Whole Foods: A Republican Experiment with Democratic Guinea Pigs

Let’s face it: if you are a Republican and walk into a Whole Foods, you’re in enemy territory. In fact, there is proof of this. Some people politically divide America into counties that have a Whole Foods and those that have a Cracker Barrel. (Link here.)

Whole Foods is Obama territory and the “moneyed burbs” as Patchwork Nation calls them – went heavily for Obama.

But there is a little secret that liberals across America don’t know about their little paradise of environmentally-conscious food: it is actually a laboratory of ideas they don’t agree with.

I’m serious! What if someone, after the Election of 2012 said, “Our ideas are better. Why aren’t they winning? Why can’t we find some way to prove that we’re right!?”

And what if I said, “I’ve got it! Let’s start a laboratory experiment with locations all over America. We will use liberal Democrats as subjects. And they will not only pay all of our costs, but there will be profit in it.”

But we already have Whole Foods.

Does anyone notice this sign on the way in? 😉

(read on)

What am I talking about?  Let’s look at some Republican ideas, OK?

1. The environment should not be managed by heavy-handed government regulations, but by consumers and private corporations.

2. Unions do more harm than good. Enlightened corporations and non-union workers can cooperate to create a successful workplace with great pay and benefits.

3. Government-led healthcare systems are costly and ineffective. Private-sector innovation around individuals can create the right health incentives.

4. Government-led nutrition programs do not work. Private sector ones have a better chance of working.

5. Free trade is better than unworkable government trade agreements loaded with social engineering.

6. American agriculture policy has become a mess of subsidies, rent-seeking, misguided environmentalism, and crony capitalism. It is time for the free market to return to our food supply.

7. American foreign aid to developing nations is often wasted or goes to corrupt governments. The private sector is better at helping.

8. The animal welfare movement has become extreme, seeking to provide human rights to animals. It’s time to restore animals to their rightful place in our food supply and as important players in the environment that supports human beings.

9. Energy efficiency should be led by corporations, not the government.

I think it is safe to say that none of my neighbors in Brookline would agree with any of that. (perhaps some sympathy with 6, but they couldn’t let go of the environmental stuff.)

Ah, but Whole Foods CEO John Mackey does. He is a libertarian philosopher-king CEO who sells expensive food to liberals in a grand experiment to prove his statist customers don’t understand how the world works. Few people have heard of him, but, if you remember, he made big headlines a couple of years ago when he wrote a WSJ op-ed talking about the Whole Foods-style health insurance alternative to the big health care overhaul under consideration. (link here) It shocked the left so badly that they went nuts and staged a lot of small protests that fizzled. (The Daily Kos founder scolded Mackey that his “progressive” customers won’t buy food at a place that opposes health care rights.)

But what the liberal activists didn’t know is that Mackey’s better-than-government health care system is just the tip of the iceberg.

Where to begin? Let’s put our Republican heads-up-display goggles on and walk around the store.

If you head to the produce section, you will notice that things are labeled with ANDI scores. This is a clever privately-designed nutrition system that has succeeded where many versions of the USDA food pyramid have failed. The government’s nutrition programs are corrupted by the influence of big food corporations (trust me, I once worked at USDA) and confused by the adding of vitamins to worthless food products. They just can’t figure out what to tell people about eating healthy. But the ANDI system is foolproof. It uses nutrient density to show that some foods are healthy and others are not. Adding nutrients doesn’t help the density at all and suddenly you’re out of the swamp the government has been stuck in for years. And the best thing? Whole Foods did this all by themselves and consumers are responding.

The produce section also has a wide variety of organic and local agriculture. But they also feature products that are not organic and are from far away. All options are treated equally. I get to decide what matters to me. Not the government.

Walking to the fresh fish section, you will see all their material about sustainable fishing, which matters as the world is on track to run out of fish. (I’m serious). But here is a private corporation selling a sustainable product that supports local fisherman with a privately-developed rating system and no government intervention. And they are tough! They recently cut off some kinds of fish from their stores as they could not be caught in a sustainable way. This angered some Massachusetts fisherman and Senator Brown made an ass of himself publicly criticizing Whole Foods. (He forgot that if we don’t leave this to private companies, the government will step in with awful results.)

As for the workplace, Whole Foods is ranked as one of the best places in America to work. They have great benefits and great morale. They pay a lot more than other grocery stores. The unions, which have dominated and compromised grocery store effectiveness for years, are not even considered by their tattooed employees. Why would they? Do they want the life of a worker at Giant or Safeway? No way. Whole Foods has proved that getting rid of unions in a heavily-unionized industry was a total win.

Look up on the wall to see how Whole Foods handles the environment and animal rights. You will see a constellation of private organizations dedicated to humanely-treated animals, not human-rights-carrying animals. It’s all based on us eating them and protecting the environment. Again, this is the private sector managing our agriculture well, not the government nightmare of subsidies and crony capitalism. It also favors a gradual, reasonable approach that rewards partial credit and treats farms differently. This is vastly superior to one-size-fits-all government policy that also cannot be adjusted in real time like private contracts.

Next, check out the many fair-trade products, such as chocolate from Madagascar. Check out the labels: You see entrepreneurs making all kinds of things that not only help the producers but often donate some portion of profits to charities or developing country communities. That’s right, no government trade agreements or handouts necessary! My money goes through private hands to people in those communities who will innovate to create better products that I can buy from them. Wonderful.

Walking into the baby and paper products aisle, I see many firms competing on a wide variety of environmental characteristics. I can choose whether I care more about chemicals, distance that they are shipped, sustainability, renewable energy, or landfill space. But it is up to me to decide where to put my money. The many possible government programs on these issues are not required. I don’t know what people will value more. I don’t have to care because of the free market.

Even the store operations are awesome. They didn’t need to be told by regulators not to use plastic bags (as liberal cities have banned – and even Brookline last week banned also) they gave them up years ago. They encourage re-usable bags and even give you a small discount for using them. They also make their buildings energy-efficient, re-cycle everything, create their own compost, and are moving their decreasing energy use to renewable sources when possible. And their customers happily pay more to cover the costs of all this free-market environmentalism! (They actually sell their premium coffee-injected compost. Yes, they have found a way to sell people rotting food! Isn’t the free market wonderful?)

I could give all kinds of other little examples, like all the effective private charities they support, but I think you probably get the point by now. Whole Foods, in an entirely different way than Wal-Mart – shows that capitalism works. But Whole Foods does an even better job than Wal-Mart of proving that our ideas are better and more profitable. The fact that liberals are paying for all this research is a wonderful thing!

However, they shouldn’t have all the fun and delicious food. Republicans should shop there also! After all, some of us already do – albeit covertly. But I hope that the next time you’re there, that you start to notice the kinds of things I have talked about. You’ll smile a funny smile and the liberals around you won’t know why. 🙂

[A concession for my Democratic friends. Yes, Republicans talk about helping the environment, working people, etc, but we mostly just complain about the government. We don’t actually do much to help the environment. And at least the liberals who shop at Whole Foods are actually solving the problem, unlike the Republicans who don’t. We need to work much harder at supporting private approaches like those offered at Whole Foods.]

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  • MerrimackMan

    But they are still very expensive.