So, John Mackey, Chief Executive Officer of Whole Foods Inc is in trouble. This is the John Mackey who has encouraged something of a cult of personality around his attempts to bring goodness back into the food system. This is also the same John Mackey who, under the pseudonym “Rahodeb”, posted a number of taunts trashing his competitor, Wild Oats, while simultaneously praising himself and his haircut. This is the same John Mackey who later offered to buy Wild Oats for near $600 million.
The media is having a bit of fun with this, as at NPR. But it doesn’t much matter. The main point of this story seems to have been lost. It highlights the dangers of ‘ethical consumerism’.
Mackey’s the man who wanted to take away the hassle of connecting with your local food system, and bring it inside his food empire, a man who offered to bring ethics and integrity into shopping for food. But asking supermarket owners to do this is like going to the slaughterhouse for animal welfare. Supermarkets are designed to scoop profit out of the food system. Mackey deflected attention away from this very central issue by encouraging, instead, a persona-driven appeal to consumers.
The idea that we can cede control to a supermarket over our interactions with society and the environment, which we do in one way or another whenever we eat, is an affront to us all. And it’s a good thing that we’ve one less charlatan in our way to realising that.