Michael Pollan interviews CEO of Whole Foods
July 22, 2009
Check out this great interview (from 2007) with Michael Pollan and the CEO of Whole Foods John Mackey. They talk about what Pollan brings up in the Omnivores Dilemma, and how eater responsibility plays out on the consumer and business level in grocery stores. They spoke about the changes that need to be made in order to transform our food system. First there must be a consumer demand for better produce. The local and organic food movements are growing, but on top of that Americans must come to terms with how little they actually spend on food. Mackey said that if everyone ate completely organic, the percentage of income spent on food would match that of Europeans (we spend a mere 8% on food).
He also said that there must be entrepreneurs and new compaines that work to reform the system by embracing environmentally responsible products or protocols. If we go all in, he believes that our current ways of farming and livestock production could be obsolete in 20 years. He mentioned that changing the food subsidies are a must. He also insisted that a tax be instated for CAFOs and other factories of industrial agriculture based on the amount of waste they dump and the environmental destruction of their processes (like many other industries).
Pollan asked a lot about what really goes on in Whole Foods and how the company makes decisions. The fact that Whole Foods is happy to share where their food comes from is a testament to the quality of the food the company offers. Tyson would never sit down with Michael Pollan and talk about the sustainability of their product or what can be done to improve the health of the land.
Michael Pollan suggested a scanner be installed in Whole Foods stores that showed the customer the very farm their meat or eggs came from, what the animal ate, and how it was slaughtered. Other grocery stores would then be forced to do the same. His argument was that if people saw the CAFOs where most of the country’s livestock are raised, no one would eat meat. Mackey said he saw those scanners as a goal of Whole Foods. Whole Foods knows all of their growers and visits many of the farms that supply them.
An audience member asked an interesting question. He/she said that considering an estimated 80% of fish populations are over-fished, would Whole Foods ever discontinue the sale of fish. The question makes you think about something they talked about earlier in the interview: where to draw the line between leading your customers and following them. Mackey concluded that Whole Foods would probably not consider dicontinuing fish. But that isn’t to say that the company doesn’t try to encourage their customers to choose more sustainable foods. They believe in honest labeling so that customers can make good decisions. If the less sustainable products don’t sell well, Whole Foods will gladly remove them from the shelves.
Polland and Mackey both agreed that our food system needs some dramatic changes. They are dedicated to ecologically sound agriculture, and every step our agriculture can take to get even a little bit closer to that ideal.