Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey wrote an op-ed piece last week in the Wall Street Journal about health care reform. Boy is he sorry he did that. Now, the company that famously fired an employee for eating a discarded tuna sandwich, is facing a hailstorm of criticism and mounting calls for a boycott because of Mackey’s comments.
For the record, I hate the debate that’s going on in the country right now. Health care is such an important issue and I feel that for the most part, the media’s focus on inflammatory sound bites and angry town hall hooligans have done a disservice to the public at large. Those of us who genuinely want to see health care reformed in a manner that benefits the most people, at the least cost and who think that a society that does not take care of its children and elderly is doomed to extinction, deserve better. I don’t know what our best option is for health care reform. I do know, that as someone who’s self employed, this issue is paramount to the future of my health, and my growing business. So, because it impacts all of us, we all have the right to our opinions. But, as CEO of a company whose consumer base consists primarily of individuals who feel that Americans do have a basic right to healthcare, Mackey might just have inserted his foot squarely in his mouth when he suggested otherwise. For his sake, I hope that foot he just put in his mouth is organic.
That said, I’m not sure I disagree with all of Mackey’s comments. For instance, he calls for tort reforms that will end ruinous lawsuits. I believe our society has become all too litigious and that putting an end to frivolous lawsuits will help, to some degree, rein in escalating health care costs. What troubles me is that Mr. Mackey CEO, who readily has access to the healthy, organic, and high priced foods he encourages all Americans to eat, uses the argument that so many well off and well fed Americans currently use when discussing health care reform; “Every American adult is responsible for his or her own health.” Thanks for clearing that up for us Mr. Mackey, now we understand. It really is very simple.
Starting tomorrow, I’ll begin doing all my shopping at Whole Foods, purchasing organic fruits and vegetables, grass fed beef and cage free eggs to stave off the illnesses and disease that not eating organic can cause. Despite being a struggling business owner with an inconsistent income, I will forgo less expensive fare, neglect a couple of other bills and opt for wild caught, fresh fish instead. After all, why should those that can really afford to eat the healthiest be the only ones doing it. And when I’m done, I’ll encourage my friends to do the same. But wait. One of my closest friend’s only local food option is a bodega that sells soda, canned food and about 17 varieties of pork. He has no vehicle, and even if he did, the nearest Whole Foods market, farmers market, or major grocery store chain is miles away. Did I mention that my friend, also self employed, goes long stretches at a time making slightly more than minimum wage? So even if he were able to get his hands on a vehicle and by some miracle afford gas for his car, by the time he got to Whole Foods, he’d probably be able to buy one of your organic apples. A lifelong vegetarian though, he opts for beans, vegetables and whole grains whenever possible. He does not have health insurance.
Herman Melville famously said “Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.” Do we all as individuals need to take more responsibility for our physical and mental health? Absolutely. But when people who currently have all their needs met, start rationing and determining who should, or worse even who deserves and does not deserve healthcare, it makes me very nervous. If ending disease, crime and poverty was as simple as telling people to do better, then there would be no disease, crime or poverty . The fact is, personal choice is only one of many factors at play in the complex conversation about health care reform.
Mr. Mackey says that by living on a plant based, low based, nutritious diet, “we should be able to live largely disease-free lives until we are well into our 90s and even past 100 years of age.” Doctors have been saying it for years, and it’s the truth. But, it’s a hard truth to hear when it’s being presented by a man behind the helm of a food chain whose food prices are so high, they’re prohibitive to a large percentage of the population he’s talking to. Let’s hope for Mr. Mackey’s sake, Whole Foods is around for a long, long time, providing him and those fortunate enough to be able to afford to shop there, with the healthy food they’ll need to live those long lives. The rest of us will do our best to continue to fend for ourselves.