Why Target Whole Foods?
By Brian Burns
There are many reasons to target Whole Foods, from its horrendous violence towards animals to its incredible growth based on fraud. Here are some big reasons why the company is one the animal rights movement should protest, followed by some questions we are often asked about the campaign.
1. It’s massive.
Despite its public image, Whole Foods is the second-largest grocery store in the US valued at $17 billion, more than double that of other industry giants such as Safeway. On top of its gargantuan size, it has announced long-term plans to quadruple its stores while most comparable chains have seen zero to negative growth. But this rapid expansion has come at the cost of countless lives: analysts have reported to us that the company profits from approximately $2.4 billion in meat sales and hundreds of millions of animals killed annually, with the sales accelerating every year.
Whole Foods is not a progressive mom-and-pop shop. It's a corporate machine - one whose engine runs on stolen lives.
2. The company lies about caring for animals.
Whole Foods says its animals are “Raised with Care” with strict animal welfare standards developed by the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) – for example, laying hens are able to “move around freely, exercise and flap their wings”. What they don’t say is that GAP is almost entirely funded by Whole Foods (almost 95% of its budget coming from the company in recent reports). GAP allows mutilation, including castration of baby pigs and the slicing of hens’ beaks at almost all of its farms.
Worse yet, they are committing not just factual - but also moral - fraud. They are feeding the public the false idea that somehow, you can care for animals and kill them too. And tragically, the public is eating it up.
Whole Foods says “Values Matter” – but more importantly, truth matters. And DxE has concrete evidence of Whole Foods’ fraud with a first-of-its-kind investigation of a “Humane Certified” Whole Foods farm.
3. It preys on people’s concern for animals.
People care about animals, and Whole foods seeks to commodify that care and sell it for profit. In 2012 regulatory filings, Whole Foods categorized these people – their largest customer base – as “Conscionables”, or “customers [who] connect with us on a deeper level because of our shared values.” With its recently announced $20 million PR campaign “Values Matter”, the company explicitly stated that its profits depend on deceiving consumers, particularly the “Conscionables”, with a false image of a progressive company that cares for animals, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Its recent "Values Matter" campaign even contains bizarre and offensive advertisements proclaiming "PICK A CHICKEN, COOK A CHICKEN, KNOW YOUR CHICKEN", and "CHOOSE A FISH, COOK A FISH, SAVE A FISH" - as if, by eating animals killed by Whole Foods, you are actually saving them from death.
4. It’s insidiously influencing our culture.
The public’s view of our food system is evolving due to growing awareness of factory farming and repeated undercover investigations at the worst-of-the-worst” facilities. But despite the fact that 99% of all animal products come from factory farms, most people believe that most animals are treated humanely, and that the industry is changing for the better. This is no coincidence. Companies like Whole Foods are actively shaping the public’s view of animal agriculture with false marketing. Examples include “Know what Kind of Life your Dinner Lived” and “A Hearty Helping of Animal Compassion with Every Order [of meat]”.
5. It’s buying our movement.
Despite its horrible record of animal abuse, some of the most prominent figures and groups in the movement, including Peter Singer, publicly thanked Whole Foods for its compassion towards animals. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey even sits on the board of the largest animal protection group in the country! This is an invasion of the movement snatchers. And we can't let them succeed. Because if they do, they will have bought out our movement's greatest strengths: our integrity and our soul.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are you calling for a boycott of the company?
No. The number of vegans – let alone animal rights activists – is very small in relative to Whole Foods’ enormous customer base, so a purely economic boycott would have little significance. We can amplify our message drastically, however, by taking direct action against the company with public protest – especially against a company as famous as Whole Foods. Boycott if you can, but more importantly, direct your anger at Whole Foods with more than your wallet by joining the It’s Not Food, It’s Violence campaign.
What about vegan options?
Keep in mind the stories of Mei and Sephy, both of whom were rescued from dire conditions and horrendous violence at the hands of Whole Foods. Given this company’s track record of animal abuse, it should be a target of the animal rights movement, and they know it. Offering vegan options is a well-documented strategy of quelling animal rights dissent. But we will not be duped by Whole Foods throwing a few vegan items our way.
Moreover, public protest is the best way to encourage Whole Foods to continue offering vegan options. Companies do not act like people – they will do what is best for PR and profits. With a pressure campaign directed against the company’s exploitation of animals, Whole Foods will scramble to do whatever it can to placate the public, including offering more vegan options and even improving its miserable animal welfare standards.
What about their animal welfare standards?
Whole Foods’ animal welfare standards are a marketing ploy at best. Despite claiming to protect animals, their “5-Step” animal welfare standards allow severe mutilation of newborn creatures, including castration of baby pigs and slicing of chicks’ beaks, all without painkillers. The “Certified Humane” label often touted at Whole Foods’ meat counter is equally meaningless, giving “cage-free” birds only one square foot of space to move, and allowing the burning of animals’ flesh while still fully conscious.
Why do you not talk about veganism?
Direct Action Everywhere strongly endorses veganism as a rejection of speciesism but chooses to frame our advocacy in terms of the rights and lives of animals rather than the dietary convenience of humans. Framing is extremely important when convincing people to change both their thoughts and behavior. And the dietary framing of animal rights has, thus far, failed: despite massive efforts by large organizations at “vegan conversion,” the percentage of vegetarians and vegans in the US has not budged, even a little (according to Gallup, “Vegetarianism in the U.S. remains quite uncommon and a lifestyle that is neither growing nor waning in popularity”). We need the public to think of animal rights as a social justice issue like any other, not a consumer fad.
In addition, it is clear the animal rights movement needs activists, not consumers. In order to change the massive system of animal exploitation, we need mass political action far more powerful than a diffused boycott. The standard vegan narrative, unfortunately, has created a world of isolated vegans who are often afraid to speak up strongly for animal rights. DxE seeks to create the opposite: a global network of tightly connected activists who are able to both inspire each other to act boldly, and to create activists out of ordinary people – setting a wildfire of protest around the world.
Why protest inside?
The goal of the Truth Matters: It’s Not Food, It’s Violence campaign is to change the public’s idea of meat from food to a product of violence against sensitive creatures. Consequently, we go inside of restaurants and grocery stores, where animals’ bodies are routinely served and eviscerated, since it is in these places that extreme violence against animals is normal. The conflict and backlash that come with challenging these violent norms, contrary to common belief, serves the movement positively by drawing attention to the issue and starting a substantive discussion of animal rights. For more information on going inside, see here.