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Source: Whole Foods Stores Adding A ‘Healthy Eating Specialist’ To Promote Plant-Based Diets To Customers

Posted Sep 23 2010 6:32pm

Whole Foods CEO John Mackay must not be content with leaving well enough alone. His deliberate push of the vegetarian agenda on his customer base which I first shared about with you in February 2010 is now being taken to the next level with the creation of a brand new in-store position called the “Healthy Eating Specialist” whose job will be to push vegetarianism on any customers who asks questions about healthy eating.

The “Health Starts Here” campaign was unveiled in all 289 of their stores earlier this year with store signage prominently displayed for customers to see as well as “education” efforts to teach customers the value in switching to a plant-based diet. Books by prominent vegetarian authors like Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study and Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Eat To Live are just a small sampling of what you’ll find available for purchase at Whole Foods stores. What you won’t find are copies of bestselling low-carb health books like The New Atkins For A New You . Mackay revealed in a 2008 interview with Organic Lifestyle Magazine that he believes “a vegan diet is the healthiest, most caring about animals, and the most environmentally sensitive diet anyone can eat.” In that same interview, he made a statement that now seems laughable considering the aggressive steps he’s been taking this year by heavily promoting the vegetarian diet philosophy of people like Campbell, Fuhrman and others: “I cannot force my personal food preferences on our business or on our shoppers.” Oh really? Well, you could have fooled me!

My fellow health blogger Richard Nikoley over at the “Free The Animal” blog e-mailed Whole Foods in February after reading my post about their shift in marketing to promoting a plant-based diet to consumers. Here’s a snippet of the response Richard received back from a representative from the company: “Our Health Starts Here program is not intended to promote a completely plant based diet. Although the program does offer an option for those who wish to follow a vegan diet, there are also options for those who wish to consume animal products.”

If this is true (and I don’t believe it for a minute!), then this newly-formed “Healthy Eating Specialist” will be sharing information with customers about the health benefits of both a plant-based and meat-centric diet, right? Well, not exactly. I received some exclusive information from a source inside Whole Foods this week about their grand plans to expand the “Health Starts Here” initiative in each of the stores by hiring someone to fill this position complete with an in-store kiosk/desk to be there to answer questions from customers about health and healthy eating. Right now this “Healthy Eating Specialist” position is being test-marketed in a few stores before it goes nationwide in 2011. In addition to manning this resource center in their local Whole Foods store, the employee will also be giving lectures on health and nutrition in the local community. It’s quite an opportunity for people who enjoy working with the public and are passionate about health.

My source attempted to apply for this position at his local Whole Foods store when he heard about it and quickly realized there were some “sticky details” which he found to be “really absurd” that led him to decline the job. Here were the four issues he found in the requirements for this position that greatly concerned my source who supports carbohydrate-restriction for healthy nutrition:

1. He reports that the person in the position of “Healthy Eating Specialist” must “regularly promote the Engine 2 Diet and the Eat Right America plans, especially the Nutrition Prescription.” That means a heavy promotion of a low-fat, plant-based diet full of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds that Dr. Joel Fuhrman believes is necessary for health. Unfortunately, Dr. Fuhrman has been been a strong vocal critic of healthy high-fat, low-carb living for many years and so it’s a good bet anyone in this position would not likely be considered if they are of the mindset that real foods like grass-fed beef are a part of a healthy lifestyle.

2. The person occupying this position must “be an advocate for a plant-based lifestyle to both customers and Team Members.” So, not only do they have to peddle their vegetarian propaganda on to the consumers, but the employees of Whole Foods will also be subjected to this as well. If you consume a meat-based low-carb diet and work for Whole Foods, can you now consider your job a hostile environment? I wonder how they’ll attempt to ostracize Team Members who refuse to buy into their nutritional nonsense. And if someone is fired for refusing to peddle the “plant-based lifestyle” to customers, will there be lawsuits against Whole Foods? These are all interesting questions to ponder in light of what they are doing.

3. The “Healthy Eating Specialist” will have a specific book recommendations list for customers to peruse that come from within the “Core List” predetermined by Whole Foods to be deemed worthy of inclusion. From what we’ve seen from the “Health Starts Here” campaign that began in February 2010, that means lots and lots of vegetarian and vegan books will be on the list. But names like Eades, Atkins, Sears, Taubes, Sisson, and Bowden will not likely be among them.

4. And finally, as part of the continuing education of the “Healthy Eating Specialist,” you are required to complete the “T. Colin Campbell course to receive a certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition.” This is probably the most disappointing issue of all concerning this brand new position at Whole Foods because Campbell has demonstrated publicly that he’s nothing more than a health dogmatist . Although he’s heralded by the vegetarian/vegan community for his China Study book, the fabulous expose series that Denise Minger has done in recent months dismantling the fraud of the interpretation of Campbell’s “study” bit by bit (don’t miss my interview with Denise about this coming up on Monday, September 27, 2010 at my podcast show) has taken the wind out of those sails for good. And yet here’s Whole Foods (or should I say Whole FOOLS!) giving him a huge platform for his ideas.

So that I’m not misunderstood by anyone thinking I’m bashing vegetarianism/veganism, I’m not. In fact, I really don’t care how you choose to eat because that’s your business. However, when a major company that promotes itself as “healthy” to consumers decides to create a new employee whose sole purpose is to educate their consumers about the benefits of consuming a plant-based diet only without giving equal time to the health benefits that come from a meat-based diet as well, it’s both deceitful and wrong. Why not share what’s healthy about all of the foods sold at Whole Foods which includes lots of fresh meats too? Is this re-education process being undertaken by Mackay simply a precursor to the eventual complete removal of animal products from store shelves? That would be committing business suicide and he’s admitted as much in interviews. But I’m sure that’s the goal at some point.

My source told me that these requirements of the “Healthy Eating Specialist” made him “feel both mad and kinda dirty” because of all the publicity the vegetarian/vegan movement would receive from such a prominent position in a major health food chain. He e-mailed his disgust to the Regional Trainer explaining that he couldn’t in good conscious continue to pursue this job because “it runs contrary to the core of what I learned,” including the fact there is no one-size-fits-all nutritional plan and that current research has revealed that low-fat diets are not as healthy as once thought . The Regional Trainer wrote him back and thanked him for his “honesty, candor, and integrity” and added that he hasn’t been the only one who has been besmirched by the vegetarian-bent for this job. My source believes the CEO of Whole Foods is making a grave error of judgment shoving this down the throats of his employees and customers.

John Mackey has unwittingly dropped not just the ball, but a bowling ball on his foot with this nonsense. Unfortunately, because he feels the Engine 2 Diet made him so much healthier, it will be very difficult to get him to change the details of this new program without a very strong customer backlash. I’m rather curious about how Whole Foods customers will react to this.

That will indeed be something to watch for. If you’d like to share your thoughts with your local Whole Foods store about the “Health Starts Here” campaign and this new “Healthy Eating Specialist” position, then click here to find the contact information for your local store. Of course, I’m a big believer in voting with your dollars and if you’re a regular shopper at Whole Foods this might be the time to hit ‘em where it hurts the most–their bottom line. Refusing to shop at their stores is certainly an option that we should all consider to let them know how we feel about this. The arrogance it takes for someone like John Mackay to engage in a ploy like this is off the charts. He must be held accountable for his actions by those of us who are concerned he’s sending the wrong (or at least incomplete) message.

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