John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods Market, has stepped into controversy before
(buying out Wild Oats, using an alias online, allegedly not supporting local farmers, etc
.), and now he's back in the place of contention again. His anti-Obamacare op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal
, listing eight reforms he says will lower health care costs for everyone, has triggered a boycott
and heated words on Facebook
. Some Whole Foods customers applaud his position; other shoppers are vowing they will never browse the shelves of Whole Foods again.
Many promoters of health-care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care -- to equal access to doctors, medicines and hospitals. While all of us empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter?
Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges. A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That's because there isn't any. This "right" has never existed in America.
Mackey also writes this:
Unfortunately many of our health-care problems are self-inflicted: two-thirds of Americans are now overweight and one-third are obese. Most of the diseases that kill us and account for about 70% of all health-care spending -- heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and obesity -- are mostly preventable through proper diet, exercise, not smoking, minimal alcohol consumption and other healthy lifestyle choices.
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. We should be able to live largely disease-free lives until we are well into our 90s and even past 100 years of age.
I once was a frequent Whole Foods shopper for specialty items I enjoyed, but the recession curtailed that habit. Mackey's op-ed piece gives me more reasons to be disappointed in America's food-delivery system. If obesity is an issue, why can't good food be made available to everyone? Whole Foods -- and all grocery retailers -- have an opportunity to make a constructive difference in the debate over health care reform and in the lives of people Mackey describes. Will he aggressively seek to increase Whole Foods' market share and enter neighborhoods dominated by fast-food franchises that offer fattening servings of 99-cent chicken leg and thigh dinners, cheap tacos, fried rice and $1 sweet tea? Will Whole Foods aggressively provide organic and
affordable alternatives to Americans who shop at grocery stores that offer few healthy offerings and are stuffed with potato chips, cheese curls, canned vegetables, stale coffee and the fattest selections of meat?
A strategic move by an innovative Fortune 500 company such as Whole Foods could raise the level of discussion about health care reform. That's far better than merely fueling the vitriol throughout the country.
Follow Judy Howard Ellis on Twitter