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Whole Foods founder has decided we’re fat because we’re ignorant

Person walking away from camera holding Whole Foods grocery bag
Photo: Noam Galai (Getty Images)
Hot LinksHot LinksWe spend way too much time on the internet

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.”

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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:

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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.

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Jacob Dean is a food and travel writer and psychologist based in New York. He likes beer, less traveled airports, and is allergic to grasshoppers (the insect, not the mixed drink.)

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DISCUSSION

Whole Foods” sells a lot of fattening processed foods on its shelves. Just because your cheese curls are made with aged organic artisan cheddar and ground maiz and cost $8 a bag doesn’t mean they aren’t going to get you really fat if you eat a lot of them. Whole Foods is marketing bullshit. They’ve sold the idea that if you buy it in their store, it’s healthy and good for you and it ain’t poor people falling for that schtick. Poor people are going elsewhere for their food.

For the vast majority of people, poor choices in eating isn’t about being ignorant or uneducated about food, nor is it about being poor. It’s about laziness. Like most people, I know what constitutes healthy food and what doesn’t. And often I choose unhealthy because its easier and yummier. Why go through the trouble of concocting a low calorie low carb vegan meal when I can throw frozen chicken and cream cheese into a crockpot and eat it on rice 4 hours later without lifting any more of my lazy fingers.