Go organic and get your healthcare reform for free

Liberal backlash against Whole Foods boss after he criticises Obama's plans

Barack Obama and the organic supermarket chain Whole Foods have something in common: they are both struggling with a backlash of disenchantment from the people who in the past have shown them the most love: liberals. And, bizarrely, it is healthcare reform that is causing all the strife.

Mr Obama perhaps always knew that he would be tested through the dog-days of summer on healthcare reform. But that Whole Foods, which now covers most of the US and also has outposts in London, has become embroiled in the debate is more surprising. The person to blame is John Mackey.

Maybe it was the Margaret Thatcher quote right at the beginning – "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money" – that got him in trouble or maybe it was just that he sounded so terribly conservative. But a column critical of Barack Obama's reforms penned by Mr Mackey, the CEO and founder of Whole Foods, for the Wall Street Journal, has many of his customers reaching for tomatoes – and not the organic ones from his shelves.

Furious erstwhile fans have so far congregated in a Facebook group called Boycott Whole Foods, which as of yesterday had almost 14,000 members. Its main page last night included calls for picketing at its anchor outlet in Manhattan at Union Square. "I don't shop at Whole Foods – too expensive. And now, I'll make sure none of my friends do either!" declared Vincent Bitetto of New Jersey in a typical post.

At the very least the chain appears to be facing a public relations disaster. It surely has not escaped the notice of Mr Mackey that there might be some dissonance between the libertarian views he is apt to express and the liberal leanings of the people who pay premium prices for his pesticide-free, water-drizzled food.

His staff sees the problem, apparently. "Certainly when our customers tell us they are unhappy to the extent that they are boycotting our stores, we are concerned," acknowledged Libba Letton, a spokeswoman for the chain. "We don't want them to leave us."

And Wall Street, which was already concerned about the impact of the recession on the company's numbers, is also worried. "Whole Foods relies heavily on its brand and image," notes Michelle Chang with the investment research firm Morningstar. "Any concern about its image would damage sales heavily. Whole Foods holds a certain appeal to consumers and if it deviates from that it could see some negative reaction from consumers."

In a blog on the company website, Mr Mackey partly blames the furore on a headline added by editors – "The Whole Foods Alternative to Obamacare". However, it would be hard for anyone not to conclude that he is opposed to the President's reform plans.

"While we clearly need healthcare reform," he wrote, "the last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us much closer to a government takeover of our healthcare system.

He does offer his own point-by-point prescription for change, which includes changes in tax laws and in the regulations on private insurers and, much less surprisingly, a call for Americans to eat better food.

"Recent scientific and medical evidence shows that a diet consisting of foods that are plant-based, nutrient dense and low-fat will help prevent and often reverse most degenerative diseases that kill us and are expensive to treat," he writes. "We should be able to live largely disease-free lives until we are well into our 90s and even past 100 years of age."

Where to buy that food? Whole Foods, one assumes. Although Mr Mackey doesn't explicitly say so.

Big issue: The American diet

66 percentage of overweight Americans, with a body mass index of 25-plus.

2,154 Average American daily calorie consumption – 304 calories more than 20 years ago.

170,000 Number of fast food restaurants in the United States.

3-4 Number of fast food meals eaten weekly by the average American teenager, leading to weight gains of around 1lb per week.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?