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Whole Foods is in a whole lot of trouble

boycotthealth care.John MackeyWhole Foods

I am torn between disgust with and admiration for John Mackey, the ceo of Whole Foods Market. In an Op-Ed published in the Wall Street Journal, the organic food guru takes a swipe at universal health care as proposed by the Dems and gives his recommendations for reform. Here’s my favorite gem:

Rather than increase government spending and control, we need to address the root causes of poor health. This begins with the realization that every American adult is responsible for his or her own health.

Unfortunately many of our health-care problems are self-inflicted: two-thirds of Americans are now overweight and one-third are obese. Most of the diseases that kill us and account for about 70% of all health-care spending—heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and obesity—are mostly preventable through proper diet, exercise, not smoking, minimal alcohol consumption and other healthy lifestyle choices.

Translation: "We wouldn't be in this mess if you people would just shop at my stores!"

And how does Mackey suggest we pay for health care for those whiners without insurance who pretend they can't afford Whole Paycheck? This part is delicous:

Make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren't covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

That's right, pass the hat!

So where does my admiration come in? Well, if nothing else, he's a man of his convictions. He puts principles over profit. Because hordes of yoga mat-toting, wheatgrass drinking progressives -- you know, the ones who made him rich and keep Whole Foods afloat -- are livid.

Yesterday the company was besieged by enraged alfalfa eaters and had to set up a forum on its blog and a telephone hotline to handle the outpouring of anger. Boycott campaigns are popping up all over, including on facebook.

 Mackey’s piece begins with a quote about socialism and the problem with living off other people’s money; now it looks as if some of  his customers are going to help him out and take theirs elsewhere.

-- Lisa Richardson


Comments () | Archives (161)

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Ming Yan

John Mackey is right about the root of health problem in America. The choice of diet affected people's health in great deal just as most of the doctors would tell you. We have been loyal Whole Foods customers and will continue to be.

Zombie Slapper

I buy store brand foods because it's cheaper. I'll splurge and buy organic bananas if I can. I guess I don't deserve to be healthy... now please pass the hat, I've got a rash I need checked out and I no longer have health insurance.

Dorothy Drennen

This is one alfalfa-eating, wheatgrass-drinking, eco-friendly shopper who is now shopping elsewhere.

Thanks for this article - right on.


Great idea Mackey! Put your money where your mouth is and be the first one to make a 'tax-deductible donation' in the form of cutting prices at WF! It's stores like WF that make even the middle class contingent feel woefully inadequate and underfinanced. Create a healthful, affordable market that doesn't seek to keep the middle class rif-raf out and only cater to the elite, and maybe then we poor schlumps could actually afford to choose whole, organic food instead of Old el Paso taco kits and ground chuck.

john u

For all its supposed 'progressive', 'enlightened' aura, Whole Foods is an anti-union store trying to maximize its profits that really doesn't share the values of many of its Volvo driving, latte sipping customers. I would like to see some testimonials from Whole foods employees on just how great their health care system really is.

Marta Evry

Last year, Whole Foods opened up a wonderful superstore right down the street from me in Venice, CA. Since it opened, the store has consistently ranked as the highest volume store in their Southern Pacific region, with weekly sales of nearly a $1 million a week. And I can personally attest that a sizable chunk of those earnings came out of my pocket.... :-)

I will be boycotting my neighborhood Whole Foods and shopping at Trader Joe's until Mackey either retracts his position or we get real health care reform passed through Congress.

We have a chance to make a very powerful statement to Corporate America - and to our leaders in Washington - that the majority of Americans really do want real health care reform, and that we're ready to put our money where our mouth is. Today we'll be voting with our wallets. In 2010, we'll just be voting.

Here's a link to find a Trader Joe's in your neighborhood: http://www.traderjoes.com/locations.asp

Here's a link to find a farmer's market in your area: http://www.localharvest.org/

Trent Black

This is not about eating organic and having enough money to buy organic food. This is about buying giant candy bar's, and drinking big milk shakes, eating pizza at every meal, and gaining weight, which causes a whole bunch of other problems. Then, not taking any responsibility for it. That is what this is about. It is like paying for smoker's lung cancer.

Besides, the government say's those pesticides on your food, are not really there.

Leonard Nolt

"Pass the hat" to provide health care insurance for those who can't afford it as the CEO of Whole Foods seems to be suggesting? I have a better idea. Since many more Americans are threatened by the lack of affordable health care than are threatened by foreign nations, why not transfer the military budget to universal health care and "pass the hat" for the Pentagon. The US and the world would be a safer and healthier place.

Leonard Nolt

Responsibility > Begins with Individual

OK > So an Individual is born in this Country...

> They Do NOT Eat Healthy Foods > You do not have to buy at WF's

> They do Not Exercise ( which is FREE )

> Maybe Smoke

> Gain Weight > Leading to further Non-Activity.

> Poor Self Image >> Further poor LifeStyle Choices.

> Obesity leads to > Diabetes / High Blood pressure / Cardiac > Which leads to a further Slippery Slope of multiple recalcitrant Diseases > The Disease List Goes On & ON...

> These POOR LifeStyle Choices are "Seen" by off-spring > FURTHER > Perpetuating this Cycle..

Because this Individual has followed this POOR Health and LifeStyle Path ...

WE as a Society > are Expected to Provide contemporary HealthCare for the rest of their Life ?

Question > WHY ?


Mackey needs to quit smoking weed while writing stuff. It had got him in trouble in the past and it looks like its happened again.


The age of monolithic political worldviews is over. Mackey has a liberal's heart and a libertarian's brain. That is, he wants to help others but KNOWs that government solutions don't work and limit freedom.

If people can't accept that...if they find it reprehensible that there are other ideas than their own, then they're beyond helping.


@ ming yan--I 100% agree.
Maybe Mackey's occupation makes him sound biased, and perhaps does slightly discredit his point, but what he's saying overall is that it's our food system that needs an overhaul, (and in my opinion) not just our health care system.
However, as 'zombie slapper' said, it's impossible for everyone to be able to afford Whole Foods' prices--so what are we supposed to do?

I personally think that the US Gov't needs to help organic agriculture much more, in the form of subsidies and other types of financial support. How else will there be an even playing field between Mickey D's and Whole Foods? Financially, there is no comparison, especially during this recession.

enough of my rambling. Cheers!

Raul Recarey

I applaud Mackey for speaking the politically incorrect TRUTH! Go to the CDC.gov wensite and look up: "the burden of chronic diseases". It clearly states that the MAJORITY (yes, you read right - majority) of our health care costs are in fact preventable. That's what Mackey is talking about and not much is heard about it. People need to start being ACCOUNTABLE for their actions, not just demanding everyone else pay for it.


I have been shopping at Whole Foods, since there was only one, in Austin, Texas. I now live in Chicago. Whole Foods use to be about helping local farmers, and obtaining clean organic food. It has always been very expensive. I guess I was just fooled by the hippy like sales people. It was an act. They probably came to work in Brooks Brothers and then changed into costume. It is Trader Joes for me now!!!

This guy is a piece of work, and I now see him for what he is. A liar (he pretended to be someone else and wrote blogs about himself ) for company profit. John Mackey is a self-involved blow hard. How does he account for our high infant mortality rate. The poor suffering insurance companies profits rising from 2 billion to 12.6 billion in the last 8 years.

I was a proud Texan, not anymore. I am ashamed and embarrassed by them.


I'm sure you would expect John Mackey to properly quote you in the hope of a truthful and productive dialog. The quote actually read:

"The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out
of other people's money."
—Margaret Thatcher

Considering both Social Security and Medicare are running out of money, I think it is an appropriate quote and one that should be quoted properly and in context.

It also seems your ears are tuned to what you want to hear as opposed to what was said. Or, perhaps I'm not aware of some Mr. Mackey's activities:
- Didn't realize he sold exercise at Whole Foods
- Not aware of anyway he is profiting or not profiting from smoking policies
- Not aware of any unique profit center tied to a Whole Foods Brewery
However, you single out diet as one of many things he suggests, and you make the leap to say he is only talking about shopping in his stores.

Mr. Mackey made no less than 8 recommendations for improvement. Are you saying there wasn't a single gem in the 8, or is a productive dialog not the agenda of your article?

Dennis Knicely

What John Mackey and Whole Foods Market said in their press release makes great sense, and we each should be allowed to personal opinions. Let's face it - something needs to be done to reform health care, yet where is the Obama that made so many promises he cannot keep? Where are Obama's administrators that are standing up, supporting organic standards, while keeping us safe from genetic modification and dangerous poisons that are ruining our precious soil and lives?

We need more people like Mackey that will support true change that can save our country $billions by giving people a true choice of health care practitioner, especially allowing holistic and natural remedies funding without the mandate of AMA approved MDs who mostly prescribe poison drugs along with too many unnecessary surgeries with the deadly chemotherapy and radiation. We have better solutions that DO work if they were allowed to be used and funded. http://www.HealingNews.com


Livid doesn't begin to describe it. I used to go there, easily, 3-4 times a week. Never again.


never miss a good opportunity to teach a libertarian about the wonders of the free market!


Mr. Mackey - I've never been in any of your stores, but that I think you are on to something and will be a shopper in one of your stores soon.


I think Mackey's proposal can be succinctly summed up as: "Let them eat my overpriced arugula." Marie Antoinette similarly failed to impress with that line of argument.

sick in america

i think mr. mackey's editorial piece is irresponsible.
i am not overweight, i eat healthy food, and watch my diet, yet i have been diagnosed with both hyperthyroidism and psoriasis. i cannot get health insurance due to these pre-existing conditions. will mr. mackey happily donate some of his millions to pay for my medical bills?


John Mackey is absolutely right. Why trash him? I really believe this article is trying to make something out of nothing. Perhaps the writer is benefiting from the drug companies, or perhaps he/she has not done any research on the aspect of preventative health.

Scott Davis

My favorite Mackey quote:

"If you have a pre-existing condition and you don't have insurance, insurance is not for you. Insurance is about risk. A pre-existing condition isn't a risk, it's a liability. What you really need is a loan. "

I think I'll live not shopping at Whole Foods. I'm not boycotting, because that implies something temporary. I'll never set foot in one of their stores again.


This is ignorant, mackey is completely right. Being healthy doesnt mean eating all organic food, it means you should quit relying on mcdonalds to feed you and your fat kids before you stroke out or get some heart condition that the tax payers have to pay for. i dont know how you can argue with his statement, all hes saying is why should everyone else care about(and have to pay for) your health when you clearly dont care.

Ron Calvo



Well, he's right, isn't he? I don't understand why people are so mad. Most people have this idea that "preventative medicine" is going to their doctor to get screened for disease. That will ONLY find disease that you already have.

I suggest actually PREVENTING the disease, by eating well, exercising often, don't ever smoke, keep your alcohol intake to a minimum, and avoid a few high-risk activities like IV drug use.


i'm a healthy guy. i eat plenty of vegetables, i rarely drink alcohol and i don't eat meat. i exercise on a regular basis and i take vitamins and other nutritional supplements.
but if i'm walking down the street (it's healthy to walk) and some billionare CEO runs me over on his SUV, my bones will still break. i will still have to go to the emergency room and i will still get billed thousands --even if nothing broke and i'm sent home that day.
so if i don't have health insurance, what does Mackey recommend? wait until he decides to put some money in for me in the hat he proposes passing around? wouldn't it just be more efficient to tax billionares like him, just to make sure that hat is full?

anyway, i will never shop at whole food again.


john u: I've talked to a Whole Foods employee, one that supported themselves extremely well absent of any job skills. Imagine that, exactly what you big government types want: forced value on invaluable work.

It's funny to hear all of you criticize the prices of Whole Foods, 'cause guess what it's paying for: their employees inflated wages and healthcare.

Oh wait, but that's not the same because John Mackey isn't forced, by threat of violence, to do it. Clearly, John Mackey shares your values of an empowered lower class, but isn't deluded enough to think he has the right to force his values on the ENTIRE public.

I didn't shop frequently at Whole Foods before -- I will now.


I agree with John Mackey's comments about poor personal health choices in America. I think we should tackle the deepest roots of health care problems in America today... You ready for this... Most people in America don't know how to live a healthy lifestyle anymore and it's not their fault! I'm talking about our rights to live a healthy lifestyle. What's not right is for companies to sell an alternative product that isn't healthy for us, have it easier to find and less expensive than that of what's really healthy. Over generations of growing greed and ignorance we've allowed companies to mass produce, tobacco, fast foods, sodas, sweeteners. Basically Americans today consume more indulgence foods than nutritionally rich foods, because that's what we're demanding. Everyday that you buy something, you're making a choice, a choice about what you’re supporting. I support living a healthy lifestyle so I choose to keep buying at local farms and local markets. You should think about who you're supporting next time you’re out shopping.


I didn't used to shop at Whole Foods; but I do now.


Very cute!
We pay through the nose for organic and "natural" food. I'm middle class (for the moment) and I can not always afford those choices. As for people struggling - for get it, they can't even think about it and often end up buying some of their food in dollar stores with products that come from god knows what country with god knows what ingredients.
Mackey is a typical arrogant sob CEO.
He lost my occasional business.


His editorial was a set of already debunked, discredited talking points.

I love the comments of people who "loved" his article and say they are going to shop there now. I'd like to see them pay 20% more for things that are sustainable and organic. They probably have no idea what those things even mean and will run screaming from the store once they see the stickers.


He is absolutely right. We are all responsible for our own health. Skip the junk food and eat balanced meals with your family, not on the run. You can buy good healthy food at Walmart as well and Whole Foods. It's the choices a consumer makes, not the fault of the fast food manufacturers.

whole foods, not Whole Foods

It amazes me how many commenters make a false dichotomy between wellness and illness owing everything to lifestyle. I eat well and exercise and guess what? I still have lupus. My friend's child was riding her bike when she began to feel unwell. She had septicemia and bacterial meningitis leading to 3 weeks in the hospital.

I could go on, but I wish people would get off their high horses when blaming people for health misfortunes. Some of you might be surprised to learn there is a middle ground between macrobiotics and a diet of milkshakes, pizza, and giant-size candy bars.


I agree the our health problems are self inflicted in some large part. Some of this also belongs to personal responsibility and accepting that I and no body else am responsible for stuffing that Big Mac in my face.

But the health care question should not be to provide care for everyone, it's to early for that. This is getting the cart before the horse. In all of the debate there is no talk at all about why the costs are so high! This needs to be completely understood FIRST, only when we understand how the costs are spread and then address those individual costs at a root level will we begin to make any headway in being able to pay for it.

What costs go into running a Doctors business? Labor (with associated costs), Benefits, Capital, Taxes, Insurance........ All of these add to the total, what is the contribution percentage each plays in the total. If a doctor has 5 nurses sitting in the backroom doing nothing but getting paid for it, if the building they are in is costing 5 times more than it should... Question everything and don't accept simple answers.

If we budget 1.2 trillion to pay for health care you can rest assured it will rise. When you go to Walmart and pay $5.00 for an item you take it home and are happy with it. Next year it costs $5.12 AND near as you can tell the version that just costed you 12 cents more looks exactly like the other you'll complain. But in medicine seems to get a free pass.

Again 1) Understand the costs. 2) Agree as to what were willing to pay for. 3) mitigate the inefficiency that were unwilling to pay for. Come to a consensus as to how to proceed from there.


Look folks, the guy is right. It's not eating whole foods, organic crap, etc. that will help with obesity, but just plain old healthy eating. The local neighborhood grocery store has healthy foods as well, you don't have to put the blame on this guy for you not being healthy and needing healthcare that you think you can't afford. Go to the freakin' regular grocery store, buy some real vegetables and meats and stop gorging on processed crap. But you know what the most beautiful part of this whole thing is? Because we live in a free market society, you can take your money elsewhere if you want! So do it, but don't huff and puff because this guy has a strong opinion (like everyone else here, obviously) and doesn't compromise that opinion because someone else feels differently. By the way, I'm willing to bet his company gives a lot more money to charities than every single person here combined. Why? Because he worked hard and moved up in this world instead of complaining that the rich are evil. Now because he has worked hard he can do what he wants with his money, including give a whole lot away to those that need it. Not volvo-driving, alfalfa-eating people that get mad when someone actually has an opposing view and is willing to stand up for it.

Layne Buck

Bravo to Mackey for being brave enough to question the Obama Administration and its attempt at adding more federal government control over our lives.


Best argument yet for shopping at Trader Joe's

Rick in MB

I fail to see how eating high-priced organics from Whole Foods (or anywhere else) protects people from accidental injury or diseases like cancer, arthritis or any other condition where food is just one possible causal influence. Should these people continue to die or go bankrupt because Mackey has a narrow view of the health issues that need to be covered in a practical and compassionate way?

Mackey has built his empire on the backs of mostly progressive shoppers, many of whom feel deceived and outraged that he would stand in the way of real healthcare reform, using the bully pulpit of the Wall Street Journal, a proven voice of the corporate conservative viewpoint. His views are simply the right-wing talking points recycled and presented as new and enlightened.

May his empire die a rapid death from customer abandonment.

Size Matters

There is a Whole Foods right down the street from me and I have never shopped there (not much for Algea and Wheat Grass) - but if this is where the CEO stands and is willing to speak out - I am going to go shop there and see what I can find. Finally a business man that remembers where and how this country was built - smart business people, compassionate churches, and individuals that need to be accountable.

He must have struck a nerve here, sounds like a bunch of fat people that want a free ride. I work hard for my money and my health why should I have have to fork over 1/3 of what I make for the fatty that would rather sit on the couch eating donuts.

I'll tell you what - if said fatty gets into a rehab program I'll pay for that - he gets 90 days to get his ass slimmed down and start exercising - that I'll pay for - after that he is on his own. In fact, if fatty wants to start eating healthy, I'll take him to Whole Foods and buy him some food.

Stop forcing me to pay to insure those people that won't take care of themselves.

Is It Her?

That "many of our health-care problems are self-inflicted" is a fact. It's not a popular stance, but it's the truth. That said, Mackey's statements oversimplify this truth, which further alienates shoppers who already have preconceived notions about Whole Paycheck.

If Americans would stop eating fast-food, we would be healthier. However, a single parent who is rushing to get children home from school, fed and set up to do homework before running to a second (or third) job is likely going to opt for cheap, fast food as part of that equation. It doesn't mean they don't care about their family's well-being. It doesn't meant that they embrace questionable "lifestyle choices." It just is not that cut and dry.

Everyone out here has reasons why we rationalize the various sacrifices we make. And I dare say that for most of us, it comes down to what we can afford. WFM (and Mackey) knows that, because the company is playing catch up right now with other retailers who have done a better job of creating and maintaining a value image.

Very few people realize that for several years, Mackey's annual salary has been $1.00, and that he opted to make that change himself. He should talk about that. He should talk, every chance he gets, about The Whole Planet Foundation and the micro-loans that WFM is giving to some of the poorest women all over the world. He should talk about what WFM is doing better than any other retailer in the world, rather than rambling on about his own personal opinions in vain attempts to remain relevant in his own mind.

Here are more simple truths that may help Mackey understand why people are upset with him...again: Mackey fancies himself a provocateur. He mouths off without regard for the ramifications that his shareholders will face. He seems oblivious to the fact that he comes off as the child of privilege that he is, rather than the paradigm-shifting visionary that he sees in his mirror.

Knowing all the wonderful things that WFM does for communities here and abroad and knowing how dedicated so many of the WFM Team Members are, I am sick and tired of Mackey letting his random thoughts flow regardless of the context into which they should fit, as if he is modern-day Buddha whose every word is golden.

And, judging by the posts here and the reactions in local stores, I am not alone.


John Mackey a man of principles? I think he's doing this as yet another ploy to boost his sales. Last time it worked http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_6352612. This time it's backfiring on him. I'm boycotting.


Give me a break! What an insult to us "thinking" humans our here. It's a major copout to say Translation: "We wouldn't be in this mess if you people would just shop at my stores!" You must be smoking some of that grass you love so much. He's saying we are all responsible for our lifestyle choices. If you want to drink yourself out of your liver, it's not my responsibility to get you another one! I will be telling all my friends and family to shop at Whole Foods from now on!

Benjamin Franklin

Mackey's comments boil down to 'it's sick people's fault that they're sick, so let them rot in the gutter.' Not always, and maybe not even usually. Thanks for nothing, Daddy Warbucks, I'll be shopping elsewhere than 'Whole Paycheck.' What a greedhead. GOP = Greedy Old Pukes


I've seen a lot of posts from uppity, rich, brain dead liberals saying they will never go there again. Thanks, without your Prius there, I'll be able to double park my SUV.

The fact that any liberal would bash this guy over his column just proves how immune to facts, reason and logic most liberals really are.

Blue Cross rejected my health insurance application

I still remember the day I got diagnosed with a bone tumor.

For years before the diagnosis, I ate well and exercised regularly. I did not smoke, drink, do drugs or engage in premarital sex. I did everything right to protect my health, but I still got cancer. I wondered why I bothered trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle at all.

I've been cancer-free for over a decade. However, now I can't buy private health insurance, because I have a "pre-existing condition." Blue Cross will not accept my application until 10 years have passed since my last cancer check-up.

I want Congress to pass a public option, so I can buy health insurance from it. I'll gladly pay monthly premiums to a public option that won't discriminate against me for my cancer history.

If Whole Foods must take a stand against reform that can help me, then I must abstain from shopping at Whole Foods.

Teresa Muzzuco

I hope the reader's enraged by Mackey's article took the time to read the whole article and not just the sound bites shown here. Mackey has many good points and should be commended for offering solutions instead of just complaining. This yoga mat toter hopes my follow Americans will keep an open mind and focus their energy on finding the best solution to our health care problem.

sandrita m

Have you noticed that Whole Foods only hires the young and fit? Nobody with pre-existing health conditions need apply. I was so sorry when Whole Foods took over Wild Oats. Whole Foods needs some competition. Maybe, then, customers would get better prices and variety.


As usual, comments of wisdom are misinterpreted and twisted by the hordes of idiots that infiltrate the consumer base.

He said most health problems can be prevented or delayed, not ALL of them which can be quoted from hundreds of studies. If you have Psoriasis or Leukemia or any of dozens of hereditary conditions then a healthy diet and exercise wont prevent them BUT, having a better overall health will aid your body in doing what it does naturally, fighting disease and illness. Just like smoking doesnt cause cancer or disease, it just taxes your system so it has to work harder to fight the ever present cancerous cells that we all have (yes, ALL) eventually the body cannot overcome the cancers and they go unchecked and uncontrolled. Healthy living allows your body to combat them naturally and gives you the best odds.

As for passing the hat, well, isnt that tax? the only difference is we volunteer funds, not have them taken against our will. Here's a thought, why not take the billions of guilt dollars we spend on children in other countries to make ourselves feel better and spend them on our own children and health? We spend Billions helping other countries build infrastructure yet we have potholed roads, crumbling bridges and waste management wars.


Eat right, exercise, quit smoking, throttle-back on the booze, clean up your moldy personal environments (home, school and office) and you'll be amazed at the ability you have to bounce back.
Fresh grees, organic or not, can do wonders. We've known that since we were kids, right?
It won't cure everything, but it will improve the nation's overall health to the point the need for "reform" (putting everyone on sick call) will fade away as an issue.

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