The Spectacle Blog

In Defense of Whole Foods

By on 9.7.12 | 4:57PM

Daniel Flynn isn't a fan of the Whole Foods grocery chain, the products it carries (organic food in particular) nor its high prices.

All of which is fair enough. Of course, he (nor anyone else) is under any obligation to patronize Whole Foods.

But I like Whole Foods and have no problem saying so. When I lived in the Fenway, I did most of my shopping at the Whole Foods near Symphony Hall. From time to time, I will pop in there if I'm in the neighborhood. That particular Whole Foods is on the ground floor of a parking lot so it has a circular shape and it makes for a pleasant ambience. The staff are friendly and I like their products.

I realize Whole Foods isn't everyone's cup of camomile tea. But let's remember that their founder and CEO John Mackey is a libertarian. Back in August 2009, Mackey became one of Obamacare's earliest critics with an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. Just last month, Mackey sat down for a short interview with Matt Welch from Reason and spoke of the moral case for capitalism.

Another reason I stick up for Whole Foods is because of what happened last year in Jamaica Plain, the Boston neighborhood where I currently reside. When Hi-Lo, a Latin grocery store, announced it would be closing its doors after nearly half a century in business, Whole Foods stepped into the breach.

Now normally people are happy when a grocery chain announces its opening a new store in their neighborhood. Under normal circumstances, people are happy when new jobs are being created. Well, Jamaica Plain isn't exactly normal (and I mean that with partial affection). A significant chunk of the People's Republic of Jamaica Plain didn't like that one bit. During a public meeting hosted by Whole Foods in June 2011, three people were arrested for disrupting the meeting. Could you imagine the hue and cry if three Tea Party members were arrested at a public meeting?

I think some people just don't like competition namely Whole Foods' competitors. I recall seeing WANTED posters of John Mackey in the establishment of at least one of their competitors. But the main argument against opening a Whole Foods was that it would drive up the cost of living especially where it concerned housing and result in displacing low income residents. Some community activists demanded that Whole Foods enter a "Community Benefits Agreement". This would have required Whole Foods to give 1% of its revenue to affordable housing, small businesses and youth organizations. In other words, it was a shakedown. Fortunately, Whole Foods ignored the community activists and opened their doors anyway last Halloween. Nearly a year later, the sky still stands above JP and Whole Foods is doing good business.

Again, please feel free not to shop at Whole Foods. But I think Whole Foods has something to offer for those of us who believe in free markets and choice.

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