and spend one dollar in a WF. Tell Mackey that. Good luck..

Bill says …

Health care in this country sucks. The only thing I don't like about the Affordable Health Act is the President didn't go far enough. Why should any American citizens health be a for profit venture? But we see this CEO is just like his buddies in other industries. More and more stores are going organic and natural. I will be looking elsewhere.

Marsha McIntire says …

I am so upset about Mr. Mackey's comments about healthcare in the U.S. I will boycott Whole Foods for now on. I am a physical therapist and have seen first hand what free enterprise health care does for the people of this country and it is disgusting. Too bad Mr. Mackey's greed interferes with what is good for the people of this country. It is so contrary to the concept of whole foods that I cannot stomach shopping there. Too bad!

Phillip Pessar says …

Hope you end up like Food Fair and Grand Union. You have lost a loyal customer. I am so glad they are opening up Fresh Market stores down here in South Florida.

Tiff says …

I will shop at whole foods and I respect a person like John Mackey who doesn't sugar coat it! Says it like it is! I didn't think he needed to apologize at all.. All of you people who are "offended" are offended by everything if it doesn't go your way. Well maybe others are offended that govt shoves stuff down our throats that we don't agree with..I mean where does it stop, this political correctness is such a bunch of bull. Look up the antonyms for control. I don't think you'd like what you'd see. USA is supposed to be a democracy.

T.J. says …

Mr. Mackey is likely a registered voter and entitled to his opinion. We ALL need to be concerned with what happens in our government, especially as it keeps expanding and overreaching its boundaries. We shouldn't be afraid to talk about it.

Nathan says …

Free enterprise capitalism can be made to seem like a savior. Business practice though is aimed at making profits. Reducing regulation would allow for healthcare to become very profitable, but not necesarily beneficial to those with low income, they would be at the whim of business. When the New Deal's regulations ended, health as well as other programs began to become muddled with the large corporations that were developing at the time, leaving us in the limbo-like state we are in now. Regulation generally benefits those with lower incomes when it comes to these big life decisions (like health care).

Kimberley Edwards says …

Mr. Mackey, I spend a lot of money in your Glendale CA store. To be honest, it's rather difficult to shop in one of your stores WITHOUT spending a lot of money, but I appreciate the quality and selection you offer, and being able to maintain my health while having as little involvement as humanly possible with our bankrupting for-profit health insurance industry is of paramount importance to me. I must let you know that it deeply disturbs me that when spending this money I’m putting it in the pocket of someone whose values, and, it must be assumed, political activities and contributions are so far from my own. Regardless of your rationalization in the form of an apology, it’s quite obvious that your use of the word "fascism" in regards to the current administration’s attempt to address the excesses of the for-profit health insurance industry was intended as a swipe at the popularly elected president who I'm guessing a majority of your customers, like the majority of Americans overall, support. The use of such inflammatory rhetoric is highly toxic to our already tainted national dialog, which is as divided and hateful as at any time in our history at least since the Civil War. The for-profit, free-market so-called "health care" system that we're burdened with in this country is a price gouging, care-denying, poverty-inducing racket of the first order. This country is THIRTY SEVENTH in health care. Every other western industrialized nation does a far superior job in taking care of their citizen's health care needs that our country does, as evidenced in terms of such things as life expectancy and infant mortality. There is no excuse for people in the wealthiest nation on earth to die from lack of insurance coverage, but they do. Middle class people who have insurance coverage nevertheless go bankrupt, lose their homes, because of the unbelievable financial burdens they face when serious illness or injury strikes. This is morally inexcusable and completely unjustifiable, especially in light of the fact that we can look to at least 36 other countries for some indication of how we might improve our system. This insistence upon free market ideology as a cure all for all that ails us is nothing but a massive blind spot that holds this nation back from providing a level of health security that the citizens of any civilized nation should be able to count upon as their birthright. This situation is no longer tolerable to the majority of Americans. The free-market insurance system may have financed a successful enough scare campaign to keep us from getting as much reform as we needed, but for-profit health care has miserably failed in America, and the majority of Americans, including your customers, know it. When you toss around words like "fascist," you add to the disgusting level of the political divide in this nation, you insult the president that the majority of Americans support, and you insult many of your customers who pay the inflated prices in your stores in an attempt to maintain their health at the highest level possible since most of them couldn't afford to get sick even if they do have insurance.

Michelle says …

Being offended that someone should speak against your GMO pesticide-mugging president is offensive to common sense! I think the pertinent question should be why is our government wanting to shoulder the burden of this country's healthcare and yet promote the production of toxic food and support the additional use of toxic chemicals on our food/environment. It should not be the "red team" against the "blue team" here, but please continue in your delusion, when you are told that it's not feasible to treat your condition I am sure you will understand and consider the greater good of humanity and pass on to the next world with grace.

Bobbie says …

I agree with Mr. Mackey's comment regarding Obamacare being the dictionary definition of 'facism." It is a healthcare system that is government controlled and mandated. So why the outrage when he just called it what it is?! I will fully support Whole Foods and will get the word out to as many people as humanly possible to SUPPORT WHOLE FOODS.

Gayle Karafil says …

So, did Whole Foods have a bad day at the cash register for Mr Mackey to be moved to rephrase his comments? I was going to go shopping today and didn't. Maybe he should take a few moments to think about what he's saying before he opens his mouth.

Jack Emerian says …

Mr. Macky's comment are straight from the Tea Party playbook. He should not be the CEO of Whole Foods and spew out this stupidity. Perhaps he should be a little more enlightened about the desperate condition of so many Americans including his own employees that don't enjoy the benefits of health insurance. Shame on him for his lack of sensitivity. I'll remember this the next time my wife asks me to pick up something from Whole Foods.

Louise Dotter says …

Free enterprise health care is what we have now AND IT'S NOT WORKING! Making a profit off of someone's illness is a sickness of the worst sort, GREED! I will never shop at your stores again, no matter WHAT words you use to describe your selfish, simplistic, concept of what health care should be!

S. says …

I like organic, sustainable foods, and gladly pay the higher prices for it. I live in Seattle, WA, and shop at neighborhood farmer's markets, co-ops, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and Metropolitan Markets. I boycotted WFs back several years ago, due to the ill-advised comments your CEO made about the President's health care plan as well as reading that many WF employees were dissatisfied with how they were treated by the company. However, after a year or so, I kind of drifted back into shopping at WFs again, especially during this past holiday season. Luckily for me, the downtown Metropolitan Market is fairly close to the WF location, and MM offers excellent organic and local produce and meats/seafood, and environmentally safe household products. And luckily for me, their CEO doesn't make offenisve, disparaging public comments about our President's efforts to make health care available to everyone in this country, not just to those with money and/or high paying jobs. Here in Seattle -- a very liberal city -- I imagine a lot of the people I see shopping at WFs are at least in my income bracket, or substantially higher. I imagine most of them voted for Obama, and applaud his health care reform efforts. And I imagine they are disagree with the comments of your CEO. It is, of course, his right to express his opinion, however much I disagree with it. But shoppers, of course, have the ability to spend their money where they like, and can choose to spend it supporting businesses with admirable values, and to avoid those that hold offensive political, social or moral positions. Just ask the Susan G. Koman Foundation about how stupid comments by CEOs can ruin a brand. It appears that your company is eager to follow that path. Good luck, and good bye.

Stacy Harrington says …

I love shopping at Whole Foods and agree with the CEO. He was right that our current track is fascist; he simply spoke the truth! It is a shame there is backlash for it and I totally understand the retraction of the word since so many tend to get so militant whenever anybody disagrees with them. He is also right that "if the goal is universal health care, our country would be far better served by combining free enterprise capitalism with a strong governmental safety net for our poorest citizens and those with preexisting conditions, helping everyone to be able to buy insurance." I absolutely agree 100%.

Susan Anthony says …

Private enterprise has had it's way in healthcare for a very long time, and the result is unsustainable costs and worse health outcomes than ANY other industrialized nation. In the health care field, other countries laugh at us, with considerable justification. The healthcare marketplace cannot be run like the marketplace for other goods and services because the result of consumers "doing without" is a risk to health and life itself. Further, if Obamacare wanted to be fascist, it would not rely on private insurers as it does. Much in the way of quality and cost-efficiency was sacrificed in order to preserve the strong market role of Obamacare. There's a new Whole Foods a few blocks from me, but I think I'll take my business elsewhere.

Barbara Laffan says …

Switzerland is not the U.S. Corporate-controlled health care has failed massively, and it's time to try something else. Switzerland is small and homogenous, the opposite of the U.S. Centralized, government run healthcare will be a far better solution here. We must break the link between employment and health care to create jobs. Employers should not have to be health care providers: it's an undue burden, and since business properly has a profit motive, there's always a temptation to skimp and cheat on health care. Fascism is the merging of government with business: the ACA is trying to undo that and will succeed in the end.

John Roberts says …

You've lost our business. We've been shopping at Whole Foods since you first opened in Annapolis. No more. We have other choices and we'll be going elsewhere from now on.

William Gritzmacher says …

Dear Mr. Mackey, I cannot tell you how disappointed I feel to here your views about The Affordable Health Care Act as facism. From a hisorical perspective, capitalism and free enterprise can work well but only if there is fair amounts of taxation and regulation. Otherwise, too much capital gets concentrated in the hands of too few people and the market implodes. Where health care is concerned, we currently spend much more than any other country in the world with quite a bit less than the best results. In a wealthy country like ours, it should be a birthright. The for profit system will never work. What part of The Affordable Care Act would you eliminate first? How about denial for pre-existing conditions? Businesses should be supporting a single payer system. This would truly be in their best interests. Your beliefs seem to be idiological in nature. Look at facts, data, and history. I have enjoyed shopping at Whole Foods but will not anymore. I will vote with my pocket book every chance that I get. I have other options. William Gritzmacher Duluth, MN

Candace Lopez says …

I would agree that there is a wave of fascism passing through America. I hope it stops. This is what you're looking for. Definition of TOTALITARIAN 1 a: of or relating to centralized control by an autocratic leader or hierarchy : authoritarian, dictatorial; especially: despotic b: of or relating to a political regime based on subordination of the individual to the state and strict control of all aspects of the life and productive capacity of the nation especially by coercive measures (as censorship and terrorism) 2 a: advocating or characteristic of totalitarianism b: completely regulated by the state especially as an aid to national mobilization in an emergency c: exercising autocratic powers

Nick says …

I read your Huffington Post clarification. In case anyone is wondering, the "standard dictionary definition" of fascism is "a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts the nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, sever economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition." Is that what Mr Mackey meant? Here's another one for you: boycott: "to engage in a concerted refusal to have dealings with (as a person, store, or organization) usu. to express disapproval."

Chris C. says …

I will not step foot into another Whole Foods store until John Mackey is no longer there. If Whole Foods believes that its employees are on their own, then I believe Whole Foods is on its own... without me.

William Gritzmacher says …

Dear Mr. Mackey, I cannot tell you how disappointed I feel to here your views about The Affordable Health Care Act as facism. From a hisorical perspective, capitalism and free enterprise can work well but only if there is fair amounts of taxation and regulation. Otherwise, too much capital gets concentrated in the hands of too few people and the market implodes. Where health care is concerned, we currently spend much more than any other country in the world with quite a bit less than the best results. In a wealthy country like ours, it should be a birthright. The for profit system will never work. What part of The Affordable Care Act would you eliminate first? How about denial for pre-existing conditions? Businesses should be supporting a single payer system. This would truly be in their best interests. Your beliefs seem to be idiological in nature. Look at facts, data, and history. I have enjoyed shopping at Whole Foods but will not anymore. I will vote with my pocket book every chance that I get. I have other options. William Gritzmacher Duluth, MN

Garrett Randall says …

I was a Whole Foods shopper until I read what the CEO said. Mackey is truely out of touch with his liberal customer base. If he was smart he would keep his mouth shut.

Joshua says …

If an capitalistic solution cannot insure such a large percentage as those with preexisting conditions how can it possibly claim to be a solution? I'm sure Mr Mackey would disagree but in reality capitalistic health care has been shown not to work. I will seek to move as much of my food purchases as possible elsewhere. The thought that my money will find its way to Mr Mackey is as unpalatable as his views. I am hoping the Whole Foods board will exercise some capitalism and find a more appropriate CEO.

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