The Whole Truth: If Food Could Talk


This weekend my folks traveled to Bucknell in honor of Parent’s Weekend. Of course they came with bags and bags of my favorite treats from home. This included a box of my guilty pleasure; Whole Food’s organic flax seed and apricot crackers.

Whole foods has quite the impressive corporate governance page online.

There are several links to organizational documents, charters, policies, and processes that the company has revised in order to create value for shareholders and stakeholders. These policies have held solid support, and Whole Foods is considered as one of the most ethically sound companies today. The underpinnings of the company culture include ensuring quality standards, organic farming, seafood sustainability, standards for animal welfare, caring for communities, and owing a responsibility to all people involved. This responsibility includes producers in developing countries, shoppers, and anyone involved in the corporate structure. Bruce Watson, a writer for Daily Finance, highlights the good nature of the company, “And then there’s the way that the company treats its workers. Whole Foods’ employees are paid well above the market average, have full health coverage, and are reimbursed for their gym memberships. The company offers same-sex partner benefits, allows telecommuting for many of its workers, and has a strict nondiscrimination policy. In short, it’s everything that a good liberal could want in a supermarket.”

God takes form of hors d'oeuvre.
God takes form of hors d’oeuvre.

These commitments, however, have faced controversy in the past. One extremely important thing to consider are the personal values that organic shoppers hold dear to their hearts.  As Watson highlighted earlier, many Whole Foods consumers are of the earthy, liberal, hippy-esque crowd. This gives meaning to the alienation shoppers felt when CEO John Mackey advised readers of the Wall Street Journal of his strong opinion against Obama’s health care plans. This supplemented the fact that Mackey had previously come forward as very anti-union. Thus, the battle of libertarian vs. liberalism took a manager vs. stakeholder form.

Personally, I believe that there is a very apparent disconnect. Yes, the CEO may hold political opinions that differ greatly from those who shop at Whole Foods. However, as a company, Whole Foods does not lean left or right. Instead, it leans towards health consciousness and food safety. I think everyone is entitled to an opinion, and overall there is some overlap, I agree with Watson’s concluding line, “If Whole Foods’ customers are really liberal, then they will, perhaps, remember that true liberalism endorses the free flow of information, ideas, and perspectives. While they may not agree with Mackey’s statements, their eagerness to censor him has effectively transformed righteous anger into bald-faced hypocrisy and bad business into bad politics. Even if Mackey isn’t better than that, his customers certainly should be.”

Today, people hold many different identities. Just because someone shops at Whole Foods doesn’t mean that they are liberal. People have different tastes, interests, hobbies and political affiliations. I guess we are kind of like the multi-ingredient cracker that I have grown to love.

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5 thoughts on “The Whole Truth: If Food Could Talk”

  1. I think it’s very interesting that politics can play such a significant part in what it is like to work for a company. For example, I went on GlassDoor.com and typed in Whole Foods to see what would come up. As it turns out, much like what the article you found stated, it’s hard to work for them if your personal views don’t match. Do you think this is what it should be like to work for a company? Should they be open to a wider variety of people or stick with their niche employee base?

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    1. I think a company should be open to a wide variety of people since it allows for different perspectives, but various purposes and opinions undoubtedly causes conflict in the workplace. Employing people that identify with the values Whole Foods emphasizes as a company has been vital in its overall success. Whole Foods’ ability to find employees that mesh well together has allowed them to have a employee turnover rate of less than 10% and carve out a niche for itself in the grocer industry. As Mackey would say, they consciously create value for all stakeholders by hiring the best people they can find (aka the people best fit for Whole Foods purpose), and when team member are happy, they take care of customers and happy customers are repeat customers’ word of mouth references generate the best type of marketing. Is this equation Mackey describes possible if Whole Foods hires a variety of people with varying purposes, opinions and ideologies?

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  2. Nicole– interesting ties between politics and stakeholderism. I love your digression about Whole Foods not leaning left or right, just leaning towards health consciousness. Sometimes, it is really easy to say Whole Foods consumers are liberal, but too often we may associate consumer mindsets with the binary conjugations of politics. As far as Mackey goes, any press is good press as far as im concerned.

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  3. Kendall, I like how you uncovered the shortcoming of WholeFoods that employees who do not agree with WholeFoods’ political beliefs, then they do not work there. This being said, I’d be interested to hear the answer to the question- So What? Whole Foods has been effective in its ability to provide customers exactly what Whole Foods promises, and what its customers want (much like your crackers). I fully understand the notion of having diversity of thought in a workplace, but if Whole Foods is operating efficiently and effectively, why change the office milieu by adding dissenting opinions?

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  4. Kendall, I really enjoyed reading your post. Your personal connection to Whole Foods added a nice touch to the opening of your blog. The discrepancy between the views of Mackey and the general Whole Foods shopper that you described is interesting to consider. Do you think it’s appropriate for someone in a position such as Mackey’s to publicly state their political opinion? Wouldn’t he be better off keeping quiet regarding things like that? I agree that the company gives off no indication of leaning right or left, but rather towards health consciousness and ethical means of acquiring their food/product. The various comments on this post, however, have introduced some discrepancies in the manner by which Whole Foods hires and retains employees. Kate’s comment opened my eyes to some of the unethical conduct that may be taking place at Whole Foods. I was shocked to hear that employees can sometimes find it hard to work for them if their personal views aren’t in accordance with those of the Whole Foods management. On the other hand, Nicole’s comment illustrated Whole Food’s impressively low turnover rate. I would be interested to dig a little deeper into this situation myself, as Whole Foods is a company I like and I would be curious to see whether or not they act as ethically as I perceive them to be

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