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Please, Fuck Off: Whole Foods CEO John Mackey

You don't have to be a doctor to see that he's peddling able-bodied, rich people bullshit.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods
Photo via Gage Skidmore; Remix by Samantha Grasso

John Mackey, the CEO of grocer Whole Foods, is getting dragged to hell after CNBC took note of an appearance he made on the Freakonomics podcast last November, during which he said that the U.S. could just circumvent this whole blasted health insurance crisis if Americans would just, uhh, eat a piece of fruit or something.

No matter that we’re in a full-blown pandemic where millions of people have suffered unemployment and poverty, even if they were able to keep their employer-based health plans. No, according to Mackey, a self-identified libertarian and “conscious capitalist” (lol), the real evil in the War on Health is people’s individual behaviors and their inability to wear a smart watch and stop eating fried food, or whatever it is able-bodied people with access to expensive health care think is getting in the way of living a “healthy” life.

Mackey’s comments from the Freakonomics episode, emphasis mine:

… We talk about health care. The best solution is not to need health care. The best solution is to change the way people eat, the way they live, the lifestyle, and diet. There’s no reason why people shouldn’t be healthy and have a longer health span. A bunch of drugs is not going to solve the problem. And I think there will be innovations. I’ll give you a trivial example.

So, I have an Apple Watch on, and one of the apps I have on the Apple Watch is Auto Sleep. So, I get to monitor my sleep every single day. And it gives me feedback. I see how long I slept. I see the quality of my sleep. I see what my pulse rate was for the whole night. So, it’s very interesting. Any time I drink any alcohol at all, my deep sleep almost completely disappears, I don’t sleep as long, my pulse rate goes up. So, my body is trying to metabolize this alcohol. And I had no idea. And so, now I consistently make the choice, “Yeah. I don’t think I’m going to have a glass of wine tonight. I actually think I’d rather sleep well.”

CNBC also latched onto another portion of Mackey’s comments on health and “personal responsibility,” where he says, “71 percent of Americans are overweight and 42.5 percent are obese. Clearly, we’re making bad choices in the way we eat. It’s not a sustainable path. And so, I’m calling it out.” But he didn’t even make those comments in the context of health care — he just keeps fatphobia in his back pocket whenever he wants to say something about himself akin to “I’m the only guy brave enough to say it.”

You do not have to be a doctor to know that all of what Mackey is saying is able-bodied, rich people bullshit — you only have to be someone who has gone through the American healthcare system.

There is the obvious: no one with an autoimmune disease or a chronic health condition, like diabetes or endometriosis or depression, or a specific gene that predisposes them to breast cancer, or who has suffered a broken bone or a muscle tear, or has gotten the flu, or christ, COVID, can “diet” themselves better.

And then the less obvious, but still pretty obvious: many people do not have the resources, be it money, time, or energy, to “diet” themselves into peak health, because they are far too concerned with finding the money to pay for their health insurance premiums, or their still-exorbitant co-pays, or their latest emergency medical bills. People have worked themselves ill just trying to stay alive, and that there is no superfood or “smart watch health monitor tip” that can undo that.

And then the less less obvious, but still really fucking obvious: a person’s appearance is not an indicator of their health or what they eat or their physical activity, and a change in “diet” does nothing to erase the racism and fatphobia in healthcare that make it difficult to get medical attention in the first place.

I, too, would love it if people didn’t need to go to the doctor, and if they were able to take care of themselves and the people they love and work jobs they at least vaguely enjoy without having to worry about not making ends meet. But in my world that looks like Medicare for All, and in Mackey’s world that looks like commissioning a study on “the most successful health-care systems that are out there. And the two that stand out to me are Singapore and Switzerland.” A study, how innovative.

I’m not quite sure why CNBC only caught and reported on Mackey’s gaping ignorance two months after the interview went live, but it is ironic that Mackey chose to air these anecdotes on this episode. The rest of the interview is punctuated by host Stephen Dubner loosely attempting to get Mackey to answer to his previous disparaging comments comparing unions to herpes, and his Wall Street Journal op-ed against Obamacare, and later calling the ACA fascism, and more unsavory things he’s done in his history of founding Whole Foods.

Instead of responding, Mackey pushes back, protesting about having to even be reminded of the shitty things he’s previously said or done. And earlier in the episode, he muses about his public performance in balancing between being “authentically” himself and trying to not do something that will get himself “canceled.” It’s funny, but ultimately pointless to consider the potentially ramifications of his comments, because there won’t be any. Meanwhile, last year, part-time Whole Foods workers who work less than 30 hours a week lost the ability to get employer-based health insurance, and workers have repeatedly called for hazard pay and other protections during the pandemic. But yes, an apple a day, etc., etc.