Sock Puppet Store

Washington        Every once in a while it is scary how something comes at you from every angle and that’s what Whole Foods was doing to me in Washington.  

    On one hand I was reading about Whole Food stores while flying into DC in Michael Pollan’s, Omnivore’s Dilemma, where he describes the store experience as being akin to walking in a nice bookstore and reading the labels as a “literary experience.”  He actually tracks down some of the industrial organic operations and finds something very unlike the description of Rosie, the free range chicken, and other fictions on the back of the boxes.  He is not unsympathetic and still prefers organic factory farming to regular factory farming, but does not pretend it is not factor farming.

    Of course in the business pages of almost any paper these days we are treated to the exploits of the whack, John Mackey that runs Whole Food and most recently his “sock puppet” episodes.  Using some aberration of his wife’s name (does that give her grounds for divorce?) he would post wild-eyed attacks on other companies and puff up his own.  Since part of what he was doing was messing with Wild Oats while he was trying to buy the operation, this was serious enough for the SEC to take a hard look.

    None of this surprised me.  I can remember reading the documents when his company first went public with Doug Young, Local 100’s attorney in Austin, who had relatives working there at the time, and how amazed we were at how virulently anti-union the company was for a little organic operation in Texas and a couple of other places like New Orleans.  From time to time we would have workers talk to us about organizing when they bought the store on Esplanade, but it never quite jelled.  The UFCW organized a store in Berkeley that was a war zone for a long time, and I’m not sure what ever happened there.  In Chicago I can remember going in with ACORN members and others to talk to people about living wages during an action some years back.  Anyway it’s a company we know, and I guess that’s the point.

    Talking to people in the UFCW building about organizing, it was interesting to hear the comparisons to their own personal experiences in Whole Food so carefully tracking those of Pollan.  The grocery store as a version of a family treat has made Whole Foods the anti-Wal-Mart, so much so that in polling the UFCW has done, it is shocking how much people love the brand and are willing to make excuses for the store even when they find out there are problems galore with products and everything else.  There is something phenomenal going on in the marketplace these days with the Whole Foods, the Starbucks, and other brands where people are willing to pay more if they are allowed to swallow the hype regardless of the reality of the product and people.  

    Thank goodness though people are finally talking about a real organizing program for Whole Foods workers.  If one could ever bring the hype in line with the reality, it could be a helluva store!

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