Foodie guru Michael Pollan says he won't join the boycott of Whole Foods markets, even though he disapproves of CEO John Mackey's attempts to kill healthcare reform. Because the self-proclaimed "ethicurean" can't bear to forgo golden raspberries?
Not exactly. In a post on the conservative New Majority blog, Pollan argues that Whole Foods' support for farmer trumps the CEO's views on health care. On a personal level, Pollan says he hopes that health care reform will be a force for reform in the food system because when health insurers have to cover everyone, they will be motivated to push for prevention: If insurers had to cover everyone with type 2 diabetes, they'll want to make sure the food supply isn't creating more type 2 diabetics.
Yet, he's not bothered by the fact that Mackey is crusading to let insurers pick and choose which conditions to cover:
Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover. These mandates have increased the cost of health insurance by billions of dollars. What is insured and what is not insured should be determined by individual customer preferences and not through special-interest lobbying. [WSJ]
If you're an insurer, it's way cheaper, and more reliable, to refuse to cover type 2 diabetes than it is to lobby for fresh, local, sustainable food.
Pollan accepts the premise that consumers should use their buying power to push for social change, he just assigns a lower priority to healthcare reform than he does to farmers' markets. This is dismaying because justice for workers is supposed to be a core component of his vision for a new food policy.
Lack of access to affordable healthcare is the single biggest issue of distributive justice facing America today. Insurers rake in billions by charging more and more to cover less and less. Ever-rising healthcare costs are cutting into workers' standards of living.
The profit-driven insurance industry is screwing management as well as labor. Our employer-based health insurance system is a drag on the entire economy. American companies are less competitive because employers foot the bill for insurance instead of the government.
Mackey and Pollan are being astonishingly short-sighted. Ultimately, the gastro-industrial complex persists because it delivers cheap food. If we got real reform, more consumers could afford a healthier and more sustainable diet (perhaps even from Whole Foods).
Correction: In an earlier version of this post I mistakenly wrote "farmer's markets" instead of "farmers."