Yesterday The New York Times business section published an interview with John Mackey, the multi-millionaire libertarian capitalist responsible for the creation of the supermarket chain Whole Foods, which is now owned by Amazon. In the interview, which you should read in full, Mackey drops quite a few
delightful grotesque bon mots, but the one that has made the story go viral is excerpted (in part) below:
“Whole Foods has opened up stores in inner cities. We’ve opened up stores in poor areas. And we see the choices. It’s less about access and more about people making poor choices, mostly due to ignorance. It’s like a being an alcoholic. People are just not conscious of the fact that they have food addictions and need to do anything about it.”
As you might expect, the reaction to Mackey’s thoughts have been less than kind, and the Times’ initial viral tweet has since earned the following “oh no, we’re gonna get sued” correction:
The full interview, which, again, is worth your time, is a bit rage-inducing. While Mackey has clearly been media trained (which is to say, taught to stick to predetermined corporate talking points and to avoid answering questions that might make him look stupid, evil, or partisan), he still says some obtuse and tone-deaf things that put his privileged worldview on full display. For example, the quote that got him in so much hot water doesn’t take into account that body type is not always determined by diet, and that there is no version of reality (nor should there be) in which the entire population is uniformly thin.
Mackey’s interview is a real smorgasbord for anyone with a critical mind. Take this statement: “I don’t think there’s an access problem. I think there’s a market demand problem. People have got to become wiser about their food choices. And if people want different foods, the market will provide it.” This fails to take into account that the market doesn’t provide fresh, healthy foods with a wave of its wand just because there’s “demand.” This is the same system that ensures meat processors can slice tumors off of their chickens before sending them to the marketplace. This is, after all, a country where food industry CEOs are going to prison for price fixing.
While I realize I’m cherry-picking quotes here (which is one of the reasons I’m encouraging you to read the interview in full), it’s easy to be aggrieved by comments like, “We need more liberty. We need more equality. We need justice, and we also need freedom. All of these ideas are important and they all have to be affirmed, but [emphasis mine] it seems like we’re doing a lot of squabbling right now.”
Buddy, we’re not squabbling: we’re locked in a life-and-death battle for civil rights with a government that’s been arresting clearly identified journalists and teasing the idea that our votes will not be counted on Election Day. The free market probably does look pretty great when you get $300 million for selling a company whose street name is “Whole Paycheck,” but to society at large, free market capitalism looks like it’s less about eating hot dogs, and more about trying to avoid being turned into them.