Friday, July 4, 2014

Eden Foods - Grotesque Mischaracterizations and Fallacious Arguments (#HobbyLobby)

Yesterday I began following the story of Eden Foods (this is a good place to start), an organic food company whose products are beloved by many friends, especially my vegetarian and vegan friends (they make beans and soy milk, among other products).

In 2013, the company and their chairman and sole shareholder, Michael Potter, sued the federal government for the right to deny contraceptive coverage to their employees.
Here's the court filing.
The plaintiffs, Eden Foods, Inc., and Michael Potter, appeal from a denial of their
request for a preliminary injunction that would forbid federal agencies from enforcing
that mandate against them. They contend that offering such contraceptive services to the
employees of Eden Foods would substantially burden the plaintiffs’ religious beliefs
Potter refers to contraceptives as "lifestyle drugs." He has compared buying birth-control pills to Jack Daniels. He believes that "Obama's in your bedroom" and that he a defender of freedom, and has also characterized Obama as a dictator. Moreover, he actually can't identify which religious principle in particular leads him to object to providing birth control.

Two things interest me here. First, I have my doubts whether an organic food company can survive a boycott from progressives. Whole Foods has managed to be an anti-union corporation with CEO who likes to go on Obama-is-a-fascist rants (speaking as a historian, this is not what fascism looks like) and yet still thrive. I rarely shop there, but they seem to do alright, in part by providing the only option for high-quality insanely-expensive fancy foods in many area. Eden Foods has to compete with other, less offensive (in public anyway. I assume almost all CEOs are terrible people), brands.

Second, I am always interested in the way that white wealthy Christians present themselves as victims (in the language and power section of the blog). There is power in simultaneously claiming righteous might while also under assault by powerful and nefarious forces. It's an old rhetorical move and remains widely spread among the American Christian right (see my piece on Sarah Palin at the NRA). In response to the outrage at their position, Eden Foods has gone on the defensive-offense.

Here is what I wrote to them.
Dear Eden Organic (info@edenfoods.com)
I love organic food and I try to buy it as much as possible. Due to your position on providing birth control to your employees, I am now boycotting your products. I will let any grocery store at which I shop that carries your products know this as well.
Sincerely,
David M. Perry
Short and polite. They responded (this is also their press release):
Dear David,
Eden Foods is a principled food company. We were convinced that actions of the federal government were illegal, and so filed a formal objection. The recent Supreme Court decision confirms, at least in part, that we were correct. We realized in making our objection that it would give rise to grotesque mischaracterizations and fallacious arguments. We did not fully anticipate the degree of maliciousness and corruption that would visit us. Nevertheless, we believe we did what we should have.
The objection we filed has never been part of the Hobby Lobby lawsuit.
Note that I never mentioned Hobby Lobby. Who cares whether they are part of that lawsuit or another?

What interests me is the "grotesque mischaracterizations and fallacious arguments." I've been trying to get an answer as to how they have been mischaracterized to no avail, as I'm sure they have bigger PR fish to fry than some blogger. I also suspect that they believe it. They believe NOT that they are denying coverage of an essential health item, but that they are the principled heroes in an iniquitous world. The attacks strengthen their resolve.

My response was:
I will share your statement with my readers.

However, I have read the statements of your CEO and believe your company is discriminating on the basis of your religious beliefs. The Supreme Court has ruled, for now, that you are legally allowed to do that. I, on the other hand, am legally allowed not to buy your products, to suggest to my readers that they not buy your products, and to tell stores at which I shop that I will not be buying your products and to suggest they don't either.
Sincerely,
David Perry
Boycotts are tricky and I've written about them before. Usually, the goal is to change behavior and you need to leave your target an out. I'm not sure what the out is here, given Potter's statements. I think, instead, the goal here is to send the message more broadly that imposing your religious views on your employees will result in financial penalties. It may be too late too change Eden, it may not be possible to put them out of business (again, see point 1 above). But it's not too tell other companies that they better watch their brands.

Happy Independence Day.

7 comments:

  1. The mantra in our home is simple: "Vote with your dollars."

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  2. Well said. While sometimes it's hard to pick and choose which companies to support (they all seem to do *something* objectionable) the choice not to support Eden Foods is clear and obvious. Hopefully other companies will get the message. Regardless of the Supreme Court ruling, an employer does not have the right to impose their religious beliefs onto their employees.

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    1. Yeah. Boycotts can be complicated (at the top I have links to my writing on Barilla). This one isn't, to me.

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  3. The kerfuffle around Eden Foods gets back to a fascinating divide that was already present at the dawn of the natural / organic food movement. The organic food industry is NOT the result of a bunch of liberal back-to-the-landers surfing the wave of growing public awareness and magically becoming brilliant successful marketers.

    What is so deeply ironic about this business - so far missed entirely by the pundits - is that the EDEN folks are also the ONLY folks in the USA whose canned food cans are not coated inside with endocrine disrupting BPA based expoxides ... they are among the only folks selling packaged food in the USA who are more concerned with your family's health than with their own bottom line.

    The "purity of essence" and pure water business got a wickedly hilarious portrayal in Dr Strangelove that is worth revisiting occasionally, but even without world-class satire, it is worth remembering this, cuz it (what might be called hardcore Libertarianism) is part of the DNA of the Organic Food movement and many others, including some of the most successful tech companies.

    And you must remember that Eden Organic's products are NOT "mass market" items: they are VERY expensive "boutique" products targeting food faddists, and very much reflect "lifestyle" choices of their client base.

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    1. I have been told that Trader Joes line is BPA free and other companies are following suit, but I haven't investigated that.

      More to your point, the libertarian streak in the organic movement is fascinating and not one that I know as much about as I'd like. Thanks for this thoughtful addition to the discussion.

      As for the boutique, well, yeah. I had a long twitter conversation with someone who seemed to think she was saving the food supply with Eden Foods and that it was more important than contraception rights. She was, of course, a left-learning white libertarian with a good job.

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    2. Many other brands of BPA free are using dangerous chemicals in substitution of it.
      http://www.naturalnews.com/045585_BPA-free_baby_bottles_estrogen_mimickers.html
      Eden foods was on top of this in 1999. They are an industry leader in organic so much so that they are not even certified organic by USDA because they have HIGHER standards than the USDA does! http://www.edenfoods.com/articles/view.php?articles_id=178

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    3. Yes, which is why it's too bad that they are run by such a terrible person. To me, the denial of contraceptive coverage for employees overwrites the BPA issue, but they are counting on liberals to ignore the rights of their workers in exchange for buying expensive beans.

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