Food Fight Over Whole Foods

From The Blogs

August 22, 2009

Color me shocked, too, when I heard of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's opposition to President Obama's health care plan. Not because of his quirky views on alternatives to a public option but because his exercise of free speech could cost his company a whole lot of money.

When the nation's chief granola-eater and avatar of environmentally friendly farming comes out against a plan that's likely supported by a majority of the arugula-and-endive-eating liberal Democrats who flock to his stores, in part because they pride themselves on holding progressive views, Mr. Mackey's mind has got to be a long way from his bottom line.

His own company tried to distance itself from the remarks he made in a recent Wall Street Journal commentary critical of "Obamacare," which infuriated long-time customers and sparked a boycott movement on Facebook that 18,000 people reportedly have joined. Most Whole Foods customers are the sort of people who probably would never be caught dead plopping nonorganic bananas into a plastic bag at Wal-Mart. But now that Mr. Mackey has ticked them off royally, there's no telling what the company may have to do to assuage their ire, let alone what might turn up on their dinner tables tonight. - Glenn McNatt

Readers Respond

Health care is quite literally an issue of life and death to many people. Mackey, being super-rich and thus beyond any fears for his own or his family's health care, perhaps did not realize he was bringing his company out in opposition to what was the #1 issue in the hearts and minds of many of his customers. (Health problems such as food allergies are why some shoppers go to Whole Foods in the first place, for gluten-free and other health-related items.) The ordinary Whole Foods shopper can't use corporate power to command a special op ed column in the Wall Street Journal to publicize their viewpoint as Mackey can. Mackey's big money and corporate power gives him more ability to have his opinion heard. But, the ordinary Joe can certainly say, "Mackey has every right to speak and be heard...but he has no inherent right to the money in my wallet." And despite all the attacks on the ordinary Joe shopper that boycotting is 'stupid' - it does seem that it is for once getting the ordinary shopper's "pro-public-option in health care" opinion heard, too.

Ash

Mackey was urging people to consider a high deductible policy combined with a health savings account as the most practical solution for affordable health care. It is the solution he uses to give all Whole Foods employees affordable health insurance. It worked for me as well. Last year I hired a machinist who needed health insurance. I had no company plan for him. Through Paychex, my payroll company, I got him a high deductible HSA plan that was very reasonable. If he doesn't use the deductible, it remains his money in a tax free account to be used in the future for health care. The account builds at $2400 annually. It can even be used to pay the monthly $150 premium in the event of a layoff. High deductible / HSA is an absolute winner. Trashing Mackey for pushing this is close-mindedness.

Stew

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