Did Michael Pollan Throw the Whole Foods Debate? (Just Asking)

Those wilted flowers are surely symbolic of something.Photo: University of California, Berkeley


What exactly is up with Michael Pollan? We sat up late into the night waiting for him to put hard questions to Whole Foods CEO John Mackey in the discussion we previewed the other day. Part of Pollan’s bestselling book The Omnivore’s Dilemma was devoted to unmasking Whole Foods’ claims to sustainability and the like, but when the author finally sat down with Mackey, he was as cordial and giving as the publicity-obsessed CEO. Still, the discussion being two hours and all, there were inevitably highlights. (If you prefer to comb through it yourself, you may do that here.)

• A lot of the literature they hand out at Whole Foods is misleading. Images abound of animals wandering through bucolic farms, when in fact most of the livestock and eggs served there come from modern, highly industrialized farms. Mackey blamed the suppliers who provide the promotional material.

• Mackey said that if you can afford a $4 coffee at Starbucks, you can afford to spend money on sustainable food. And you can also probably afford lots of credit card debt!

• Meanwhile, Whole Foods, which considers Trader Joe’s to be their most serious rival, apparently refuses to be undersold. We love how this Crazy Eddie-style boast worked its way into the high-minded debate.

• Pollan’s dreams of bar codes that will allow for seeing on displays, possibly via a live feed, the exact place where the food you’re holding comes from. (As with all such progressive utopianism, he claims there is something like this in Norway.) Mackey was like — we’re paraphrasing here — “Um, yeah … sure … that would be cool, I guess.”