Driving in to the office this morning, I caught an interview with Whole Foods co-CEO John Mackey. (I actually caught it twice, since I have to switch NPR stations midway through my commute. I listened the second time just to make sure I’d heard correctly.) For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Mackey, he caught a lot of heat a little while ago for likening the Affordable Care Act to socialism, which didn’t sit well with a lot of the well-heeled liberal-ish people who patronize his store. It didn’t really bother me all that much, since if I avoided buying things at places where people have views I don’t like, I would probably have to revert to homesteading.
Mr. Mackey hasn’t backed off his objection to the ACA. In fact, he’s doubled down. From the interview:
When Inskeep asks him if he still thinks the health law is a form of socialism, as he’s said before, Mackey responds:
“Technically speaking, it’s more like fascism. Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn’t own the means of production, but they do control it — and that’s what’s happening with our health care programs and these reforms.”
I don’t really want to focus on Mackey’s views on the ACA. I happen to think saying the ACA smacks of fascism is absurd, but YMMV.
I have some genuine admiration for some of what Mackey has tried to do with Whole Foods. One of the things that keeps me up at night is overfishing the oceans and the potential for catastrophic collapse of the oceanic food chain. (I’m speaking metaphorically, of course. In real life, the periodic yowls of my small children keep me up at night.) From what I can tell, Whole Foods is making an effort to stock only sustainably-raised or harvested seafood, and I think they deserve our admiration for that.
But a couple of other things got under my skin.
The first (which you’d have to listen to the audio in the linked article to get, as it’s not mentioned in the text) was Mackey’s description of his mission for Whole Foods to promote healthier eating in the country. Which, I’m sorry, but malarkey. Yes, his stores tout the organic and the natural and the holistic and the blah blah blah. However, to what degree any of these descriptors overlap with “healthier” is unclear at best. There is little evidence that eating organic fruits and vegetables renders a consumer in any way healthier than one who eats the conventionally-grown alternatives. One may have other reasons for buying organic produce (I do, to a certain extent), but it is specious to include health among them.
Furthermore, Mackey goes on and on about breaking America’s addiction to sugar, fat and salt. Well and good enough, though I happen to think all of those things are just dandy if people could learn how to enjoy them sanely. But when I run to the nearby Whole Foods to grab my lunch later today (and yes, I shop there consistently), I will walk past aisles loaded with potato chips and chocolate bars and soft drinks. Even if the potatoes are organic and the salt comes direct from the sea, even if the cacao is stone-ground and the produced cooperatively with indigenous communties (again, perfectly laudable in itself), even if the soda is sweetened with “cane juice” and colored with beet instead of some chemical die, it’s all still junk food, of which Whole Foods sells an ample supply! Don’t blow your trumpet about fighting against America’s addiction to sugar, salt and fat, when you peddle a significant amount of the high-end versions of same.
This last little bit just about made me drive off the road:
Still, he acknowledges how hard it can be to stick to a health-conscious diet. Restaurant meals, he says, rarely meet his personal dietary rules — not just no meat, but also no oil or refined flour. Luckily, Mackey jokes, there’s a Whole Foods to be found wherever he travels.
Mackey insists that his diet is more delicious than it was when he ate “unhealthily” before. Like my co-blogger, I am skeptical of such claims. But that’s not really my point right now.
To begin with, how the hell does this man cook? No animal fats? Fine. But no oil?!? I guess maybe every single thing he eats is raw, boiled, poached or steamed? (In which case, see above re: claims of deliciousness, Russell’s skepticism of.) Or does he subsist on the charred remnants of whatever dish he has hacked out of the dry pan? In any case, no thanks.
But, um… you need fat to live!! Fats and oils are part of a class of biological compounds called “lipids.” Almost every single part of your body needs them to exist and function. (Waxes also fall into this category. Maybe Mackey eats a heaping helping of beeswax every day?) A great many hormones are synthesized from lipids. Your brain comprises a great mass of lipids. You cannot absorb and metabolize fat-soluble vitamins (like A and D) without lipids. You need them to live.
A diet devoid of any fats or oils is not a healthy diet. Wanna do without the animal fats? Fair enough (though, since essentially every cuisine that has ever arisen from human civilization has included them, I think judicious inclusion in the diet can be perfectly healthy). But no oils, either? Ridiculous. Just simply ridiculous. Oils are good for you. You should eat them.
Mackey is welcome to his politics and to run his company however he sees fit. He’s welcome to expound upon the virtues of a healthy diet as he perceives it. But I would no more eat how he does than vote how I suspect he does, and as far as the former is concerned you shouldn’t either.