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John Mackey's "Conscious Capitalism"


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Tonight, we were at a talk given by John Mackey, the co-founder and current CEO of Whole Foods. He is out promoting a new book called "Conscious Capitalism." Written with a business school prof and consultant, the book makes a case made in many other books and by many other people. To Mackey's and his coauthors' credit, they acknowledge this directly, citing companies like Trader Joes and Starbucks as food companies "with a conscious" along with examples from other sectors like Container Store.

Mackey is a complicated figure in the food world. Clearly he deserves some admiration and credit for the huge positive change he brought to food retailing. Real food. Local producers. Healthy eating. Transparency in sourcing including their current, substantive scale being used in stores to rate seafood for sustainability in a clear way. And, building a large, successful company for which profit and share price were far from the only goals (but still one of them.)

On the other hand, Mackey has been very controversial and even hypocritical given some of what Whole Foods under his watch has done with its own employees (i.e., their stance on unions, charging employees with higher body mass index more for their health insurance), with the capital markets (Mackey once infamously and inappropriately posted under an alias on Yahoo finance boards as his company was working to acquire the Wild Oats chain), and even with animal rights, labeling and environmental concerns.

Tonight, Mackey bristled at questions around his more controversial political pronouncements (e.g., likening the Affordable Care Act to fascism; a statement for which he later apologized), wanting to talk only about the book. He proudly explained how he has taken no salary or stock options from WF since 2006 (though of course not mentioning he became wealthy before then with estimated net worth now in the hundreds of millions).

Dean used to be a senior exec with Whole Foods. He undoubtedly will have some interesting views on Mackey. As with so many, Mr. Mackey is not a black and white case. But I am glad Whole Foods exists. Have only just started the book so no view on that yet. Think it's on prominent display in all local stores but, if interested to get a copy, you can't do better than buying it at the link above. Mackey himself, an avowed Libertarian, might even approve of that move. :)

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Haviung at one time been a regional vice president in purchasing and then a store manager, my feelings are influenced bu former insider info that I had, some direct and some hearsay. In any case, the guy is an admitted liar, IMHO a stock fraudster, the "partner suppliers" for Whole Foods were also the basically same list as the major opponents of prop 37 in California. Their hamburger came from an abbatoir that was one of the most cited for unsafe practices in the business. In other words, just from the public record, Mr Mackey is a fraud and his company is hypocritical.

My private experiences with Whole Foods paints a much darker picture. I feel that Whole Foods long ago made a decision that they would look green and go for the green however they needed to. In my private life, I never shop there because of their business practices.

Since I truly believe that how you spend your food dollars is a major political statement, I only spend my food dollars at WFM when absolutely necessary {ie when we get shorted something on the weekend crucial for the operation of my business and the only source I can get it from is WFM.} I still feel the need to shower after the shopping experience.

As Bev Eggleston has said, just because something is accepted, doesn't make it acceptable.

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All makes sense--and very interesting--thanks Dean.

As purely an outsider, it all aligns with what I know but then I struggle a bit with the broadest brush given he stopped taking pay and options 7 years ago (his presumed net worth, while significant, is markedly less than most founders of companies as large as WF) and at least a few things (like in-store seafood sustainability ratings developed in concert with Monterey Bay and Blue Ocean Institute) that seem innovative, substantive and progressive.

That said, at the event last night, his resistance to answering fair questions was insincere and totally inline with your view. In response to audience questions about his stance on the ACA and labor practices, he complained, pedantically telling the moderator he just wanted to "talk about the book" despite being very comfortable with all manner of political and business practice pronouncements in the public domain when not subjected to real Q&A. He also was way too willing to let his b-school co-author carry most of the session. To my way of thinking, if you're as serious about honesty and transparency as you say you are, you don't duck any question unless they're inappropriately personal.

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This article came across my Facebook newsfeed this morning, regarding Mackey and his labor practices. I know what my sister has told me about her brief employment at a Whole Foods in Pennsylvania. Based on this information, I am re-thinking my own shopping habits. I'm still figuring out where to obtain some of the products I regularly purchase at WF, and as I succeed in that endeavor, I will greatly reduce the amount of money I spend therem.

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Could anyone list for me 5 good reasons why I should boycott Whole Foods?

This is a publicly traded company and I have trouble boycotting an entire company because of their CEO.

I know virtually nothing about John Mackey, but am open-minded, so ... convince me. Please use logic that will convince anyone regardless of political persuasion (not including the nut jobs at both ends of the bell curve). :)

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Could anyone list for me 5 good reasons why I should boycott Whole Foods?

This is a publicly traded company and I have trouble boycotting an entire company because of their CEO.

I know virtually nothing about John Mackey, but am open-minded, so ... convince me. Please use logic that will convince anyone regardless of political persuasion (not including the nut jobs at both ends of the bell curve). :)

I only have one.

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LOVE the Seinfeld clip. Like most everything Seinfeld, hysterical. And, with the serious implied point that mixing politics with...other daily life stuff...may sometimes be counterproductive for some, can go overboard (for some) or can make daily decision making near impossible for anyone. We all have our Maginot lines when it comes to vendors (of anything) we patronize. For example, I no longer ever buy Tropicana OJ because I don't have to and due to what I learned about the industry. Likewise on near totally avoiding conventional Florida tomatoes.

All said, I'll answer Don's question directly without a video and say, simply, I can't convince you and wouldn't try.


I don't know WF as well as Dean and other insiders do. But I maybe know more about their business ops than most outsiders. And, like so many things in life, I think the reality of WF is more complex than All Good or All Bad. There's plenty of both. I've already given examples of both above.

I'd rather try to convince someone to prioritize smaller and more local producers than try to convince them to totally boycott WF. There are many great, middle of the bell curve arguments, to do that. And, in doing so, one would naturally be spending less at any big chain, including WF. This is my approach but it won't be the right approach for everyone for lots of reasons.

All said, I know others won't agree. I read Dean's post several times and learned from it. But I'd also love to hear more (from him and from others) around the argument for totally boycotting (versus just prioritizing the local, transparent producers) WF given what seems to be positive and negative aspects of who they are and what they do.

Just my view. Prioritize the better options. Don't boycott the less attractive (sometimes much less attractive) options without compelling reasons. And, again, the judgments on "compelling" are all subject to the beliefs we each hold and which make us interestingly different individually and thus stronger collectively. Now, if only Congress would act similarly. :)

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There's also a difference between "boycott", which implies an organized group, and "I refuse to shop there".

I don't shop at WFM for a variety of reasons, some of which have been elucidated here, and partly because I feel like I need a second job to shop there. But I don't work to convince others of my reasons, it's not part of some group that has asked me not to shop there for publicity reasons, I just don't. So in my mind, this is not a boycott.

Not going to Chick-Fil-A, based on the public fights that have gone on in the last year, that's a boycott. But I was already "not shopping there" for the same moral reasons before it became trendy - this was not new information. :-)

I do make an effort to spend money in ways that support my moral stands. I shop local (farmers markets, e.g.) when it is convenient and when it is affordable, but I spend most of my grocery money at Harris Teeter and Costco. I actively avoid, for a number of reasons, WFM, CFA, and Walmart. And Nestle products.

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The title of Mackey's book strikes me as incredibly ironic for the very reasons Zora mentions.* Conscious capitalism suggests co-existing with competition: distinguishing oneself and complementing like-minded sources for food in a campaign to offer the US better options for meals. Then again, a store that calls itself Whole Foods while selling more value-added products than whole foods is well-versed in that kind of self-fashioning.

As an intellectual snob, I found most of my reasons for disrespecting John Mackey in his response to Omnivore's Dilemma. Neither he nor his PR team showed signs that they really understood the concept of "pastoral idyllic" and the CEO could not stand up to his challenger's eloquence, substantiality, intelligence and reason.**

sings about no one calling Pablo Picasso an asshole, though maybe because the women and children in his life probably used other nasty French and Spanish words. I still like his art and like Alec Baldwin, I stayed put even though...

So, despite Mackey, I continue to buy most of my supermarket-type groceries at Whole Foods because they are less expensive than they are at other stores. Butter, dairy, spices, Meyer lemons, bulk items that I don't get at Trader Joe's. Friday specials now and again. I have a great deal of respect for Customer Service. Sometimes quality or preferences are factors. I personally loathe the company's two-faced attitude towards seafood sustainability issues. Sell fish that is endangered, but let the shopper know what they're getting? Consequences are graver than selling heirloom tomatoes in February. What makes their salmon "responsibly farmed"? No one could tell me, except for the fact that diets are vegetarian unlike those of wild salmon (I am guessing).

I am fortunate in having an abundance of superior alternatives at farmers markets. I suspect I don't want to know what Dean knows, preferring the low-grade wariness that allows me to justify shopping at WFM, but steer clear of the bananas and Horizon "organic".

*I miss Wild Oats and witnessed the beginning of its end in Boulder.

**Most of us watching a well-publicized debate online were disappointed that Michael Pollan decided to be more friendly than adversarial.

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WF is the only convenient source for heavy cream that isn't "ultra-pasteurized." The Yes! Gourmet in Cleveland Park carries the Trickling Springs variety, but getting there isn't that easy and you have to pay a $2 deposit on the bottle (which, of course, has to be returned to get the deposit back). Also, I remain very grateful for what was originally "Fresh Fields" for building that store on P Street and sparking a boom in development in what had been for a decades a very forelorn area. I never stop being just amazed at all the changes on 14th Street and environs from Columbia Heights to downtown. I shop carefully enough there that I know where the bargains are and what to avoid. I haven't been in Dean & Deluca in years--ever since I found that they charged double what WF does for Callabaut chocolate (back in the day when I made dozens of chocolate truffles to give at Christmas and Easter). Plus, I bought a couple of frozen squab at D&D which turned out to be rotten when thawed. But, I've also found that the WF prepared desserts (and a lot of their other prepared foods) just suck.

I boycott certain products made by companies like Georgia-Pacific, to the extent that I can know the origin, but found that not shopping an entire company (save for Walmart) isn't always efficacious, particularly for people like me without wheels.

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When I know that a company's philosophy and practice are humane (ie. Costco's toward their workers; reasonable markups on quality products) or leans toward environmental responisibility (ie. Prius) I prefer to spend my dollars there rather than at businesses whose philosophy and practice I consider repugnant (ie. Walmart for so many reasons; Chick-fil-A; others like Chef Geoff) It's becoming more obvious that I need to stay away from Whole Foods, whose CEO has been revealing himself to be a greedy, typical Republican businessman who has wrapped himself in organic cotton and Earth Shoes, which are not even skin-deep. I'm sure that he and Donald Trump feel totally comfortable with each other.

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I'm not a big John Mackey fan but I do think his is a more complicated case than many others. To me, Trump and Mackey are more different than similar in philosophy, background and wealth. Trump is as big a free-marketeer as exists. Mackey, a bit less so having famously debated Milton Friedman before he died. Mackey, a vegan, didn't grow up with money, didn't finish college and worked in co-ops for years protesting and railing against big business...all big business. He is wealthy but much, much less wealthy (by choice) than Trump or most any other CEO running a greater-than-$10-billion dollar company like WF. Trump and Mackey are more similar in being very, very flawed and, again, there are many criticisms I would (and did above) level at Mackey and WF. Just not as black and white a case for me.

Conscious Capitalism, the title of Mackey's co-authored book, is also a non-profit with the simple objective (my paraphrase) of encouraging businesses to pursue progressive objectives beyond profit. Mackey was one of several co-founders but categorizing it becomes a bit messier when you consider that companies and individuals like Costco, Trader Joes, Container Store, Apple, REI, Starbucks and a tenured professor of ethics at UVA all serve on its board or have publicly supported it. It's like the seafood sustainability thing. WF has introduced a rating scale (in concert with good and progressive environmental orgs) which is the most transparent labeling initiative of any large grocery chain. But then they do still sell some endangered seafood. For me, again, not as black and white a case as Chick-fil-a, Wal-Mart or Chef Geoff.

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The P Street store was signed and developed AFTER Whole Foods took over. I was part of that process.

Of course Mackey and the E Team had top be hit over the head to open that store and Silver Spring because the demographics were "too black" for their likes. These two stores were the stores that most over-performed their original projections in the region. Whole Foods still isn't in Bowie even though it had offer after offer of great locations with HUGE subsidies from local governments and developers. The inner city Philly store was never given the budget for a truly great reno....

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The P Street store was signed and developed AFTER Whole Foods took over. I was part of that process.

Of course Mackey and the E Team had top be hit over the head to open that store and Silver Spring because the demographics were "too black" for their likes. These two stores were the stores that most over-performed their original projections in the region. Whole Foods still isn't in Bowie even though it had offer after offer of great locations with HUGE subsidies from local governments and developers. The inner city Philly store was never given the budget for a truly great reno....

There was an absolutely crappy grocery store across the street from the WF site. Crappy in that they had the most obnoxious "security" measures and, when you finally managed to gain entry, the store just reeked. I surely didn't find any great bargains in there, either. Then, faced with real competition, they tried to spruce things up and moved their cheap, crappy wine to the front of the store and got rid of the smell. Surprisingly (not!), it didn't work and the building was sold, torn down, and a high-rise condo building was put on that spot. Not surprisingly, there were no cries of outrage (that garnered any media interest).

Compare and contrast this example with the Metro Market on Columbia Road, which has been there since before I moved here (when Christ was a Corporal, as my dear, late father used to say). It's still here, despite having to compete with the Safeway up the road, the new(ish) Harris Teeter a couple of blocks in another direction, and the Yes! Gourmet across the street. They long ago cleaned up their act, lengthened the hours they are open, got a beer and wine license (which means they can sell that stuff on Sundays), and treat their customers like they matter. There are things I know I can buy which aren't available in the other places, and their prices are competitive (very much cheaper in some instances).

The liquor store next to the WF used to be one of those which operated behind bullet-proof glass. As soon as the WF opened, and he found himself with an entirely different clientele, the owner redesigned his store. Gone is the glass, and the Boone's Farm and in with the high-end goods. He was just lucky that WF couldn't get a license to sell hard booze, or he would have been toast, too. There are people who just took advantage of their mostly low-income clientele and sold them crap and treated everybody like criminals. I suppose this is a "chicken or egg" debate; but, after 30 years of neglect and decay, the entire neighborhood is a whole 'nother story. The folks who invested in the neighborhood long ago made it big. That somebody at WF had to be hit upside the head with a 2-x-4, is water under the bridge.

Oh, and Logan's Hardware, a couple of doors down, is a real treat. That little place has everything.

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I don't shop at Wal-Mart. (Except that I still have a $50 gift card from when BLBaby (soon to be six years old) was born that someone gave us that I can't bring myself to spend...)

I ignore the money Target poured into anti-gay marriage efforts because I like Target. (Though I shop there less than I used to...)

I don't eat at Chick'fil-A. For long standing and unchanging reasons that are probably similar to DanielKs. (I did make an exception in 2008 when I was in Atlanta.)

Etc...

I remember learning the name Cesar Chavez at a very early age when my mother ignored my begging and boycotted California grapes.

I come by this naturally.

Mr. BLB and I talk a lot about shopping at WF. We've naturally moved more and more away from it as we've found better, less expensive choices that sync with our values.

But if I run out of grass-fed milk, I'm going to drive the 5 miles to WF in the Kentlands instead of going to MOM's in Rockville or Frederick. I try really, really hard not to run out. Sometimes we end up there because there are only so many outings you can take an almost-six-year old on in the bitter cold. At least a trip to WF ends with minimal purchases of a banana, kefir and probably a plate of meatballs for him.

And I take Dean's words to heart. None of it is ever easy...

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I don't shop at Wal-Mart. (Except that I still have a $50 gift card from when BLBaby (soon to be six years old) was born that someone gave us that I can't bring myself to spend...)

I don't want to get too much into politics, but if you dislike Wal-Mart, then you should use that $50 gift card since they've already collected the revenue on it, and you'll be costing them money if you use it. Or give it to someone in need, perhaps.

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I don't want to get too much into politics, but if you dislike Wal-Mart, then you should use that $50 gift card since they've already collected the revenue on it, and you'll be costing them money if you use it. Or give it to someone in need, perhaps.

With you on the politics but, if you're willing, you posted upthread asking for someone to "give [you] five reasons" why you should boycott WF. Reasons that "would persuade anyone" not on either end of "the bell curve" or something like that.

Much has been posted here since then. Have you gotten those five reasons? Are your more or less inclined to avoid or lessen visit frequency to WF? Why?

I ask not just because you asked. I ask because I think the exchange of views--here on a clear food topic--is great. Some above have practical considerations driving why they do shop at WF. Others have strong philosophical or principled reasons why they don't or won't or don't/won't as much as they once did. And, many above share facts, experiences, assumptions, opinions and, for all of us, biases driven by different factors. All combined, that makes the discussion interesting; maybe even useful.

Would be cool if you could weigh in in whatever way suits, Don. Thank you.

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With you on the politics but, if you're willing, you posted upthread asking for someone to "give [you] five reasons" why you should boycott WF. Reasons that "would persuade anyone" not on either end of "the bell curve" or something like that.

Much has been posted here since then. Have you gotten those five reasons? Are your more or less inclined to avoid or lessen visit frequency to WF? Why?

I ask not just because you asked. I ask because I think the exchange of views--here on a clear food topic--is great. Some above have practical considerations driving why they do shop at WF. Others have strong philosophical or principled reasons why they don't or won't or don't/won't as much as they once did. And, many above share facts, experiences, assumptions, opinions and, for all of us, biases driven by different factors. All combined, that makes the discussion interesting; maybe even useful.

Would be cool if you could weigh in in whatever way suits, Don. Thank you.

No, honestly, I haven't gotten them, or at least not in a way that would sway an uninformed person (which I essentially am). I was pretty much asking for an "idiot list" of five numbered items.

I mean, *one* item could be enough ("He's gotten the organization affiliated with Al Qaeda!") so five was just a random number.

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1. Their partner suppliers are owned by mega ag companies that support factory farming and are unifromly against prop 37.

2. Their #1 dairy supplier is Horizon instead of Organic Valley... a corporate ag company with no connection to organics except as a marketing tool rather than a farmer owned cooperative.

3. Their meat supplier has been repeatedly cited as using unsafe abbatoirs. Their batch sizes are huge which in herently increases therisk of their ground meats.

4. They have had 5% days that benefit their own charitable foundation without revealing clearly that this is the case.

5. Their CEO is unethical and was unethical in the pursuit of a hostile takeover of a competitive brand which, when accomplished, resulted in store closures and layoffs.

6. Their #1 supplier in organic bagged salads is more injurious to the environment than a conventional supplier

7. Their #1 supplier in organic veggies was kicked out of Arizona for practices harmful to the environment

8. Their private label line is chock full of unhealthy and highly processed foods.

9. They have an unhealthy relationship with the Marine Stewardship Council which has resulted in rating of sustainable on fish that other organizations refuse to certify as sustainable.

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I don't want to get too much into politics, but if you dislike Wal-Mart, then you should use that $50 gift card since they've already collected the revenue on it, and you'll be costing them money if you use it. Or give it to someone in need, perhaps.

If it is still good. Most gift cards these days expire or dwindle slowly in value. 6 years ago they may not have had such a policy - but they also may have no record of a card that old and may not honor it.

I'd go use it to buy $49 worth of stuff, have it rejected, make a stink, then demand the $1 be given to me in cash once they do honor the card...if I survive all those steps without an anurism.

As for WFM - I'm also interested in the 5 reasons to not shop there. While shady business practices are not savory - neither is a local store that is so honestly or poorly run that after two years it is too weak to stay open on its own. I'm curious about WFM's dark downside but realistic about the forces that drive business.

EDIT- And lo and behold, Dean posted as I was writing.

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well, Dean, you convinced me not to go there anymore. I haven't been a prolific WFM shopper, and have only been semi aware of some of the background story on WFM. Frankly they are beautiful stores and a pleasure to shop in, but there are a growing number of markets that have simply upgraded making the food shopping experience more pleasurable.

There is something a little extra stinky about a business that pushes one type of message about its practices and then engages in business practices that are the exact opposite.

Business in general is tough. Very tough. I don't know all the stories about its growth and competition with other food markets. The very nature of that process is never pretty. In fact its often extremely ugly. I don't know all the details about its growth in other markets, purchases of other chains, its competition --but I just know that is usually a less than savory experience.

I can also comment with experience on the DC location thing, having used to do that as a commercial RE broker in the region. Its usually hard. Most big businesses have these models and in city locations don't fit the model. Its usually a very tough deal for them to go forward. Its not unusual for that process to have been problematic.

But IMHO, marketing and presenting yourself one way and then acting at complete odds with that marketing presence is just a pretty big lie.

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1. Their partner suppliers are owned by mega ag companies that support factory farming and are unifromly against prop 37.

...

This list is very useful, and I appreciate it. The thing I wonder next, though, is: could an equally compelling list be made against Safeway, Shoppers, other supermarkets? I fear so. Which leaves a sinking feeling: it is not realistic for me personally to do all shopping at good farmers' markets, or even at Yes market and the like (if that's better, which I don't know), without serious rearrangement of life. I am not saying "everything sucks, so why bother." Am saying instead: this discussion has been very informative and inspiring, but what's the "so then ..." reasonable next step if you assume that grocery stores will still be part of your life?

Editing to add: if the answer is "Safeway's about as bad in most respects, but has a UFCW labor contract with wages and benefits and working conditions at least as good as WF," then at least I know how to make one step in the right direction.

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This list is very useful, and I appreciate it. The thing I wonder next, though, is: could an equally compelling list be made against Safeway, Shoppers, other supermarkets? I fear so. Which leaves a sinking feeling: it is not realistic for me personally to do all shopping at good farmers' markets, or even at Yes market and the like (if that's better, which I don't know), without serious rearrangement of life. I am not saying "everything sucks, so why bother." Am saying instead: this discussion has been very informative and inspiring, but what's the "so then ..." reasonable next step if you assume that grocery stores will still be part of your life?

Editing to add: if the answer is "Safeway's about as bad in most respects, but has a UFCW labor contract with wages and benefits and working conditions at least as good as WF," then at least I know how to make one step in the right direction.

Is Costco an option for you? MOM's? (Although truthfully, MOM"s makes me nuts in different, non-political, ways and I don't buy meat there...)

I suck it up and I buy meat and eggs at the farmers market. Or I drive to the farm directly. I buy dairy at MOM's. Produce is a mix of farmers markets, MOM's, Costco, Trader Joe's and even sometimes Giant.

But I have a car and lots of time and a child who truly thinks there is nothing cooler than going to a farmers market. I don't have unlimited funds which would make this whole thing ever so much simpler.

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Is Costco an option for you? MOM's? (Although truthfully, MOM"s makes me nuts in different, non-political, ways and I don't buy meat there...)

I suck it up and I buy meat and eggs at the farmers market.

Costco isn't a real option for me because 1) there are only two of us and we don't have the space to store giant packs of anything; and 2) we don't have a car, so I would have to add on the cost of a Zipcar to my grocery bill.

Since we don't eat meat at home, I buy whatever I need in that department from farmers markets. I expect to pay a lot more for it, and I do, but it is only three or four times a year (I've made beef burgundy and rack of lamb for the holidays and masitas de puerco on other occasions). I buy my eggs from a farmer who comes down from Pennsylvania and pay $4/dozen for them. We eat a lot of seafood and that comes from either the Harris Teeter or WF (I truly don't trust the local Safeway's seafood dept.). The WF sells frozen bags of shrimp farmed in Thailand and I don't buy that, either. I've become a diligent label-reader.

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This list is very useful, and I appreciate it. The thing I wonder next, though, is: could an equally compelling list be made against Safeway, Shoppers, other supermarkets? I fear so. Which leaves a sinking feeling: it is not realistic for me personally to do all shopping at good farmers' markets, or even at Yes market and the like (if that's better, which I don't know), without serious rearrangement of life. I am not saying "everything sucks, so why bother." Am saying instead: this discussion has been very informative and inspiring, but what's the "so then ..." reasonable next step if you assume that grocery stores will still be part of your life?

Editing to add: if the answer is "Safeway's about as bad in most respects, but has a UFCW labor contract with wages and benefits and working conditions at least as good as WF," then at least I know how to make one step in the right direction.

Safeway is not claiming to be part of or leading a "different way". The Union contract at Safeway is only good if you are a A list or B list employee. New Hires get the shaft. We are in an economy paying the price of shunning small business, shunning the middle class, shunning truth, shunning doing what is right, not just what won't get you arrested.

Just to make a point, Jim Graham said yesterday that he wasn't going to resign over the recent ethics report. Oh yeah, lets have a powerful government official whose claim to fame is they cant prosecute me because the law I helped write is a piece of shit and has no teeth.

Again, just because something is accepted, doesn't make it acceptable. When are we going to wake up and change the world? When we are dead and dying from the excesses of unfettered capitalism?

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Safeway is not claiming to be part of or leading a "different way". ...

I get that. On the other hand, it feels to me like if that was my reason for choosing Safeway over Whole Foods, it would be more of an aesthetic/personal feeling/pique "don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining" sort of thing, rather than a good policy-based, "what's marginally better for the world"-based reason.

I do find myself getting more and more annoyed that WF is selling a pretense to virtue that isn't all real, and is treating me as part of a "lifestyle brand" that just became cult-like with the CEO's glibertarianism.

On the other hand, why choose a place that somewhat makes less of a pretense, if the reality is no better? If both places (Safeway and WF, in the example of my life) have too much processed junk, and sell too much milk/eggs/meat/lettuce/etc. that is bad for people, animals, waterways and land - why is it better (other than emotionally) for me to choose the one that at least isn't bullshitting me as much?

Answer might be:

(a) because of the principle of combatting bs, or

( b ) because WF's bs actually does interfere with the development of higher standards overall. If ( b ), that is perhaps worth a personal "boycott."

If (a), again I think it would just be to make myself feel super-virtuous ("I used to be so virtuous that I shopped at WF. Now I'm so virtuous that I don't.")

So for me the question does come down to: is ( b ) true? I am not looking to anyone here to answer the question for me, definitively, but I think it's the question, for those of us who are not ready to renounce grocery stores entirely.

Edit: let me refine my question ( b ) a little bit: Does WF's bs do enough to interfere with the development of higher standards overall, counterbalancing whatever good WF does to improve standards from where they're at, leaving WF with a net "how much are you helping/hurting the world" quotient that is worse than another chain's. This ethics/politics stuff is complicated. (Also, I hate it that the site turns a parenthetical b into a silly face.)

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I'm really enjoying this back-and-forth. My impression after reading Dean's list was *exactly* what sheldman's was (a very thought-provoking list, but what's the alternative?)

I wish I was dictator of the world. All our problems would go away (until someone shot me).

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I'm really enjoying this back-and-forth. My impression after reading Dean's list was *exactly* what sheldman's was (a very thought-provoking list, but what's the alternative?)

I wish I was dictator of the world. All our problems would go away (until someone shot me).

1) Stop eating processed foods.

2) Engage with CSA, farmers markets, and other direct to consumer outlets and venues for farmers.

3) Use social media, blogs, and other forms of communication to get the word out there that you don't have to choice between WF and Safeway.

We don't live in a food desert in the middle of nowhere. Even if you live in the bleakest, poorest parts of this area, with effort you can have access to those options too.

But it takes effort. It takes a willingness to arrange your budget so that you spend more money on food. It takes time to travel on the bus and Metro (Neither of which is cheap anymore) to get to the farmers market or the CSA pickup. It takes time to cook from scratch.

I'm not perfect about this stuff, far from it. But I've come along way since I started becoming aware a few years ago...

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Dean:

There aren't a lot of self proclaimed libertarian ceo's (of which I'm aware) (I can think of a large bank ceo) but not a lot of others. Did Mackey establish his own edicts about running the business that are very different from generally accepted norms?

How is pay as compared to local supermarket chains? I've read where the insurance coverage has its own quirks.

Just asking b/c libertarians spice up all their commentary with dire comments about threats from the government. Just wondering when one is in control of a very large firm if he/she installs very unique standards across the board that in some eyes could reflect the controls of an individual versus "norms"

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1) Stop eating processed foods.

2) Engage with CSA, farmers markets, and other direct to consumer outlets and venues for farmers.

3) Use social media, blogs, and other forms of communication to get the word out there that you don't have to choice between WF and Safeway.

We don't live in a food desert in the middle of nowhere. Even if you live in the bleakest, poorest parts of this area, with effort you can have access to those options too.

But it takes effort. It takes a willingness to arrange your budget so that you spend more money on food. It takes time to travel on the bus and Metro (Neither of which is cheap anymore) to get to the farmers market or the CSA pickup. It takes time to cook from scratch.

I'm not perfect about this stuff, far from it. But I've come along way since I started becoming aware a few years ago...

Lord help me, I don't mean to become the advocate for corporate foodism. And maybe I am prickly because of the "it takes effort" comment above.

Compared to practically everyone I know in real life, I spend more money on ingredients, cook more from whole fresh ingredients, buy more from farmers' markets, and eat "better" for my body and the earth. I mean, talking about I'm the kind of person who is about to spend the rest of the day, and all tomorrow morning, cooking vegetables. People come over to my house just to get kale soup, for pete's sake.

But I don't want to structure my life around not going to a grocery store. I spend most of my free (non-work, non-parenting) time on ingredient-acquisition and cooking already. Literally true statement. Not looking to make it more complex by forbidding myself from going to the WF or Safeway that are 10 minutes from my house. Not looking to forbid myself, or my partner or teenage child, from eating any "processed food" at home.

And the vast majority of people in the country care less about the stuff we're talking about than I do, and have less time to devote to it than I do. So even if you convince me, and everyone similar to me, to go CSA and renounce grocery stores, to be "perfect on this stuff," the world changes very little.

This is why I posit the question as I do: why ditch WF for another grocery store? Others' lives may be different, but in my life this is a legitimate way of asking "what step should I take next?"

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Can I ask a perhaps ignorant question: why would Costco be a good alternative to Whole Foods? I understand that there is a belief that their labor practices are better than WF (or many other retailers). I don't know anything about that, but I firmly believe that their customer service is awful. That's irrelevant except to say that if they are being treated well and paid well why the Hell is everyone so irrtated at my Costco?

Putting that quibble aside, labor practices alone seem a tough reason to abandon one grocery store for another; it is, after all, about the food right? So given that, is the food at Costco not from the biggest of the big ag? Am I out of the loop on this? I feel like just to supply all those insane portions of meat to all of those stores they can't use anything but big, scary "farms." They have organic ground beef, organic chickens, but isn't that about it?

Frankly, I would have thought Costco would be on the lowest rung on this board (if the farm or farmer's market is at the top). Tell me what I'm missing.

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Frankly, I would have thought Costco would be on the lowest rung on this board (if the farm or farmer's market is at the top). Tell me what I'm missing.

Let me emphasize that I know very little about this subject. But maybe it's because mass-produced American beef, despite its provenance, can taste pretty darned good.

I'll go ahead and dredge up this thing again (*). Nobody knew what the hell I was talking about when I wrote it, but I remain optimistic.

---

(*) I never mentioned it was the other person screaming.

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Can I ask a perhaps ignorant question: why would Costco be a good alternative to Whole Foods? I understand that there is a belief that their labor practices are better than WF (or many other retailers). I don't know anything about that, but I firmly believe that their customer service is awful. That's irrelevant except to say that if they are being treated well and paid well why the Hell is everyone so irrtated at my Costco?

Putting that quibble aside, labor practices alone seem a tough reason to abandon one grocery store for another; it is, after all, about the food right? So given that, is the food at Costco not from the biggest of the big ag? Am I out of the loop on this? I feel like just to supply all those insane portions of meat to all of those stores they can't use anything but big, scary "farms." They have organic ground beef, organic chickens, but isn't that about it?

Frankly, I would have thought Costco would be on the lowest rung on this board (if the farm or farmer's market is at the top). Tell me what I'm missing.

Costco is inexpensive? I certainly don't think They are selling much from local farms or non factory meat.

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Costco is inexpensive? I certainly don't think They are selling much from local farms or non factory meat.

Let me emphasize that I know very little about this subject. But maybe it's because mass-produced American beef, despite its provenance, can taste pretty darned good.

I'll go ahead and dredge up this thing again (*). Nobody knew what the hell I was talking about when I wrote it, but I remain optimistic.

---

(*) I never mentioned it was the other person screaming.

I was referring to upthread where Costco was mentioned as an alternative to WF presumably because they are less evil (or whatever the adjective is). Yes, that beef is good and their prices are great, but they seem to be as bad or worse than anyone in the bunch when put up against the ideal of farmer's markets and the like. In fact, it would seem that WF would be the better option of the two.

I'm not advocating at all, just asking. In my mind, no one is perfect. Least of all, us. There is a giant Sysco truck in the alley of Spider Kelly's twice a week. Not Eventide, but still...

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I shop at Costco. Membership is through work so I don't have to think about the cost of it. For the stuff I would normally buy at WF, which is produce out of season, Costco is an alternative. I shouldn't be eating asparagus year round, but it is a vegetable I like and those are few and far between. I'm the weirdo in the checkout line with 3 jars of herring, a bag of asparagus and a box of avocados. We go once every few months. I like that the corporate policy is always a 15% markup, no higher. I like that the CEO capped his own salary. I don't notice the employees are any more or less unhappier than other stores. Except for Trader Joe's. No employees are ever as happy as the employees at Trader Joe's.

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I recently bought a 2 pack of liter bottles of Spanish arbequiña extra virgin olive oil at Costco for what a 350 ml bottle would have cost at Whole Foods. I tend to buy most of my meat at the farmer's market, but when Costco occasionally has wild salmon for $8.99 a pound and it is at least $7-10 more a pound everywhere else, I grab it. I would willingly give up eating Costco beef, but the indulgence that a (corn-finished) ribeye steak represents about once a month is only possible because the price at Costco is in my budget, and it is something that my husband craves and it makes him happy. I find excellent bottles of wine there by careful shopping that are cheaper than anywhere else. Ditto Reggiano Parmesan, Petit Basque, mozzarella di bufala and other cheeses on occasion. Best prices on quality electronics for the occasional purchase of a t.v. Best prices for regular purchases like printer ink, paper towels. My flu shot cost $17 at Costco--$25 everywhere else. The employees are paid a living wage and decent benefits. Nobody is perfect, and go ahead and give "Mr. Conspicuous Conscious Capitalism" your business if you prefer. But there's a lot more to like about Costco as far as I am concerned.

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If you go to Walmart and look att heir organic election and then go to WHole Foods, weighted by sales, they are largely the same. While I am not a fan of Walmart's employee practices, the fact is they are selling a lot of organics, fresher and cheaper than Whole Foods. If your goal is to promote organics, then Walmartis a good choice. If you want to balance organics with reasonable practices on employment front, then I would say Costco is a good place to throw in the mix.

If you care is for our environment and for sustainability, then all three are a joke. If it matter weather the bear, the lion or the Tyrannosaurus Rex devours you, remember that you wind up chewed up and excreted in the end.

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Dean, are there any horror stories on how WF treats their employees (besides anti-union and charging someone with a higher BMI more for health insurance)?

I've never shopped at WF because its 'green' so I'm not overly concerned about the rest of what is outlined above, I figured things like that went on. There are a few staple items I buy at WF because they are cheaper/better quality than I can get elsewhere and its convenient.

Costco occasionally has wild salmon for $8.99 a pound and it is at least $7-10 more a pound everywhere else,

Harris Teeter has had Alaskan Wild Caught salmon on sale several times this winter for that price. Their seafood prices are a fraction of WF, and they do a good job marking country of origin and whether its wild/farmed/etc. So, if those labels are accurate, an informed consumer can make responsible choices.

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This has definitely been an eye-opening discussion for me, and i've learned a lot.

however, Sheldman's comment "don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining" reminded me of the primary reason i avoid whole foods, which is that the prices they charge for the produce they have upsets me. i remember when i first arrived in the area and everyone raved about the produce there. and then i went and was mightily underwhelmed. sure, most things look great (except for the organic citrus which sometimes has citrus scale insects on it which grosses me out) but they taste like nothing. I grew up in the midwest, going to huge farmers' markets every weekend in the summer and know what good produce can be. i was lucky. it makes me sad to see the people buying the stuff at WF, they clearly want good vegetables, and because it's so expensive people assume that's how good produce tastes. but it isn't. For me it's not just that they charge a super-premium price for produce that i wouldn't call premium, but that they take people's desire to have good, quality produce and subvert it. just imagine what would happen if all the money spent on produce at WF (at least in the summer) went to farmers' markets instead, especially markets that were more affordable than the freshfarms ones...

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This has definitely been an eye-opening discussion for me, and i've learned a lot.

however, Sheldman's comment "don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining" reminded me of the primary reason i avoid whole foods, which is that the prices they charge for the produce they have upsets me. i remember when i first arrived in the area and everyone raved about the produce there. and then i went and was mightily underwhelmed. sure, most things look great (except for the organic citrus which sometimes has citrus scale insects on it which grosses me out) but they taste like nothing. I grew up in the midwest, going to huge farmers' markets every weekend in the summer and know what good produce can be. i was lucky. it makes me sad to see the people buying the stuff at WF, they clearly want good vegetables, and because it's so expensive people assume that's how good produce tastes. but it isn't. For me it's not just that they charge a super-premium price for produce that i wouldn't call premium, but that they take people's desire to have good, quality produce and subvert it. just imagine what would happen if all the money spent on produce at WF (at least in the summer) went to farmers' markets instead, especially markets that were more affordable than the freshfarms ones...

I certainly don't see significantly better produce at any other supermarket in the area and depending on what you get the prices are not that much higher. While the produce at certain farmer's market vendors is much better the season is limited and you do pay a premium.

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Speaking of "conscious capitalism": Why is it that the Georgetown Safeway has "Wild Caught" US Shrimp, frozen with no preservatives at all, for under $10/lb, but my local Safeway has only the farmed crap from Thailand for more $$$? Is it that the poor denizens of G'town are in need of the better, less expensive goods? I discovered this yesterday, when I rented a Zipcar and went to G'Town to take advantage of their wine sale and also pick up stuff for a Mardi Gras meal. Their wine selections are far more extensive, not to mention more interesting, than what is on offer at the Columbia Road store. But, the shrimp really got my hackles up. What's up with that?

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Speaking of "conscious capitalism": Why is it that the Georgetown Safeway has "Wild Caught" US Shrimp, frozen with no preservatives at all, for under $10/lb, but my local Safeway has only the farmed crap from Thailand for more $$$? Is it that the poor denizens of G'town are in need of the better, less expensive goods? I discovered this yesterday, when I rented a Zipcar and went to G'Town to take advantage of their wine sale and also pick up stuff for a Mardi Gras meal. Their wine selections are far more extensive, not to mention more interesting, than what is on offer at the Columbia Road store. But, the shrimp really got my hackles up. What's up with that?

Don't blame you a bit for getting hackles up at this. Really only one of two answers to explain it. Clearly each chain's supply chain (people responsible for buying products for the stores whether at regional or national levels) believes it has products that best serve its different markets/neighborhoods. Some chains have much better and more sophisticated ways to assess this using data, surveys and lots and lots of technology. It may be the reality that the lower priced/better quality stuff doesn't sell as well as the thai product at your Safeway. Or, equally plausible that your store has guessed wrong despite whatever data they have. It might be worthwhile to fill out a card requesting wild shrimp (if Safeway offers that at its customer service desk?) but of course, no way to know how seriously they'd take it. FWIW, Whole Foods does seem reasonably responsive to such requests at its stores, posting store responses to customer requests on store bulletin boards. I'm not sure whether the local Safeways do that.

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I get my produce when I need to at HAR. Much cheaper with a better array of varieties. We went to the big Asian market next to Uncle Liu's recently {Great Wall?} and were blown away by the vast selection and the overall high quality.

As far as Whole Foods labor practices, I think they are decent in so far as a particular store has a humane store leader. Some stores have asshats as leaders and i feel for their team members. It when you move up the food chain to team leaders and store leaders... where ass kissing and who you are friends with counts far more than actual job performance. There are individual folk in the company who I find reprehensible, but I think that would be true of any large organization.

Interesting reading from NPR. Whole Foods "believes in" MSC which, surprise surprise, allows then to sell swordfish from poorly managed fisheries and Chilean Seabass. NOAA and other organizations call bullshit on many MSC certified fisheries. WSam CLub calls bullshit on Certain MSC certified fisheries. But Whole Foods "believes" in them instead of kick their asses to be a responsible outfit. MSC is total greenwashing right now and meaningless. They do certify may a good fishery, but many a bad one as well. Fraiser River Salmon being a prime example. Many fisheries that want to keep good management practices are moving away from MSC because they no longer believe in it {Alaskan fisheries are a prime example} Wonder if Whole Foods believes in the tooth fairy?

Executives at supermarket chains that sell MSC-labeled seafood have been watching with a mixture of confidence and concern as controversies like these unfold. Carrie Brownstein, who oversees Whole Foods' seafood quality standards, says she is confident in the MSC system of evaluating and certifying fisheries.

"I don't think there's a program out there in the world, no matter whether they're working on seafood, or they're working on makeup or shampoo, that doesn't have some people that are extremely happy with what they do and some people that aren't," she says. "We watch the process, and we're trusting this process."

But Bob Fields, a senior buyer for Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, says he and his colleagues have decided not to carry some products with the MSC label because environmental and other groups have convinced Wal-Mart they are fraught with potential problems. One of them is the so-called Chilean sea bass, or toothfish. Fields says Wal-Mart will "just back completely away," from MSC products on a case-by-case basis, if they're convinced it's too risky.

The bullshit that is MSC

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Good thread. My wife and I shop at WF and lately have been adding more of MOM's in the mix since its right down the street from us in Arlandria. Not really sure about policies and politics, what is right and wrong. If a company exhibits poor labor practices and skirts responsibility within the by-laws of farming practices (Not really organic, low grade meat companies) then its something to investigate further. Being a Vegetarian and now off dairy, my food options have really hit the low mark, but maybe for the good of not only my health but wallet. The DelRay Farmers market is middle of the road and quite frankly I find that its more of a place to be seen than to actually shop. I bet if it were in another location, lets say the parking lot of the Giant that time forgot, the market would see far less traffic. As for Costco, meh, the fact that its cash or AMEX is enough to make your head spin. Really AMEX?

Oops, as well we do a bit of shopping as well at Fort Meyer Commissary, which helps out as well.

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