Remembering Kevin Moore

Source: Whole Foods Stores Adding A 'Healthy Eating Specialist' To Promote Plant-Based Diets To Customers

Whole Foods CEO John Mackay must not be content with leaving well enough alone. His deliberate push of the vegetarian agenda on his customer base which I first shared about with you in February 2010 is now being taken to the next level with the creation of a brand new in-store position called the “Healthy Eating Specialist” whose job will be to push vegetarianism on any customers who asks questions about healthy eating.

The “Health Starts Here” campaign was unveiled in all 289 of their stores earlier this year with store signage prominently displayed for customers to see as well as “education” efforts to teach customers the value in switching to a plant-based diet. Books by prominent vegetarian authors like Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study and Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Eat To Live are just a small sampling of what you’ll find available for purchase at Whole Foods stores. What you won’t find are copies of bestselling low-carb health books like The New Atkins For A New You. Mackay revealed in a 2008 interview with Organic Lifestyle Magazine that he believes “a vegan diet is the healthiest, most caring about animals, and the most environmentally sensitive diet anyone can eat.” In that same interview, he made a statement that now seems laughable considering the aggressive steps he’s been taking this year by heavily promoting the vegetarian diet philosophy of people like Campbell, Fuhrman and others: “I cannot force my personal food preferences on our business or on our shoppers.” Oh really? Well, you could have fooled me!

My fellow health blogger Richard Nikoley over at the “Free The Animal” blog e-mailed Whole Foods in February after reading my post about their shift in marketing to promoting a plant-based diet to consumers. Here’s a snippet of the response Richard received back from a representative from the company: “Our Health Starts Here program is not intended to promote a completely plant based diet. Although the program does offer an option for those who wish to follow a vegan diet, there are also options for those who wish to consume animal products.”

If this is true (and I don’t believe it for a minute!), then this newly-formed “Healthy Eating Specialist” will be sharing information with customers about the health benefits of both a plant-based and meat-centric diet, right? Well, not exactly. I received some exclusive information from a source inside Whole Foods this week about their grand plans to expand the “Health Starts Here” initiative in each of the stores by hiring someone to fill this position complete with an in-store kiosk/desk to be there to answer questions from customers about health and healthy eating. Right now this “Healthy Eating Specialist” position is being test-marketed in a few stores before it goes nationwide in 2011. In addition to manning this resource center in their local Whole Foods store, the employee will also be giving lectures on health and nutrition in the local community. It’s quite an opportunity for people who enjoy working with the public and are passionate about health.

My source attempted to apply for this position at his local Whole Foods store when he heard about it and quickly realized there were some “sticky details” which he found to be “really absurd” that led him to decline the job. Here were the four issues he found in the requirements for this position that greatly concerned my source who supports carbohydrate-restriction for healthy nutrition:

1. He reports that the person in the position of “Healthy Eating Specialist” must “regularly promote the Engine 2 Diet and the Eat Right America plans, especially the Nutrition Prescription.” That means a heavy promotion of a low-fat, plant-based diet full of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds that Dr. Joel Fuhrman believes is necessary for health. Unfortunately, Dr. Fuhrman has been been a strong vocal critic of healthy high-fat, low-carb living for many years and so it’s a good bet anyone in this position would not likely be considered if they are of the mindset that real foods like grass-fed beef are a part of a healthy lifestyle.

2. The person occupying this position must “be an advocate for a plant-based lifestyle to both customers and Team Members.” So, not only do they have to peddle their vegetarian propaganda on to the consumers, but the employees of Whole Foods will also be subjected to this as well. If you consume a meat-based low-carb diet and work for Whole Foods, can you now consider your job a hostile environment? I wonder how they’ll attempt to ostracize Team Members who refuse to buy into their nutritional nonsense. And if someone is fired for refusing to peddle the “plant-based lifestyle” to customers, will there be lawsuits against Whole Foods? These are all interesting questions to ponder in light of what they are doing.

3. The “Healthy Eating Specialist” will have a specific book recommendations list for customers to peruse that come from within the “Core List” predetermined by Whole Foods to be deemed worthy of inclusion. From what we’ve seen from the “Health Starts Here” campaign that began in February 2010, that means lots and lots of vegetarian and vegan books will be on the list. But names like Eades, Atkins, Sears, Taubes, Sisson, and Bowden will not likely be among them.

4. And finally, as part of the continuing education of the “Healthy Eating Specialist,” you are required to complete the “T. Colin Campbell course to receive a certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition.” This is probably the most disappointing issue of all concerning this brand new position at Whole Foods because Campbell has demonstrated publicly that he’s nothing more than a health dogmatist. Although he’s heralded by the vegetarian/vegan community for his China Study book, the fabulous expose series that Denise Minger has done in recent months dismantling the fraud of the interpretation of Campbell’s “study” bit by bit (don’t miss my interview with Denise about this coming up on Monday, September 27, 2010 at my podcast show) has taken the wind out of those sails for good. And yet here’s Whole Foods (or should I say Whole FOOLS!) giving him a huge platform for his ideas.

So that I’m not misunderstood by anyone thinking I’m bashing vegetarianism/veganism, I’m not. In fact, I really don’t care how you choose to eat because that’s your business. However, when a major company that promotes itself as “healthy” to consumers decides to create a new employee whose sole purpose is to educate their consumers about the benefits of consuming a plant-based diet only without giving equal time to the health benefits that come from a meat-based diet as well, it’s both deceitful and wrong. Why not share what’s healthy about all of the foods sold at Whole Foods which includes lots of fresh meats too? Is this re-education process being undertaken by Mackay simply a precursor to the eventual complete removal of animal products from store shelves? That would be committing business suicide and he’s admitted as much in interviews. But I’m sure that’s the goal at some point.

My source told me that these requirements of the “Healthy Eating Specialist” made him “feel both mad and kinda dirty” because of all the publicity the vegetarian/vegan movement would receive from such a prominent position in a major health food chain. He e-mailed his disgust to the Regional Trainer explaining that he couldn’t in good conscious continue to pursue this job because “it runs contrary to the core of what I learned,” including the fact there is no one-size-fits-all nutritional plan and that current research has revealed that low-fat diets are not as healthy as once thought. The Regional Trainer wrote him back and thanked him for his “honesty, candor, and integrity” and added that he hasn’t been the only one who has been besmirched by the vegetarian-bent for this job. My source believes the CEO of Whole Foods is making a grave error of judgment shoving this down the throats of his employees and customers.

John Mackey has unwittingly dropped not just the ball, but a bowling ball on his foot with this nonsense. Unfortunately, because he feels the Engine 2 Diet made him so much healthier, it will be very difficult to get him to change the details of this new program without a very strong customer backlash. I’m rather curious about how Whole Foods customers will react to this.

That will indeed be something to watch for. If you’d like to share your thoughts with your local Whole Foods store about the “Health Starts Here” campaign and this new “Healthy Eating Specialist” position, then click here to find the contact information for your local store. Of course, I’m a big believer in voting with your dollars and if you’re a regular shopper at Whole Foods this might be the time to hit ’em where it hurts the most–their bottom line. Refusing to shop at their stores is certainly an option that we should all consider to let them know how we feel about this. The arrogance it takes for someone like John Mackay to engage in a ploy like this is off the charts. He must be held accountable for his actions by those of us who are concerned he’s sending the wrong (or at least incomplete) message.

  • low carb in Boulder Colorado

    I heard through the my grapevine the Dr. Fuhrman was hired by WF corp to revamp their healthy diet campaign, so no wonder it’s slanted in that direction, unfortunately. Hey but did you think WF would go with high fat low carbs? Really? What products would be left on the shelves to sell then?


    • I don’t expect them to promote a high-fat low-carb diet any more than the plant-based low-fat diet they’re now pushing. Why not talk about what’s GOOD about BOTH? That’s the thing that I think is most disgraceful in this whole fiasco.

  • Last time I was in Wholefoods in New York I saw what must be the most extensive collection of cakes, cookies, candy and other manifestly UN-healthy foods you can imagine. Yes, in many cases the ingredients were organic – but this is more or less irrelevant when considering the effects of foods like that on health. The bottom line is that Wholefoods have been guilty of corporate hypocrisy for years anyway, just like most other mainstream ‘health’ food stores. On the one hand they claim to have a health agenda, yet on the other, they exploit their position, and our inherent weaknesses, by placing high-margin sugary foods alongside their healthy fayre and making claims about their organic composition to trick us into thinking that somehow a cake from Wholefoods is not as bad as a normal one. In my view, these people are wolves in the clothing of sheep.

    • They don’t see anything wrong with peddling sweet treats like that as long as the sugar and flour is “organic.” In their minds, that gives them protection from consumers who would seek to blame them for continued weight and health problems–OHHHH, BUT IT’S ORGANIC! Hopefully people are wising up to this scam and realizing that sugar is sugar is sugar whether it’s “organic” or not.

  • One good thing I’ll say about Mr. Mackay is that he was vocal against Obamacare when it was more politically expedient to just keep quiet.

    • He’s been convinced that a vegan diet will cure all health woes, so it’s not real surprising he would be opposed to the health care reform when he feels he’s found the ultimate answer. I agree that proper nutrition negates the need for this, but it should be up to the individual to determine which path is best for them.

  • Suzan

    I am considering printing out the Michael Eades blog post criticizing The China Study and giving it to the people manning the table at my WF It’s very frustrating, as I have shopped at the same WF for 15 years. It’s 1.3 miles from my home. They have excellent local, grass fed meats at a fair price, and local organic produce. If I could find the same stuff somewhere else, believe me, I would stop going there. But I don’t have time or money to drive to farms to pick up expensive but mediocre-tasting meat, and when ordering online, either the shipping is ridiculously high, or there is a large minimum order amount. The farmer’s market has some good items, but not much of a selection, and prices are higher than WF. I sometimes feel like I have little choice to continue to shop at WF, unless I give up grass fed meat and organic local foods. I am really disappointed that they are spreading lies. I feel that healthy low-carb/primal/paleo eaters are being squeezed out of the picture – much like the middle class is being demolished.

    • Suzan, can you e-mail me what city/state you live in because I know there has to be a good source of grass-fed meat where you live other than WF.

  • Dan

    I actually don’t have a problem with WH promoting a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle. But I do find it unconscionable that they continue to sell meat and other ‘high fat’ products for the $$ it generates. It’s like a drug pusher advocating a “Just Say No” policy.

    • Dan, thanks for your candor. Again, I don’t have an issue with them promoting a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle either, but if you’re gonna carry meats then you should tell your customers why those are healthy options, too. It does seem hypocritically two-faced on their part to highlight one and not the other.

  • Jennifer

    They should put their money where their mouth is, then, and drop meats from the store.

    • Jennifer, I do believe in a perfect world for Mackay he would totally drop all meats because that’s what Fuhrman, Campbell and the bunch have convinced him are the great enemy to health. But he knows better than to shoot himself in the foot over a way of eating that only appeals to about 5% of the population at the most.

  • Ha, and just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water…

    Now the sharks are really circling.

    I just moved to a place with a WF but 3 minutes away. Bummer. Guess it’ll have to be upscale Lunardi’s across the street. They just brought on one of the raw milk producers WF dumped a while back.

    • I think local WF stores like yours are NOT happy with what corporate is telling them to do and there will be some major backlash from EMPLOYEES about this before it hits those frontline regular customers. Mackay, if he is truly the business genius he’s been made out to be, had better see the handwriting on the wall before the you know what hits the fan.

  • Suzan

    Thanks, Jimmy. It’s not that I don’t know where to go to get good grass-fed meat, it’s just that I haven’t been willing to commit to spending gas $$ plus paying more for the meat, when I can drive 1.3 miles and pay less at WF. I’ve tried meat from nearby farm, but the quality was hit-or-miss compared to what is sold at my WF. Perhaps this new agenda is the incentive I need to distance myself from shopping at WF. I am on my way to dropping off “The Vegetarian Myth” at my WF for the manager. I do hope he reads it and learns.

  • Peter Silverman

    It seems funny you want to boycott Whole Foods when to me you and John Mackey seem so much alike. You both are sure you’re right about what people should eat. You both think people should be free to eat the “wrong” foods if they want (Whole Foods sells plenty of meat and poultry even though they encourage plant foods.). You both think whole, natural foods are preferable to processed foods. You both think grass fed beef and pastured poultry are better than the industrialized versions. Neither of you, I imagine, drinks Coke and eats Snickers bars.
    And neither of you have any long term studies that are reliable and back up your views, since none havebeen done.

    • THANKS as always for your comments, Peter. Actually, I never called for a boycott of Whole Foods. I simply said that if this action they are taking to veganize their customer base is disappointment to anyone, then they should vote with their pocketbooks. What people decide to do on their own is their business. And you’ve been reading my blog long enough to know I do not think everyone should be eating low-carb. My basic philosophy has ALWAYS been for people to find the plan that works for them, follow that plan exactly as prescribed and then keep doing it for the rest of their lives. So if someone wants to eat a vegetarian diet and that works for them, then I say GO FOR IT! The problem with John Mackay and Whole Foods is they are not extending this same courtesy of encouraging their customers and employees to find what works for them. They’re saying “It’s my way or the highway!” and that you must choose vegetarianism/veganism. This is where Mackay and I are distances apart from each other Peter.

  • Dan (aka Renegadediabetic)

    A private company has the right to do what it wants and let the market decide if they are right or wrong. I doubt there are enough vegans & vegetarians in the country to keep him in business if the stop selling meat. I just hope the “healthy eating specialists” stay in their booths to talk to those who are interested and not prowl around the store trying to shove it down people’s throats.

    The nearest WF is too far away for me to shop regularly anyway. Plus, I’d rather not walk into a store and see Joel Furman’s mug. :)

    • You’re exactly right…they do have a right to do this. And we as consumers have a right to take our business elsewhere.

  • Arrggghhhhh;
    Former President Clinton has recently been praising the “China Study” for his weight loss after his stent was implanted.Guess he didn’t read the debunking of the China Study. If a First Lady and former President don’t get it, who will?Don’t watch if you have a queasy stomach.

    • I saw this…VERY disappointing since President Clinton has done well on a low-carb diet in the past.

  • You know, I could not care less what Whole Foods does at a corporate level. No one says their policies have to be consistent, except possibly their shareholders, and I am not one of those.

    Remember how silly the protesters looked after Mackey’s piece in the WSJ? Whole Foods has no particular responsibility to *anyone* whether that is to sell raw milk, promote their silly diet ideas or support the President’s horribly misguided healthcare “initiative”.

    Don’t like it? Don’t shop there. It’s really the *only* way to send a message.

    To be perfectly honest, Mackey is looking old and scrawny these days. The vegan diet does not seem to be doing anything for his appearance.

    • I agree Nichol. That’s why I’m arming my readers with the info they need to make an informed decision.

  • EV

    Glad you acknowledge that WF has a right to push any agenda they want, and yes, you have a right to vote with your wallet. Great, so move on. There are plenty of vegetarian restaurants in the world, and there are plenty of steak places. Unless you plan on complaining about every vegetarian restaurant out there, what’s your point? WF has no more obligation to provide what you would call “balanced” advice than a vegetarian restaurant has to serve steaks. As it is, they do serve plenty of stuff that no vegetarian would ever eat, so you can still pick your poison, as it were, to your heart’s content at any WF store.

    • EV, I appreciate your comments. But it’s not the fact that WF sells foods that cater to a wide variety of their customers. The point is they’re only pushing one particular nutritional plan as “healthy.” That’s being dishonest with your customers. At least with a vegetarian restaurant, I know what I’m getting. WF purports to be all about healthy food for all. Clearly, they are not.

  • Jillann

    you talk about the good of both a meat-dairy based diet and a plant base diet… could you please direct me to where I can see the research done to show eating meat & diary has made a group of people more healthy and reversed heart diases or cancer… thank you in advance…

  • Jillann

    oh and I did want to say… yes Pres. Cliton did do a low carb diet, but then he ended up having more heart issues… why would you say that is??? again thank you in advance…

    • As for President Clinton, it’s dubious how faithful he was to his “low-carb diet,” but I would say he probably had already damaged his health from years of poor eating that led to his heart issues.