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The Only Reason to Shop at Whole Amazon Foods

By Fran Hawthorne

Whole Foods
Image credit: Glyn Lowe Photoworks

I tried not to buy anything from Amazon or Whole Foods when they were (relatively) smaller, independent companies that treated their employees horribly, fought unions, forced local merchants out of business, and (in Amazon’s case) were destroying the companies that publish my books. So why would I shop at the merged version now?

Amazon’s promise of (probably temporary) lower prices at the overpriced Whole Foods is hardly a reason. That’s like Prada declaring a ten-percent-off sale.

Is it, maybe, more energy-efficient to order from Amazon, rather than purchasing the same stuff in person at a store? This is a question that environmentalists have been debating for more than a decade, and the answer is always: It depends on how heavy the item is, how you would get to the store, how many errands you might combine on that shopping trip, and how many other packages the UPS or FedEx truck is delivering to locations near you. Since I live in New York City and thus walk or take the subway for every shopping spree, my personal answer is that I almost always help the planet best by shunning Amazon delivery. The calculation may be different for people who live in more spread-out locales, but please do your research first and try to combine orders and errands.

Should we give Whole Foods a little credit—and thus, our dollars—for bringing organics into the mainstream in the 1980s, so that we now have the luxury of buying healthful produce at lots of rival stores? Fair enough, to a degree. (Maybe, a degree of ten percent?) But keep in mind that most of those other grocery stores are unionized, while Whole Foods has fought organizing drives so viciously that the National Labor Relations Board has investigated its tactics. For instance, when employees in Madison, Wisconsin, voted to join the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union in 2002, Whole Foods fired two leaders of the effort and then dragged its feet on negotiating. Do we want to further weaken one of the last bastions of the private-sector labor movement in the US?

True, sometimes you’d like to send a book to someone who lives out of town. Far be it from me, as an author, to discourage people from buying books for any reason! In that case, however, I go to my local bookstore if the store will ship the book, or else I order directly from the publisher’s website or from Barnes & Noble’s online arm, bn.com, so that I’m at least keeping that bricks-and-mortar chain a bit more alive. 

I confess that on rare occasions, I’ve been forced to turn to Amazon, when it’s the only source of some obscure item that a friend or relative requested (cf the Vin Diesel action figure for my son … oh, never mind). Still, I refuse to join Amazon Prime, because I know that would make it too easy to continue purchasing from the Amazon monopoly. (Free shipping!)

There is, nevertheless, one factor that tempts me to use my consumer power to support the enlarged Amazon-Whole Foods monolith: Donald Trump.

Trump has repeatedly Tweeted bombasts against Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, usually because he’s angry at investigative reporting by The Washington Post, which Bezos owns as an individual (separately from Amazon). Among other great examples, the Post broke several stories about the questionable Russian ties of Trump’s first National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn.

In these days of attacks—including physical attacks—on the press, I sure want to support solid journalism like the work of the Post. I’m thrilled that Bezos is willing to invest hard cash to keep a newspaper alive. And if the enemy of my enemy is my friend, well then, anyone that Trump hates, like Bezos, must by definition be a good guy.

So where should an ethical consumer buy books or organic apples?

While I try to be open to new insights, basic values don’t usually change. Local stores and struggling publishers need our dollars more than multi-billionaire Bezos does. So I would still go to the farmers’ market, my food coop, indie bookstores, and similar outlets first; then small, unionized chains (like C-Town grocery stores in the Northeast) and Barnes & Noble. But if I need to buy something from Amazon, I won’t feel guilty.


About the Author

Fran HawthorneFran Hawthorne is the author of the award-winning Ethical Chic: The Inside Story of the Companies We Think We Love and The Overloaded Liberal: Shopping, Investing, Parenting, and Other Daily Dilemmas in an Age of Political Activism. Follow her on Twitter at @hawthornewriter and visit her website.