Defending President Obama in the Whole Foods

I have mixed feelings about Whole Foods. A co-founder and former CEO, John Mackey, put corporate weight behind opposition to health care reform and unions. On the other hand, there are worse places to work, and they do what they do very well. And my schedule strands me in a wireless desert in Cranston with Whole Foods the nearest oasis.

So I’m hunched at a table eating out of a biodegradable box when I realize I’m being cruised by a guy in an electric wheelchair. Our heads are at about the same level. He’s younger than me, well dressed, his speech is slurred and his eyes a little unfocused.

“Can I ask you something?” he says.

I really want to concentrate on my food, but okay.

He goes into a rambling joke about the president, and the vice president, that I figure out is intended to be a shot at Barack Obama’s right to hold the office.

Some people might have been impressed with the man’s condition, which I guess is MS. But I’m a nurse. So I cut the guy zero slack.

“I find that offensive,” I told him.

“Well, he wants to raise our taxes and give away all our money,” he said.

I looked him right in the eye and told him I knew that the only way he could get through the day is with the help of a lot of good people. He conceded that was true. “Don’t they deserve a living wage?” I asked.

He asked how much they should get. “What’s fair,” I said. He nodded, as if he was seeing the faces of the home health aides who must be a part of his daily life.

“I know how hard you have to work to get through the day,” I said.

“Me, and my wife,” he said.

He took it all in good humor, he was smiling as he left.

There’s a good expression for the human condition –‘temporarily abled’. I don’t know what misfortune robbed that man of his power, maybe some immune system misfire, or car accident. I do know that it could just as easily be me. We don’t know what the next moment might bring.

We can recognize our interdependence, and build a safety net that anyone of us might need some day. Or we can blame the poor and cry about taxes and pretend that the home health aid lacks ‘individual responsibility’ when her labor is so poorly paid that she has to use food stamps to feed her family.

A level playing field doesn’t just happen, anymore than a baseball field maintains itself. Building on solid ground, taxing fairly and investing in education, infrastructure, health care and other aspects of the public good is the American way. If we settle for a gated community as our model, subversion will come in through the servant’s entrance. No one gets through life without the help of other people.

Encouraging Wrongdoing

Following up on the vandalized clothing story previously posted, Whole Foods fired an employee who took a tuna sandwich that was destined for the trash with the intention of eating it.

If we stopped rewarding big business with convenient tax exemptions for waste and destruction we’d have less in the landfill and more in our food banks. If Whole Foods had a union there would be someone to advocate for that fifty-eight year old man who has lost his job and will not be able to collect unemployment.

We pay for the food, we pay for the tax breaks to big business, we pay for the landfill as a public service, and we pay for what’s left of the safety net for unemployed workers. Pretty sweet deal.

I’ll keep on shopping at my smaller, local stores. They may have managed not to have their humanity entirely absorbed by The Borg.

CALL FOR INFORMATION: Does anyone remember a news story, back in the pre-internet days, about a man who worked at a town dump, and was fired for taking a pair of children’s shoes from the trash pile, because they were new and he didn’t have enough money to buy a Christmas present for his grandchild? I remember that but can’t find it.

May all corporate running dogs get fleas.

Courtney Sullivan at Feministing also wrote about this and posted a link to the NYT on companies that donate their unsold clothing to homeless shelters. Link here. Shop there.

Bicycling Past ‘Whole Paycheck’

I love to eat and Whole Foods Mocha Java fuels my blogging, but I’m not putting my consumer dollar into a corporation whose founder opposes universal health care. From the LA Times…

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!”

Mackey suggests that private charity will cover the needs of America’s uninsured. Hey, look how well it’s worked so far.

I’m not knocking personal responsibility, or ethical use of our money. That’s why I’m hopping on my bike and wheeling over to East Side Marketplace. There’s also the farmer’s market, the Coffee Exchange, and I got a bag of New Harvest (roasted in Pawtucket) at Seven Stars.

I was hooked on convenience, but this news prompts me to do what I knew was right anyway–shop local, shop small and keep our Rhode Island businesses open so that we have alternatives to the big national chains.

And Mr. Mackey, personal responsibility and access to basic health care are not mutually exclusive. That is one of the health care reforms under discussion–to reward doctors for promoting health, not just for treating disease. Good food is a part of the plan. Why can’t we just get along?