In August, the CEO and co-founder of Whole Foods wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal to address healthcare reform. John Mackey got caught in a good deal of crossfire after expressing his opinion publicly, and both gained and lost many loyal shoppers at his stores.
I urge everyone to go and read the article (unedited article linked here) and let it sit for awhile.
I have a hard time determining my opinion on the entire piece HOWEVER, it's the end of the article that I'd really like to focus this review on, because I absolutely agree.
Mackey proposes that individuals should rely on themselves to take care of their health. He launches into a section about nurtrition that I took to mean that he wants American politicians to stop spending money on a massive healthcare overhaul and instead turn those billions of dollars into NUTRITION reform. He includes this helpful chart to dissect what Americans are doing to themselves:
Remember the saying, "You are what you eat"?
It's OBVIOUS that nutrition is the key to healthiness. Anyone who doesn't understand this is completely delusional. There are a thousand ways to look at it:
- The most basic: Why are 80% McDonalds patrons morbidly obese? Gee, I wonder.
- More complex: What is the surefire way to prevent colds? Vitamin C. Where does Vitamin C come from? If you answered "Emergen-C", I recommend returning a popular high school class: Biology 101. Vitamin C occurs naturally in FOOD. Oranges, lemons, even Broccoli and Spinach. The best way to get pure and abundant vitamin C is by eating the least-processed foods. Emergen-C and the like will give it to you too, but it has been processed and mixed with chemicals. Not as pure OR helpful whatsoever.
- Why do we have so many new diseases in an age of extreme scientific advancement? Think back in history- It was EXTREMELY rare for Pioneers and Native Americans (for example) to get diseases like cancers and heart disease. This is because there were no refined foods and chemicals! They grew their own food, got physical activity, and relied on natural remedies for their ailments - there are millions of herbs and roots that have medicinal properties. Anyone who has so much as tried a Riccola will know this.
- What are we eating, anyway? I am a compulsive label-checker - but unlike most, I don't read the nutrition facts, I read the ingredient list! What you find is generally horrifying. Take Pepperidge Farm's Whole Grain 100% Whole Wheat Bread, for example. Sounds healthy, right? Here is the ingredient list:
Whole Wheat Flour, Water, Modified Wheat Starch, Soy Fiber, Inulin, Sugar, Yeast, Contains 2 Percent or Less of: Wheat Gluten, Soybean Oil, Unsulphured Molasses, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Salt, Wheat Bran, Enzymes, Calcium Propionate (to Retard Spoilage), Monoglycerides, Datem (Dough Conditioner), Soy Lecithin and Nonfat Milk (Adds a Trivial Amount of Cholesterol).
I've bolded all the ingredients that puzzle me. You only need water, flour, salt, and yeast to make bread. What are all those words I don't even know how to pronounce?! Why is there MILK in my bread?! I know these are all trivial amounts - I just don't understand why they need to be there at all. Some are preservatives, but you don't even really need those either - natural breads will last up to a week and a half if you just simply put the loaf into the fridge. I bet if you left the Pepperidge Farm loaf out on your counter it would still be mold-free in about a month because of those preservatives and "conditioners". FYI, this is not normal.
Don't even get me started on the High Fructose corn syrup
. You'd be hard-pressed to find a bread in the grocery store that doesn't have HFCS in it, sadly.
I digress. After reading Mackey's post, a lot of upset "liberals" responded by saying "BUT THE POOR CAN NOT AFFORD TO BUY ORGANIC GLUTEN-FREE VEGAN CEREALS AND CAKES. LET OBAMA SAVE THEM WITH WEIRD PILLS VIA HEALTHCARE." (and the "conservatives" retorted, "WE DON'T CARE. LET THEM DIE SO WE CAN BULLDOZE THEIR HOUSES AND BUILD MALLS.") The truth is that it's not entirely the fault of Whole Foods et al - creating products with high-quality ingredients is NOT cheap. The reason low-quality ingredients (namely, corn) are used in EVERYTHING is because it and other crops (like wheat and rice) are subsidized by the US government to give farmers extra money for their crops. While this supports farmers (yay!), it also creates a price floor for the crops. Obviously, large companies will use these ingredients because everything else is so expensive in comparison. Hence the ingredients in our food.
Ultimately, everyone reading the op-ed somehow interpreted "better diets = shopping at Whole Foods for all!" You really don't even need to do that. You can still buy fruits and vegetables at a normal grocery store, and for a HECK of a lot cheaper than Whole Foods produce. Not to mention grains, wheat flour, and lean meats. With a little bit of determination, you could easily bake healthy, quality versions of your commonly-used products - bread, cereals, baked goods, etc. - and for a fairly low cost.
However, it IS 2009, and not everyone has the time or energy to be churning out homemade breads and snacks every week. Which is why Mackey's op-ed is so on-point: good food needs to be made more accessible to all to better the health of Americans. And we need help from the government to do such a massive undertaking!
Mackey's idea is obviously a plan better suited for prevention rather than immediacy - recreating the entire food industry will help our children, not today's diabetics and cancer patients. Still, this is a worthy investment for our country!
Remember the saying "everything in moderation", and don't forget how wonderful produce can be! And don't boycott Whole Foods just yet ;)