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The Universal Notebook: Let them eat Whole Foods

Opinion

The Universal Notebook: Let them eat Whole Foods

We've known for many years now that Whole Foods founder and CEO John Mackey is not the sort of person most of his customers or employees would agree with, like or admire.

He's a predatory, conservative free-marketer who's been able to corner the progressive organic health food market. Even if you give Mackey the benefit of the doubt that his interest in whole foods is sincere, the degree to which he is "green" has more to do with money and envy than with sustainability.

Whole Foods is now the target of a national boycott over Mackey's blame-the-victim editorial attack on health-care reform in the Aug. 11 issue of The Wall Street Journal. I'd join the Whole Foods boycott, but then I rarely shop there anyway, can't afford most of what they sell, don't believe that consumer boycotts really work, and somehow can't imagine that anyone serious about ethical consumption shops there anyway.

If I boycotted any company with which I had political or philosophical disagreements with their executives, I wouldn't be able to do business with most banks, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, auto manufacturers, oil companies and, yes, even grocery store chains.

It's no real surprise that John Mackey, a conservative corporate CEO, is opposed to what he sees as "a government takeover of our health-care system." He's one of those fortunate few who believe he is a self-made man, therefore everyone else should be able to take care of him/herself.

Like a lot of folks on the far right, he takes an individualistic (self-centered) approach to the founding principles of the United States, arguing that "a careful reading of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter." One could argue, of course, that the "unalienable rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" are worthless if you don't have your health.

Conservatives like Mackey tend to ignore the collective founding principles – "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare." Public health, it seems to me, might be considered a matter of "the general welfare."

John Mackey, however, believes that "every American adult is responsible for his or her own health."

"Most of the diseases that kill us and account for 70 percent of all health-care spending – heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and obesity," Mackey argues, "are mostly preventable through proper diet, exercise, not smoking, minimal alcohol consumption and other healthy lifestyle choices."

There is something a wee bit naive, cynical and arrogant though about his assertion that "we should be able to live largely disease-free lives until we are well into our 90s and even past 100 years of age." This statement makes me suspect that, beyond profit, Mackey's interest in whole foods may be a matter of Howard Hughes-like paranoia.

What Mackey's argument that most illnesses are "self-inflicted" ignores is that we live in a chemically contaminated environment where most people can't escape toxins and carcinogens, where it's impossible to know what's really in the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe. It also ignores the vast array of hereditary and congenital diseases – heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, etc. That's a whole lot of willful ignorance, Mr. Mackey.

Come to think of it, maybe I will boycott Whole Foods.