Whole Foods’ Moral Crisis
This post is part two of an expose on the food that we eat. Part one can be found here and discusses the unethical business practices as well as the sketchy beginnings of an agricultural company that is on its way to a monopoly of the American food market. Although this post can be understood as a standalone in addressing Whole Foods Market, a much better understanding of certain aspects of this post can be obtained by reading the first installment of the ‘series’.
Whole Foods Market was once considered the bastion of hope in agriculture, an avid supporter of organic production and a direct emphasis on good food for people to eat. Nearly all (if not all) of the food sold in Whole Foods is either Certified Organic (which must pass rigorous inspections to qualify), or “natural food”. In other words, Whole Foods was created as an alternative to the perception that if you were to eat, you must eat bio-engineered, you must eat manufactured, and you must eat industrialized. Most importantly of all, Whole Foods was the most powerful and influential opponent of Monsanto.
However, even before the enterprise came to our Foggy Bottom campus, the seeds of discontent with the supermarket’s practices had been sown. In January of this year, WFM released a confusingly worded press statement that, after its inconsistencies and rhetoric are ironed out, essentially concedes that the battle against GMO food has been lost—or at least that the cause will cease to be pioneered by this supermarket. Looking into the history of the food industry, it is no mystery why.
Due to their very nature, by design bioengineered crops began to infiltrate normal and even organic fields with their modified genetic structure. In the face of massive corporate gains, industry influence began to permeate and force small-stakes farmers to GMO or to bankruptcy, through intimidation and litigation.
The next step of this infiltration was the spread of roundup, Monsanto’s everything-killer chemical. Only ‘roundup-ready’ crops (those produced by the company) are able to survive the harsh chemicals. Although this has forced weeds into temporary remission, reports of ‘superweeds’ coming in from the southwest send red lights up for organic farms everywhere.
In the wake of this catastrophe, industrialized agriculture continued lobbying for government subsidies to make the American people foot the bill on unhealthy and possibly unethical food. Corn became the most subsidized crop, forcing many farmers to switch to the newly cheaper seeds in order to remain competitive.
All in all, the last 15 years showed a marked decline in organic farms and farms that declined the use of heavy pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer, or GMO seeds. This brings us to today in WFM’s history. It was no longer tremendously profitable to continue to oppose such powerful entities, and so the company chose to jump ship from what it perceived to be a dwindling and ultimately dying cause—but it was that cause that began the Whole Foods enterprise.
However, they were in dire straits. Whole Foods’ suppliers were contaminated with GMO and chemical-heavy products, organic farms were being pushed out of market
To get around this, WFM calls its products that are not certified organic “Natural Foods”. Although originally this designation was to mean that although the food was not certified organic, the methods and resources used in obtaining the foods were in good faith and followed the principle of minimizing unnatural alteration of the food in any way. Any longer, however, and the “natural food” is nothing more than a farce—perhaps even a scam.
The situation is Win-win-lose, and you can guess where the winners and losers fall. Under this designation, WFM doesn’t spend as much money ensuring healthy product, they retain the profit margin by marking up as it is understood that organic foods need to cost more because it takes more care to produce, but the consumer is ultimately the one who suffers
How do we avoid the propagation of this profit over people? What are the implications for us as the consumer of this food? Why does Whole Foods continue to deceive its customers in such a manner?