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Whole Foods CEO Thinks Healthy Eating Could Negate the Need for Health Care

Who needs a doctor when you have kale?

CEO of Whole Foods Market John Mackey giving a thumbs up
Good plan!!
Photo by Dustin Finkelstein/Getty Images for SXSW

America is in a health care crisis. About 15 million Americans lost employer-based health insurance during the pandemic, and though Affordable Care Act and Medicaid provided a bit of a safety net, your best bet for not going into medical debt is launching a GoFundMe in the case of a medical emergency. So what’s to be done? Medicare for All so your ability to receive necessary medical care and live a dignified life isn’t tied to employment or wealth? No, says Whole Foods CEO John Mackey: “The best solution is not to need health care.”

This does not mean Mackey is funding a new initiative to dip every American in the river Styx so they are impervious to death. Instead, his solution is more like (one) eat leafy greens, (two) ?????, and (three) profit. In an interview on Freakonomics Radio that aired on November 4, but is recirculating today (sorry, Freakonomics Radio), he argued that America needs to find a bipartisan solution to our health care crisis, since what we have right now clearly isn’t working. But then he went on to say, “The best solution is to change the way people eat, the way they live, the lifestyle, and diet. There’s no reason why people shouldn’t be healthy and have a longer health span. A bunch of drugs is not going to solve the problem.” Take that, gunshot wound! Bet you weren’t expecting to find a body full of 1.5x the daily recommended amount of beta-carotene!

Mackey, who is probably moonlighting as Captain Vegetable and wants to drum up business, has made this argument before. In 2009 in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, he argued against health care being an “intrinsic ethical right,” and instead said it was a service best rendered “through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges.” He’s also been banging the “just eat healthier” drum for a while, arguing on Freakonomics Radio that more Americans should make the choice to eat better, which ignores ongoing issues of food apartheid, poverty, and that whole pandemic that is making more Americans than ever rely on food banks for their meals.

As a refresher, when the pandemic hit and Whole Foods employees feared for their safety and asked for more guaranteed sick leave, Mackey encouraged them to donate sick days to each other instead. Whole Foods workers staged a “sick out” in March, demanding resources to do their jobs safely. In 2019, Whole Foods cut health care coverage for 1,900 part-time workers, who — according to Mackey — probably wouldn’t have even needed it if they’d been eating enough plant-based protein.

There are just too many things wrong with Mackey’s argument. People who don’t eat vegetables every day still deserve to be treated for illness and injury. People who DO eat vegetables every day aren’t immune to sickness. Which foods are defined as “healthy” is steeped in prejudice and is constantly changing. And does he just think if we eat enough mustard greens, we won’t need...doctors? Please, sir, a crumb of logic.

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