John Mackey, Whole Foods, and Health Care

August 17, 2009

Last week Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey wrote an editorial on health care reform for the Wall Street Journal (Disclosure, Mackey has also endorsed my book Meat Market.) Since his piece was published, some progressives have felt betrayed and have called to boycott Whole Foods.

If I wasn’t in the process of moving, and updating this blog from a weekly hotel rental using an ancient iBook, I’d take the time to dig more deeply into this story. From what I can see, Radley Balko has written the smartest piece defending Mackey’s position.

I suspect that Mackey and I disagree on the role government should play in providing a safety net for people needing surgery for congenital conditions. I think, for instance, that nobody with a defective hip or heart valve should face bankruptcy in order to have surgery. I’d also like to see a world with universally great cheap preventative care, funded in part by appropriate taxes on the most unhealthful foods.

But Mackey’s position on health care is much more comprehensive than he describes in his article. As somebody who runs a company that offers his employees a much better-than-average health care plan, I think Mackey’s earned the right to be heard on this issue. While I doubt he’s right on every point — and who is? — I think his voice is moving the dialog in a positive direction. The fact that he’s advocating responsible eating as a cornerstone of improving the public health is, by itself, an important contribution to the dialog.

Admittedly, Mackey began his article in a way almost calculated to enrage progressives. He quoted Margaret Thatcher: “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

But regardless, here we’ve got a prominent vegan trying to make sensible food policy a key part of the health care reform debate. I wish we had a world where progressives could say they agree with Mackey 60 percent, or even 20 percent, rather than take the knee-jerk boycott response.

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