An Interview with John Makey of Whole Foods

“He that leaveth nothing to chance will do few things ill, but he will do very few things.”
George Savile Halifax

I realize I’m a bit late to the game with this, but it is intentional, as I like to let things of this nature stew for a bit – my take being that jumping to conclusions is the hallmark of intellectual immaturity.  That being said, Here’s an hour-long interview with John Mackey of Whole Foods that I came across via the CrossFit site.  Brent (the wise-beyond-his-years proprietor of heathcare epistemocrat, and @epistemocrat) twittered about this recently as well.  Also included is a 5-minute short featuring the protestor’s (Progressive) side of things contrasted with a representative employee point of view – favorable, of course, to Whole Foods’ take.  Biased, yes – toward the Libertarian point-of-view – but interesting none the less.
I posted my thoughts about John Mackey’s infamous WSJ Op-Ed piece shortly after it appeared, causing, as it did, such uproar and indignation among Progressives – especially among those who considered Whole Foods to be a symbol of Progressivism.  Anyone who’s ever walked the aisles of a Whole Foods can feel, in a visceral way, the Progressive vibe of the enterprise.  My like of Whole Foods goes beyond my Libertarian embrace of social liberalism, though – I’ve always appreciated John Mackey’s Jeffersonian/Libertarian distrust/dislike of government.  It is precisely along these lines, however, that the happy Libertarian-Progressive, Whole Foods-inspired marriage (civil union?) breaks down.  And that’s really too bad. 

Every health care reform option has to be viewed through the prism of the current state of affairs.  Wiping the slate completely clean – as much as I would love to see happen – is not a realistic political option and, therefore, any “fix” must be seen as only a stepping stone toward a more favorable type of reform.  In other words, reform will be an on-going process, not a one-trick pony.

That being said – and, in light of the current socio-political-economic landscape – I believe that what John Mackey and Whole Foods has done with their health care benefit structure is to be commended.  He is spot-on in his assertion that we’re in the health care hole that we’re in now due largely in part to the populaces’ abject disregard for their own well-being.  I’ve said before that no health care reform option can be created that will not ultimately implode beneath the weight of a diseased citizenry.  The sad fact is that the vast majority place more value on economic standing than on their own health/well-being.  The only way to force a change in attitudes, then (or for a nation to survive economically), is to place a personal, economic consequence upon poor personal health decisions.

As a correlate to this debate, Skyler Tanner posted, via Facebook, a link to this recent Zomblog offering (Why America Hates Universal Health Care: The Real Reason).  A bit crass and crude at points, but the gist is spot-on, and Jeffersonian/Libertarian at its core – that one should not be held accountable for another’s faulty decision making.  To wit: as much as I appreciate John Mackey’s business savvy, my opinion is that his favorable view of vegetarianism is deeply flawed, and hence, I choose not to support, in economic terms, his lifestyle choice.  And though John by all estimations is an intelligent cookie, I’m sure he’d not choose to support my wanton carnivory (check the science a bit more closely, John 🙂   ).  And that’s all well and fine; to each his own.  I do feel an obligation, though, as a citizen of this fine country (and of the world) to help John out in catastrophic instances.  The tricky part, of course, is figuring out just where to draw that line.  Is type II diabetes an instance of a “catastrophic” occurrence?  Of course, we in the Paleo/Primal community  know that it is not – but you can see what a slippery slope this becomes – and one of the reasons why “reform” will be an on-going, step by baby-step issue.

In the meantime, John – please, please oh pretty please do not quit carrying the full fat version of Fage yogurt at Whole Foods – you’re my only resource in North Carolina, it seems!

In health,


14 responses to “An Interview with John Makey of Whole Foods

  1. I found Tanner’s Zomblog offering to be a bit of a hateful rant that missed the mark in several respects.

    How many selfish people who want universal health care are those dastardly individuals who, of their own free will, consciously choose the unhealthy and insane lifestyle choices that involve:
    1: Getting shot in an armed robbery while at the bank depositing money they earned from contributing to American economic supremacy through gainful employment on the free market.. Without health insurance
    2: Getting hurt in a car accident… Without health insurance
    3: Contracting cancer from living in an area with heightened levels of industrial pollutants (Louisiana, southeastern Texas) for which the polluters refuse to take responsibility… Without health insurance
    4: Sustaining gunshot and/or explosive shrapnel wounds from an IED in a horribly mismanaged war in a far-off foreign land… Without hea… Oh wait, there IS a socialized, publicly-supported system for health care in place there. It’s called Tricare, and it’s only AFTER they muster out that we start screwing them.
    5: Getting laid off from a job and forgetting to pay a COBRA premium for one month to your corporate, publicly-held insurance company, or being a little short (and there is no grace period) so that you lose everything with no right for it to be reinstated.
    6: Having health insurance from a publicly-held corporation and getting refused payment for care. Ask doctors how difficult it is to get money from insurance companies. Ask anyone how difficult it is to get an insurance company to pay for anything. Ask insurance company employees about the incentives provided for finding excuses for refusing care or coverage. These include pre-existing conditions such as “being a woman” or “having been raped at come point in your life”.
    7: Do we really need to go on?

    The author of the Zomblog piece devotes a single one-off throwaway, sophomorically-worded sentence to the mysterious phenomenon of SHIT JUST HAPPENING TO PEOPLE. The great thing about being a Libertarian sometimes (this certainly doesn’t apply to all) is that you just don’t have to think too deeply about things sometimes.

    Through my progressive-libertarian (I made up my own political ideology) eyes, the true worry about universal health care is not that the concept exists and could be implemented. The true worry, and truly frightening thing is that it exists and could be implemented by the same corporate-owned-and-paid-for government that both promotes a dietary base of obesity-causing grains, AND gives massive subsidies to the corporations who are responsible for growing them.

    In this case, we would then have twin revenue steams dedicated to fattening the wallets of the corporations who cause obesity, and the corporations who treat its symptoms.

    • I hear ya brother, valid points all. One thing for sure – establishing the personal responsibility/”fate” dividing line is tricky business. I for one would rather see the line drawn a bit more toward the progressive side – initially – in deference to the current, fouled-up state of affairs. Of course as time goes on, I’d prefer to see that line pushed more toward the Jeffersonian/Libertarian side. As you pointed out, though, the system is currently so bastardized by special interests (my own industry leads the way in this) that a decent fix is, in my opinion, not possible. This is a problem truly akin to putting an octopus to bed – there will always be at least a tentacle or two that come snaking from beneath the covers. Truly, the fight is just now in its infancy. There is a whole generational mind-set that must become extinct before true change can take hold.

      • Thanks for your comments, you hit the nail right on the head.

        The problem as I see it with the “personal responsibility” meme, is indeed that there are absolutely no fine lines with where responsibility begins and ends on a personal level, on the level of a single or small number of external agents, or the entire public or society at large.

        To take another example in order from the Zomblog piece, the picture that he pairs with the STD/AIDS rant portion of his post is an example of homosexual sex. Clearly I think the author is rationalizing closely held biases by utilizing “personal responsibility”, much like Reagan’s “Welfare Queens” lie.

        What of people who contract STDs or AIDS through normal sexual means. As examples:
        * AIDS acquisition through blood transfusion during an emergency, or accidental contact, as happens with medical personnel and patients by accident
        * HPV is responsible for many cases of cervical cancer. HPV is a virus which males can transmit VERY EASILY to females, and mails may be asymptomatic carriers their entire lives. Whose ‘fault’ is a transfer in the case

        For these diseases, will we have the same sorts of “death panels” about which the conservatives whine and crow, merely to dispense judgment on which caes of AIDS are virtuous enough to deserve treatment, and which, in their eyes, are the result of moral turpitude?

        The fact of the matter is that all life is welfare and rides on the backs of others’ labor. We do not pay $20 for a head of cabbage grown in the hellish California Valley precisely because we have devalued the lives of the migrant workers even as we absolutely depend on them for our own well being.

        Now should what I said be interpreted as my saying that everyone should be provided with everything they want or need, cradle to grave?

        No. It should merely be read as my saying this: “It’s just not so simple as that”.

        Again, thanks for your thoughts. I do truly believe that the root of the problem is caused by people not being self-interested, concerned, or curious enough to make decisions for their own true good. It’s a cultural problem because indeed, how could we possibly legislate people to make good decisions or be curious or to research things on their own?

        We can’t at all. That’s why just like the banking crisis, we will be rushing back and forth to treat fallout instead.

  2. Keith,

    Pardon the tangent, but is there a story behind the full-fat Fage not being carried at Whole Foods? I ask because in the last month it has disappeared from the shelves of both my sources – Trader Joe’s and the local natural grocery. They’re killing me! (No definitive word from either of them on what’s up with the recent change.)

    Thanks again for your blog,

    • I can happily report that it is carried here at my local Whole Foods in Austin, TX.

      I find that talking to store managers can often influence what products get stocked. Back when I was eating a lot of “healthy” “all natural” (albeit carb-filled corn-sourced) snacks, There was one in particular called “Chaos” that I absolutely loved, and the WF stopped stocking it. I asked the supply manager and the next week it was back on the shelves!

      • I just got back from Whole Foods: I bought all the Total FAGE in the store (8 of them). At the check out, the Whole Foods employee asked, “Did you leave any for anyone else?”


        Stimulating demand for the betterment of the health of the Sacramento community! Stock those shelves Whole Foods.

        Trader Joe’s dropped Total FAGE across the board; “It wasn’t selling,” they said. They brought in another product and only carry 0% & 2% madness now.

        I second Keith’s plea to John Mackey!

        To help with the discussion of the gray areas with health reform, here are a few paradoxes that I have reflected on:

        personal responsibility versus social responsibility
        autonomy versus compulsion
        emergency (acute) versus non-emergency (non-acute)
        prevention (proaction) versus treatment (reaction)
        agency (bottom-up) versus control (top-down)
        localization versus globalization
        individualization versus communitization
        searching versus acting

        If I had my way, I would get rid of employer-based health insurance entirely. Within the context of Keith’s essay, though, I hope that more and more corporations self-insure under our current employer-based system and tinker with their health benefit structures: this process, as seen at Whole Foods and at Safeway, engages social-experimenting with the financing of medical care so that we can learn more quickly what works, what doesn’t work, and what to try next.

        It’s like micro-statism.



      • If there’s one thing I can count on, it’s both Whole Foods and HEB carrying the Fage Total. I can also count on there being no other full fat greek yogurt on the shelf in case Fage total was out. Typical.

        • Central Market (at least on Lamar) has this stuff called “Greek Gods” Greek Yogurt. They should definitely rename it since it’s a pale shadow of Fage total!

          Whenever I shop at CM, they invariably have only 1-2 containers of the Fage Total left, but full stocks of the 2% and Fat-Free. I’m not sure whether to attribute this to CM shoppers being smarter than the average bear. Then again, *I* shop there!

          • I’ve wondered about that “Greek Gods” stuff; thanks for the cautionary heads-up. The only reason I hadn’t given it a shot was lack of finding a full-octane version.

    • The Raleigh, NC Whole Foods has always kept full-fat Fage in stock. The problem for me is that Raleigh is over an hour away from where I live in G-Vegas (Greenville, NC). Just today, though, I found the full-fat version gracing the refrigerator shelf of my local Fresh Market (way to go, manager Russell!). Merry early Christmas to me!

  3. Ryon’s comments are most welcome to provide more context to an issue that requires, some of us think, room for some compassion and fairness – the approach I see in some quarters from a “pure” point of view (all laws suck, etc) is accompanied by insurance executives laughing all the way to the bank!

  4. Anyone lamenting the potential or actual absence of full fat Fage should check their city for a Greek grocer. In LA, there’s a great little Greek restaurant/market that makes their own full-fat Greek yogurt. This stuff is richer, tastier, and far cheaper than Fage: $5.99 for a 32 ounce tub.

    Papa Cristos grocery, on the corner of Normandie and Pico.

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