Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Politics or Ethics? - The Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis and Eden Foods

When I was a graduate student in Minneapolis, and I had any extra money, I'd head to the Wedge Co-op to take advantage of their outstanding food. Even today, our close friends with whom we stay when we visit are just a few blocks away from The Wedge, and we love shopping there.

As with most co-ops and natural-food stores, as news about Eden Foods' anti-woman position has spread, they've received lots of customer comment. It was with disappointment that I read this response (name shortened by me):
"From - Wedge Natural Foods Co-op,
Hi J.
Thanks so much for sharing your views about the Eden Foods situation with the Wedge. We are aware of the recent news, and while we are disappointed by Eden Foods' stand on this issue, the Wedge has a long-standing tradition (since our earliest days as a co-op) of not engaging in boycotts that are called for political reasons. Our membership includes a wide swath of political, religious and cultural viewpoints, and we leave decisions of this kind to our members.
As an organic foods co-op, we have our own set of values to consider; Eden Foods sources from North American organic farmers. Dropping their products would punish regional organic growers who have no part in Eden company decisions and would leave our co-op with nothing but Chinese-sourced organic beans, in direct opposition to our commitment to healthy regional farm economies and a domestic organic food shed.
Basing health insurance on employment is an altogether different conversation that needs to move forward. This most-recent situation is just one part of that larger discourse, which will get worked out in the courts and in the political arena. Until then, we encourage our members to make their own purchasing decisions based on the values they hold most important to them, and we will follow your lead."
Let's take this apart.

First, it is entirely reasonable for a business to not engage in politically-based boycotts. Companies donate to powerful people, often to the right and the left, and it's going to be very hard for a business to figure out which products to carry based on political issues.

That said, there are moral and ethical reasons for which a company like The Wedge surely would boycott. There has been news about slave labor involving Asian Shrimp. I argue it would be fundamentally ethical, not political, to demand such products are boycotted (I shop at Costco a lot and have written to them about the shrimp). Slave-labor is an easy case, if ad extremum, to draw a line and demand our companies pick a side.

So the question is whether the Eden Foods situation is political or ethical? I suggest it is the latter. This is not about politics - who votes for whom, who gives money where - but about a religious fanatic demanding to impose his views on his workers, refusing to cover contraceptive care as part of an expanding campaign designed to police female sexuality.

Over in Madison, the Willy Street Co-op has taken a different pathway than The Wedge. They have a forum for owners (only) and have asked for comment on Eden Foods. They too want to avoid political boycotts, but write (my emphasis)
The Co-op carries a lot of Eden Foods products (almost 100). Removing their product outright would significantly change our store inventory. Potential replacement products may cost more, and may not have as pure packaging. Some products may simply be no longer available to the Co-op.
However, our Co-op also strives to support a healthy, just, and tolerant food system in which workers are valued and compensated fairly across the board. Out of respect for the diverse values of our Owners and a commitment to transparency, we now bring the question of whether or not the Co-op should continue to carry Eden Foods products to the Ownership itself.
That bolded line acknowledges that here the issue might be ethical, rather than political. I hope Madison locals will let them know.

Meanwhile, back in Minneapolis, we lack the kind of transparent and community-driven dialogue encouraged by Willy Street, which is disappointing. That said, I can understand why The Wedge wants to dodge this issue. Don't let them. They are a store in one of the most liberal cities in America. If you live there, stop buying the product. In addition, politely tell the Wedge that they are making the wrong choice, that this is about fundamental freedoms, not politics. If you are a member, use your power. If you are considering becoming a member, tell the management that this issue matters to you.

Here is their contact page. Or tell them on Facebook. Or Tweet at them. Convince them.

Two more points.

I find the last paragraph of their statement horribly naive. They write:
"This most-recent situation is just one part of that larger discourse, which will get worked out in the courts and in the political arena." 
It reminds me of Eden Foods' statement, "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." For EF, the courts have ruled, and the issue is over. Obviously, I disagree.

We live in a country in which five conservative Catholic men with life appointments control the Supreme Court. We cannot wait for the courts to solve this. It's not just going to get "worked out." We have to work

On the bright side, there's their finish: "Until then, we encourage our members to make their own purchasing decisions based on the values they hold most important to them, and we will follow your lead."

That last line is really important. It says, if you, the customer, stop buying Eden Foods, the store will stop carrying it (or carrying so much of it). And that's true for other companies too. Right now, there's a Change.org petition asking Whole Foods to stop carrying Eden Foods. I can tell you that this petition is not going to work. The libertarian masters of Whole Foods do not care how many people sign a petition.

But they do care about money. 

Stop buying Eden Foods. Tell the management at your local store, politely, why not, and suggest they consider carrying less of it. We don't need to put Eden Foods out of business, but let's see by how much we can reduce their profits.

Because given the incoherence of Potter on his religious values, I suspect what he really cares about, at the end of the day, is also money.

As consumers, organized, we have power. Let's use it.