James McWilliams recently (September 4) wrote an open letter to Whole Foods asking them to close their meat counters. This is noteworthy because John Mackey, their CEO, is himself a vegan, even though Whole Foods sells a lot of animal products. McWilliams argues:
Do this because you can afford to do it. Do this because it is consistent with your articulated values. Do this because it is the right thing to do. Do this because you would be doing the gutsiest thing ever done in corporate and culinary history. Do this because, if you don’t, nobody else ever will.
Giving up on our initiative at this point won’t slow the rate of animals being processed and it won’t encourage Whole Foods Market’s carnivore customers to stop eating meat. It will simply shift purchases of meat to other retailers.
In economic terms, Mackey is mostly right. For Whole Foods to close its meat counters would create a flurry of publicity and strong applause from the 2 to 3% of the population which is vegan. It might also result in an uptick in anguished thoughts on the part of some meat-eaters. But this would be followed by a crash as the “happy meat” crowd, and all the other meat-eaters now going to Whole Foods, head for the exits. This would create a serious economic problem for Whole Foods, and huge opportunities for their less scrupulous competitors.
The underlying problem here is with the economic system itself. Not everything which is good for us is an economic good. Fresh air, sunlight, and common-sense lifestyle changes are some examples. You can’t make much of a living selling lifestyle changes which would be a huge benefit to the public.
There are a few exceptions to this. There are some low-paying nonprofit jobs and a handful of cookbook and advice book authors. Whole Foods has already “sold” lifestyle changes to a certain extent, by bringing vegan authors and information to their stores, and thereby is getting a head start on the lucrative market for fat-free salad dressings and kale.
By contrast, there’s huge money (like gazillions of dollars) to be made on pharmaceutical drugs, bypass surgery, genetic engineering, and livestock products. And did I mention that the health-care business seems to be an expanding opportunity lately?
The problem is that our economic system controls our social system, rather than vice versa. The market value of Whole Foods’ getting rid of their meat counters is not much. The real value of their getting rid of their meat counters, though, is incalculable. Unfortunately, like fresh air and sunshine, it has no market value; you can’t make a living selling it. That’s why Whole Foods will continue selling meat.
This is not just a problem for vegans, but for our whole society. We need to understand the difference between economic value and real value. We need to meet human needs with the best solution, not the solution that has the best commodity potential. Nobody makes the big bucks by advocating simple, low-cost, common sense solutions. This is a key reason why we have poverty, war, climate change, and high fructose corn syrup.
We need a society in which the economy is part of society, and subservient to the needs of human beings and the social order — rather than vice versa. Society today (and the environment, and the animals) is merely a part of the economy, and people have to worship at the throne of economics just to stay alive, even if that means slaughtering the truth, slaughtering innocent people, and slaughtering billions of innocent animals on its altars.
In short, we need revolutionary change. Anyone want to work on this?