Peter and Jim want YOU to eat ethically.
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 12

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 12:
Eating Out and In, Ethically

Hello Peter.  Hello Jim.  Let's dig in.  (See what I did there?)  I'd like to talk to you today about the twelfth chapter of The Ethics of What We Eat, which is entitled Eating Out and In, Ethically.

In this chapter, y'all discuss three places at which to by food: a "sustainable" restaurant in Philadelphia called The White Dog, the large Tex-Mex restaurant chain Chipotle, and the supermarket chain Whole Foods.

The White Dog seems like an interesting place to eat - it now has at least three locations, by the way.  I appreciate that it "serves its employees by paying all of them a living wage."  And I understand owner Judy Wicks' feeling that an all-veg restaurant is "preaching to the choir."  So frequently, that is what happens with niche restaurants.  That doesn't make it any less of a cop-out, however.  If she really wants it to be a "vehicle for social justice," she could have a successful all-vegan restaurant that draws in every type of eater by successfully marketing her food to a broad audience.  She could also make it less expensive.  But it sure doesn't look like she's going to try.  Oh well.

Next up, we get to talk about Chipotle.  What fun!  There's no way we can start that conversation with anything but this short film they released a couple years back, a compelling specious hot mess of Fiona Apple and Willy Wonka with Wizard of Oz undertones.

I know many people who continue to boycott Chiptole because of their former association with McDonalds, even though that relationship was severed many years ago.  Others boycott it just for its size, and the fact that they do make a lot of money selling meat.  Personally, while I don't seek them out, I do appreciate that in unlikely spaces (suburban malls like Elmwood, or while taking a road trip) I can find fulfilling vegan food.  As for their policies on the animal flesh they serve, well, they seem spotty.

Chipotle is unusually dedicated to sourcing its pork from the best possible suppliers.  Its website, however, does little boasting about where its other meats come from, and doesn't address its dairy products at all really.  My best guess is that the hyperfocus on pigs stems from some personal sentimentality, justified with arguments that "they're so smart."  I appreciate their transparency when it comes to GMOs, realizing that they are probably hedging their bets on that front.

Sugary cereals at Whole Foods
And now we arrive at Whole Foods.  The first time I ever heard of Whole Foods was from my father.  He excitedly announced to the family that this grocery store sold only local, organic foods!  He was adamant, even when I came back to him with the truth.  He may still believe this is the case.  I am still waiting for such a store.

I have a love-hate relationship with this store.  My husband and I shop there, usually to the tune of about $200 per week.  I can roll you out a laundry lists of why it's "too hard" for me to get to the farmers markets for my produce, or to have things delivered by Hollygrove, or to shop at one of the bigger less expensive chains.  But I'll just cut through it all and admit that it's for convenience.  The newest Whole Foods in New Orleans is less than a mile from my house, and is part of a community development that I think may actually be doing some valuable work.  I am not totally comfortable with them as a corporation, but I'm not totally comfortable with any grocery store that I have access to, and at the end of the day I need to buy food somewhere.

Per your book, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey is vegan but doesn't think that means his store should be.  "Whole Foods exists to meet the needs and desires of its customers, and not to pursue the personal philosophies of the founder/CEO, whatever those personal philosophies might be."  The revelation that Mackey is a libertarian illuminates for me his previously somewhat baffling dedication to capitalism in food.

Three of my five house rabbits.
I was fascinated by your discussion of the influence that Lauren Ornelas, then of Viva! and now of the Food Empowerment Project, had on Mackey.  It's impressive that despite initially shooting her down, he not only investigated her claims of animal suffering in factory farms further, but then admitted he was wrong, told her so, and made substantial changes as a result.

Those changes - going vegan himself, and ensuring that his store does not sell meat from factory farms - are a matter of some consternation.  The great "welfarism vs. abolitionism" debate in veganism centers on one point: whether it is ever OK for humans to use animals, no matter the circumstances of that use.  As such, those closer to the welfarist pole will likely love Whole Foods, and those closer to the opposite abolitionist end will fight them tooth and nail.

I'm wondering when the relationship between Ornelas and Mackey eroded.  Ornelas was recently at the forefront of a fight against Whole Foods efforts to sell rabbit meat; she was even arrested at a protest.  It looks as though her work was in vain, given that the pilot program that began in Northern California only now seems to have expanded to most of Whole Foods' regions.  Capitalism wins again.

UPDATE: As of 9/16/2015, Whole Foods has decided that rabbit meat "sales volume did not justify the continuation or expansion of the pilot to a national program."  As in, we didn't make enough money on this.  They did not stop the sales due to any ethical decision, but because of money.  Hooray?

Claims that for Whole Foods to be a vegan store would be to commit "business suicide" may be true.  Or, maybe, it would be just the sea change we've been looking for.


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