Whole Foods Protesters Miss the Salad Bar
Single Payer Action promised yesterday to picket Whole Foods stores in New York, Austin, and D.C., and today, picketing they are: Neatly, sweetly, and sweatily, making the lunch scene at 1440 P St. NW the most bucolic in the history of organic-food-store protests.
Holding up a piece of orange poster board three times as wide as she is that reads "Boycott Whole Foods," Carol Kramer is just waiting for Whole Foods CEO John Mackey to take it all back so that she can resume being a Whole Foods customer.
When asked if she misses the salad bar, Kramer makes a delighted face and then winces.
"I miss being in there," she says, nodding towards the door.
But single payer, or at least a public option, is more important to her than the salad bar, which she will not visit despite having driven all the way from Fredericksburg, Va.
Many of the picketers are former Whole Foods customers. And for a few of them, boycotting Mackey's stores has been a long time coming.
Adrienne Pine, a professor of anthropology at American University, admits that she's known about Mackey's "right-wing libertarianism" for a while now, but that his Wall Street Journal op-ed was "the straw that broke the camel's back," and the reason she switched from Whole Foods to co-ops and farmers' markets.
Pine came to the P St. location today to tell people that Whole Foods employees work under "very bad conditions" and that Mackey is a "notorious union buster" and a "key player in fighting the Employee Free Choice Act."
When pressed to name other bad conditions, Pine gives the same answer as United Food and Commercial Workers Executive Assistant to the President Mark Federici, whose crew is also handing out fliers: Mackey is bad for workers everywhere because he's anti-union and anti-health care.
Single Payer Action's Sam Husseini doesn't say much about unions, but he loves the idea of the U.S. modeling itself after and improving upon Canada's medical system.
"There are some problems [with Canada's system]," Husseini says, but "we're more technologically advanced than Canada and we can do it better."
Husseini can't name any improvements off the top of his head, and declines to comment on how an effective store boycott might affect low-level Whole Foods employees. Instead he refers Washington City Paper to Russell Mokhiber, the founder of Single Payer Action and the author of a viral essay which ends with this call for action: "Don't spend another penny at Whole Foods until John Mackey and his right wing friends are defeated. And single payer is enacted."
Mokhiber, dressed in all black, says that his efforts, among those of other Whole Foods protesters, have inspired "rightwingers" to start shopping at Whole Foods. He's fine with that.
"The CEO can say what he wants," Mokhiber says.
Protesters can boycott, and "we'll let the organic tortilla chips fall where they may," he adds with a grin, after which he admits that he just came up with that phrase this morning.
But it seems the guilt just isn't strong enough today. One young man, upon reading Russell's tract, exclaims, "Fuck yeah! Keep on with the health care stuff," and then makes a bee-line for the salad bar.
Update: We now have a video of interviews with the protesters.
Photo by Andrew Beaujon.