Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Eden Foods - Voting with Dollars in a Rigged Game

Eden Foods Beans for Sale,
Whole Foods, Ogden Road, LaGrange IL 7/18/14
Eden Foods is on sale at Whole Foods stores across the country (often quite a bit cheaper than in Illinois. Thanks to everyone who sent pictures). Let me be clear - I am not accusing Whole Foods of a conspiracy here. I have talked to their spokesman who assures me that Eden Foods is part of a national yearly calendar sales promotion for July 2014, a calendar set well in advance.

I post this picture not to accuse, but to remind us all of the forces that are arrayed against us as we work to 1) stop corporate person-hood, 2) ensure equal access to contraceptive care for all, 3) stop the war on women, 4) fight for the separation of church and state.

I believe, I hope you believe, that personally held religious beliefs, especially but not exclusively ones that are medically wrong (Hobby Lobby's position in abortifacients), should not bring with it the power to discriminate against others. Moreover, I see the current law as benefiting conservative Christian religious principles only. For me, the fighting back takes place at the ballot box AND the checkout line, and my target is Eden Foods.

I've talked about this before. Eden Foods relies on a demographic that heavily skews liberals. If we simply stop buying their products, they will either go out of business or change their policy. This is on our turf. We can win this. And we are.

Last week I told you about Central Co-op in Seattle and their open letter to Eden Foods, revealing that about 80% of their products from the company were no longer selling, that consumers were voting with their dollars, so the coop was discontinuing products. I spoke to a spokeswoman at Central who said it amounted to about a $40,000 loss of sales a year for Eden Foods. One step at a time.

Here's the problem, though, with the voting with dollars construction that Whole Foods has used in their statements, and that lots of other stores are using as well. Someone has to count the votes. Central Coop did so, publicized the results, and we should be grateful to them. Who is counting at Whole Foods? Moreover, with this nationwide sale going on, isn't the game a little bit rigged, albeit unintentionally?

But Whole Foods has never really been my target, at least not yet. I think we win this fight in the locally-owned and operated co-ops across the country.

What I need you to do is to go to your store and ask about Eden Foods. When they reply something about "voting with dollars," ask them how soon they will count those votes, how closely they will track Eden Foods sales, when they will make a decision, and then publicize the damning information about Eden Foods, contraception, and CEO Potter.

Some stores have just stopped carrying the products (Weaver Street in North Carolina, for example). We need to publicize those. But where I really want to focus efforts is on the stores that haven't decided yet.
What is your co-op doing? If you vote with your dollars, will anyone count the votes and publicize the results? That's how we win.

And I can tell you this - Eden Foods is worried. They are so worried that they released a statement which failed to mention contraception at all. Follow the bouncing ball.
Prior to the Affordable Care Act, prescription drugs were an opt-in opt-out feature of health insurance plans Eden Foods offered its employees. Lifestyle drugs, as named and managed by the insurance industry, were excluded, such as viagra. Today, 34% of Eden Foods employees select prescription coverage for their plan, while 66% do not choose prescription drug coverage.
Since the inception of the Affordable Care Act all employees have all coverages required by the act, even those who do not want it.
1. Prescription drugs were an opt-in/out feature. Ok, fair enough.

2. Lifestyle drugs like viagra were not covered. This actually means contraception. They know they are on losing ground when they talk about birth control, though, so instead shift to viagra. Sneaky.

3. Today it's a 34/66 split. Except since the ACA, all employees have drug coverage. Which is it? Is it all employees or a 34/66 split? (I think the latter, since they have SCOTUS on Hobby Lobby as precedent now. I've emailed for confirmation).

4. "We are grateful for our silent supporters sending us messages directly, avoiding abuse that may befall them on social media." - As one of my friends said on Facebook, this is basically an argument that "all the lurkers in the thread are on our side."

The online response to Eden Foods, your responses to Eden Foods, has been overwhelmingly negative All the company can do is claim a silent majority, claim that they have private emails, claim that their customer-base is strong. 

In the end, Eden Foods has to rely on ignorance, apathy, and a nicely-timed national sales event to ride out this wave of bad publicity. They have to hope that when a store encourages you to vote with your dollars, that no one will count the votes. And so keep talking, writing, sharing pieces on the issue, and, most of all, pushing your local stores to pay attention. 

Thank you.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Religion and Public Engagement in Higher Education

Today I have piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education on Catholic universities and colleges and their leadership on providing support for undocumented students. I've met so many amazing students and I am deeply proud of the role my own institution is playing in this important matter. Please read and share the article.

I see this as another form of public engagement, my self-assigned "beat" for the Chronicle columns. Last time I wrote about individual faculty and engagement (and will again in a piece tomorrow over on their Vitae site), but institutions as a whole can also engage. One model is the famous agricultural school-extension services of the big land-grant universities. Here, with undocumented issues, is another.

In many ways, my essay today is about  the role of mission, belief, even theology, and how institutions and their leaders implement mission. It's also about epistemology - how we decide what our mission is and to what subjects it applies.

It seems to me that religious missions, in particular, can close a university off or catapult them into positive engagement and openness. The birth-control issue, recently decided in favor of colleges like Wheaton, is one issue, and I'm very upset about the role that Catholic universities are playing in denying coverage. I'm thinking, though, more about the pursuit of a religious exemption to discriminate against homosexual employees: George Fox has been in the news lately, but there are plenty of Catholic examples as well.

In these cases, it seems to me, that religion is being used to build a wall around the school, to say that modernity and the broader culture must keep out, must not corrupt, and that "religious freedom" means the right to be isolated. They certainly have a strong legal case, one that SCOTUS' conservative Catholic men support, but it runs directly counter to my beliefs about the role of the university in society (not to mention my beliefs about equal rights and against discrimination, that's a side issue for this particular blog).

On the other hand, as I tried to write about in today's essay, mission can open a pathway to direct action within society, to lead, to bring about change, to, as our mission says, "pursue truth, to give compassionate service and to participate in the creation of a more just and humane world." Since arriving at Dominican, I've been amazed and inspired to see how many people there really mean it. They try to live that mission. They do great work. They make me want to be a better person and to take my own stands in public.

And if you know the history of the Dominican order, good and bad, the way it plays out today won't be so surprising. It's the order of preachers, always focused on engagement, and today that engagement has brought my university into the world of immigration justice.

One of the reasons I wrote this piece, though, is that "Catholic" is contested ground. In American Catholicism, there are those who believe that belief requires them to restrict, to build that wall, as well as those who want to get out into the streets and engage, engage, engage. On the Left, there's a sense that religion is always focused on the closing of options rather than making things more possible. Such rhetoric, in fact, feeds the notion that conservative religion is the only real religion.

Catholic beliefs defy easy left-right assessment. But belief is not action. Individuals and institutions choose where they want focus - anti-contraception or anti-poverty, for example. I'm really proud of these Catholic schools that have been pushed by mission to serve these students in need.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday Roundup - Eden Foods and the Cult of Compliance

I am halfway done with my copy-edits on my scholarly book. One more week, I hope.

Two major themes from this week's writing:

I've been working more on Eden Foods. In one piece, I argued that if we can't win this fight, on our turf, we might as well pack it in. I think I missed, rhetorically, here, as I meant this to be a "yes we can" piece and it was very much read as a "no we can't." For the record, we can win this one! And we are - here's the news from Seattle. Keep the pressure on. 

In more grim news, I wrote two pieces on the use of non-compliance by law enforcement to justify violence, especially as it plays out against disabled people. In Missouri, there's news about a man with mental illness who was running away and shot in the back. In New York, a man with severe asthma and diabetes was thrown to the ground in a chokehold and asphyxiated. We have to BOTH deal with the injustices of each case AND link them into the broader pattern.

Next week I have two higher-ed articles coming out, one on the way teaching prepares academics for public engagement, another on Catholic universities and their support for undocumented students. 

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Cult of Compliance and the Chokehold

"When Garner refused orders to put his hands behind his back, one of the plainclothes cops, wearing a green T-shirt with a yellow No. 99 on the back, got behind him and put him in a chokehold, the footage shows.
A struggle ensued as three uniformed officers joined in on the arrest, knocking the man to the ground.
He screamed, “I can’t breathe!” six times before he went silent and paramedics were called."
A  man who was not breaking the law died after the police put him in a chokehold. We can, and should, talk about this through the lens of race and the NYPD for sure. He was big black man. We can also talk about the choke-hold and its place in police procedure. It has none. We can also talk about disability, the lens to which I am drawn - diabetes and asthma.

But all of this falls under the general issue of the cult of compliance as well. This man was not a risk. He was not hurting anyone. He wasn't doing anything wrong (sometimes he sells unlicensed cigarettes, but was not in this case).  In fact, by all reports, he had just broken up a fight.

But he wasn't complying with police orders, that became the justification for force, and now Garner is dead.

I see stories like this every week, not always fatal, not always racially-charged, not always urban. Every week, someone doesn't obey an officer and the officers treat non-compliance as if there were a threat, so they get physical.

It has to stop. It isn't stopping.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Inclusion, not Same-ness: Walgreens and the Disability Cliff

Over the last few months, I have been focusing more on "the cliff," which is a way some disability advocates refer to turning 22 in our system. Until then, special education provides support for school, training, and even certain kinds of therapies and other activities throughout a child's life. At 22, nothing. Work is hard to find. Programs are rare and expensive. Many kids just go home to their parents house or, if not possible, into a home, and that's that. They've fallen off the cliff.

But lots of people are working to change those realities, in all sorts of ways, and I am writing about some of them (including a piece on college to be published in August or September for the Chronicle).

Various people in the business world are trying to help. Here's a really great story, but not in the casual rah-rah inspiration way, about the former head of operations at Walgreens and his attempts to hire more people with disabilities at the stores and their distribution centers (the goal was 1 in 10 with disability). Randy Lewis is the father of a son with autism and his goal was not just to do what many retail stores do - hire people with disabilities to clean and move shopping carts and the like (which is fine, but not all that's possible), but rather:
Walgreens had previously employed disabled people to do “ancillary rather than mission-critical work”, cleaning for example, but Lewis wanted to do something more. “We wanted an opportunity to bring people in as our own employees,” he recalls. That opportunity came with the building of a new distribution centre; larger and more automated than any the company had owned before. Lewis’s mission was to use that centre to allow the company to hire greater numbers of people with disabilities. It is now Walgreens’ most efficient site, and 40% of its workforce is disabled.
Similar buildings have opened around the US, but Lewis says although automation has helped, it isn’t the true reason why hiring people with disabilities has spread throughout the company. “The automation is what gave us the courage to do something different,” he explains. “It didn’t make it happen, it made us believe it could happen. We could do this anywhere.” 
 Lewis had a vision. I am so skeptical of corporate mentalities, the kind of breathless lauding of business "visionaries," and other aspects of the way media talk about folks in the corporate world. And yet:
We never lost sight of the fact we are a business, not a charity: this had to make business sense,” stresses Lewis. “We had to hold everyone to the same standards and have a completely inclusive environment. When I presented it to the board, I said this was going to be the most expensive building we had ever built, which they didn’t like, but I said it was also going to have the best ROI, be the most efficient and be built in such a way that one-third of the workforce would be disabled.” The board had one question: ‘What if it doesn’t work?’ Lewis’s response? “If it doesn’t work, we’ll readjust. That’s what we do in business all the time: make mistakes, learn from them and move on. We didn’t say: ‘We’re going to have great performance or hire people with disabilities’; We said: ‘We’re going to have great performance, we’re going to have a positive impact on the community and change the workplace for everybody.’”
The piece continues like this and is worth reading, just to get a sense of the possible and how to talk to folks in business about employment.

One of the things I really like about the piece is that a number of Lewis' statements embody the concept that I call "inclusion, not same-ness." Inclusion requires creative thinking, it requires seeing possibilities that emerge from changing what we consider "normal," it involves letting people do things that you might not let another do. Often, unexpected benefits follow.

For example:
“We haven’t found a disability we can’t employ, because everything is on a spectrum,” says Lewis. “We have one person with epilepsy who has 17 seizures a day. He wears a helmet and people know to make sure he’s in a safe place when he has an episode. He couldn’t find a job until he came to us.”
This inclusivity has had a positive impact on engagement. Whenever a new piece of technology is implemented in a distribution centre, Walgreens expects some disruption, so with this high level of automation, it was expected things would go wrong. They did, and from July to November everyone in the centre was working overtime and Saturdays. “The preconception we had about people with disabilities is that they wouldn’t be able to be very flexible or work overtime,” says Lewis. “But when I went to talk to the team members, they only had two questions: ‘how are we doing?’ and ‘what can we do to help?’ That’s when I knew we had a special building.” 
 A helmet. A community. And a man has a job. Here's another piece.
Safety costs were also lower for people with disabilities. “Fears about more accidents had come up, but we found deaf forklift drivers – who many companies won’t hire – are twice as safe as someone who can hear,” says Lewis. “If I could give everyone a piece of advice, it would be to put plugs in the ears of their forklift truck drivers.”
Deaf-ness as advantage. And what I like is that these advantages are not predicated on disability as a superpower (the Rain Man phenomenon), but just be opening one's mind to the possibilities of inclusion.

So cheers to Walgreens (for all it's fleeing America to avoid paying taxes, 2 years after begging tax breaks from Illinois).  May other companies follow in its wake.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Voting with Dollars: Eden Foods is Off the Shelves in Seattle Co-op


Like many stores, Central Co-op in Seattle became aware of Eden Foods' anti-birth-control policies last year. Like many stores, they decided not to boycott them, despite pressure from their consumers, because, "we decided not to join a boycott over this one point of divergence. Your strong stance on product safety and GMO issues precluded a complete severance of our relationship."

This is precisely the kind of decision that I was arguing against in my CNN piece and on the blog, but also that I am resigned to seeing. Eden Foods has had a deep grip on certain aspects of the organic food market and they are hoping people will care more about food quality than about the religious exemption and women's rights.

Moreover, I am sympathetic to stores that are hesitant to take a stance in an issue that is politicized, even if, as I argue, the core question is ethical. Stores that want to stay in business have to be careful.

But there's good news, as reported in an open letter from Central Co-op to Eden Foods. Consumers in Seattle are voting with their dollars. The letter reads:
We encourage our owners and customers to vote with their dollars by supporting companies that they respect. This is what we suggested our community do when outcry arose over your action last year; and recent renewed interest in your case was cause for us to review sales of Eden products and explore what options we might have that equally (or better) reflect our product guidelines. During this review we found that our community has indeed been voting with their dollars and that 80 percent of the Eden products on our shelves have failed to keep up with the sales of competing products. It is clear that your company has lost support from our community and that people are showing preference to other product lines.
GREAT WORK SEATTLE SHOPPERS. And kudos to Central Co-op for running the numbers, seeing the pattern, and being willing to publicize the results. I'm also really interested in their assessment that whereas once Eden Foods was an essential provider for the natural foods market, this has changed. There are lots of suppliers out there, so they can substitute less politically-charged brands for the products that aren't selling.

They conclude the letter asking Eden Foods to re-think their lawsuit, writing, "We realize that no company is perfect, including ours, and we remain diligent in our evaluation of which products most closely align with our values, and most effectively meet the needs of our community. In our judgment, this decision of yours moves you down the order of consideration among the options available to us."

This is how we win. Store by store, reducing profit margins, and either pressuring Eden to change their politics or making them irrelevant.

I have requests out to several other Co-ops and Whole Foods to find out if their sales figures have dipped. We'll see if they respond (some have promised to do so).

Here's what we do next.

Go to your co-op and ask them to assess how Eden Foods is selling and whether they could substitute the product for a company that supports women's rights. Organize locally. Collect data. Make sure your local food communities know what Eden Foods really stands for. Get them off the shelves, store by store, product by product.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Peer Review and Academic Kindness

Rebecca Schuman has a new piece up at Slate on peer review. She works through the usual, and often VERY TRUE, complaints about cruel, self-centered, or just very late reviews. Her comments track with the experiences of many of my friends.

One, writing about a third-tier European city, had her book booted from her publisher of choice because noted that it was a third-tier European city, and one of the reviewers didn't like hearing the town referred to in such a way. The reviewer was so powerful, the editor said sadly, that there was nothing he could do.

Another, writing for a major European press, received a peer review of her tenure book that was a paragraph long and said, basically, this sucks.

On Academic Fail Blog (Fumblr), Maggie Williams and Nancy Thompson has put up a transcript of their delightful 2013 Kalamazoo performance of "Speculations and Rejections." Williams' comments reflect an amalgamation of actual statements included in peer reviews they had crowdsourced, such as:
I find the references to/juxtapositions with modern thought here and there annoying, but that is perhaps more a reflection of my own stylistic predilections. More seriously, the introduction of the figure of Moses is poorly done, and besides, “Medieval Codex 312” (a manuscript I know something about!) has the earliest horned Moses, not “Medieval Codex 313”, which undercuts some of the force of the essay’s rhetoric (and reliability).
The author's most original contributions are the speculations about the multiple meanings of [the objects]... These speculations, however, are not based on any contemporary literary sources and derive entirely from the author's imagination.
Professor Thompson needs to read the most important dissertation in this area, a recent work by.... Nancy M. Thompson.
That last one is my favorite (anonymity often goes both ways for articles, so the reviewer wouldn't have known).

I've thought a lot about peer review lately, while getting some wonderful feedback on my own writing and delivering what I hope was constructive feedback to another author. I reviewed an article from receipt to delivery in 5 days - of course, it was summer.

One problem, I think, and one that I don't see explored very often, is that reviewers (in my field anyway) tend to be quite senior people, the more senior the better. That means that by definition they came through grad school and published their early work in a very different publishing environment than the one we live in now. Many senior faculty know this and have adapted their approach to reviewing, but not all.

Schuman offers three solutions (the last hers uniquely).

1. Sign your reviews. I endorse this. Yes, people will still be cruel, but it will change the calculus if we cannot hide behind anonymity. I actually think that the fact that we can be critical with our name attached shows that we don't need anonymity to review.

2. Crowdsource reviews - I don't really know what I think about this, but the idea of putting an academic essay draft on my blog or other social media site and letting you all have it at is terrifying but appealing. I might try it someday.

3. Review the reviewers. Before you are allowed to submit an article, you have to review an article, and it has to be both timely and constructive.

I love this idea, but I am skeptical about its pragmatism. In my field, at least, as noted above, reviewers tend to be relatively senior. I was never asked to review an article until I had made it through tenure and had a book on the way. That's appropriate. But I submitted many articles as a junior faculty member on the long climb upwards. Moreover, it definitely wouldn't work for monographs, as you generally need someone with a book (or many) to review your first book. In other fields, do junior people do peer reviews?

The best solution, of course, is to be kind and constructive. For people in the humanities, as Schuman puts it, to be humane.

It does happen. A friend of mine created the academic kindness tumblr as a way to track good behavior, so that the hubbub of horrible examples doesn't lead us into total despair.

It could happen more. I've spent a lot of time thinking about the book review, a signed, public, piece, in which there's a kind of expectation that we will write at least one negative paragraph detailing the work's faults, however minor. Do we have to write that paragraph? If it's not important, just skip it. I promise I will not think less of you if your review doesn't note minute errors (conflict of interest, I am finishing copyedits on my first book, I am terrified of minute errors)!

So what happened with those two friends I cited at the start of this post?

My friend with the book on the third-tier European city didn't get the first-pick press, but the editor immediately started calling other editors, telling them that he had a great book here he couldn't publish, and found it a good home. That friend got tenure.

My friend with the one-paragraph review - well, the editor sent it to her, but then said that they would find another reviewer.  The book will come out. That friend got tenure as well.

The kindness and professionalism of these editors is not a system. We're still too reliant on petty point-scoring and I like Schuman's thoughts on how to get around that. Until we've got such a system, though, just try to be good, be professional, and be punctual. It's the best we've got.