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Gawker recently published a story about a disgruntled employee who worked for the Whole Foods Market in Toronto. In addition to resigning, the employee sent a damning resignation letter to the entire company.

As Gawker’s Seth Abramovitch puts it, the letter begins with a point-by-point evisceration of the grocery chain’s carefully calibrated image as an earth-and-body-friendly, organic foods paradise.

The now former employee accuses Whole Foods of egregiously wasting food, mistreating and underpaying employees, and being anti-union among other things — all perversely contrary to Whole Foods’ desired public image.

While it’s clear the former Whole Foods employee lacks maturity — evident from the letter’s pubescent tone and presentation — I suspect many of the listed grievances are nonetheless valid since similar claims have been made by other former Whole Foods employees.

However, the employee’s letter is really more of an indictment of the corporate structure than Whole Foods per se. Corporations are, by their very nature, totalitarian. They are fascist, cult-like entities where power within an authoritarian hierarchical structure flows strictly top-down.

So any glimpse behind the scenes at Whole Foods is essentially a glimpse behind the scenes at Wal-mart, Target, Enron, Apple, or a Blockbuster Video.

After publishing the disgruntled employee’s resignation letter, Gawker received well over 100 personal anecdotes from both past and present Whole Foods employees, the vast majority of which reflected the sentiment of the one who authored the resignation letter.

Here a some excerpts from the hundreds of anecdotes Gawker received from Whole Foods workers across North America.

On Food Waste

“As to the wastefulness of Whole Foods… it must’ve been one of the most appalling experiences of my life when I spent a day working in the Bakery, and at closing time threw away enough food to feed a hungry mass. Not only did we throw the food out, but it was thrown into a trash compactor so as to eliminate any possibility of salvaging the food. Occasionally, they would give some bread to nonprofits, but don’t believe what they say… they are throwing tons of good food away.”

Another former employee writes:

“Spoiled food galore. If a piece of produce is slightly bruised, a tad over ripe, or just not pretty, it’s deemed unsellable. also, if any bulk product is removed from a bin, it is considered unsanitary to return to the bin. If one egg is cracked in a dozen, it’s not sellable. all these things are thrown away. up until a week or so ago, team members had access to some of these products as ‘cull’ that they had to pay 25 cents per item for. or if you knew someone, the right someone, they might give it to you. this is no longer at my home store. All produce is now composted, as is bulk products. day old baked goods, dented boxed products (alternative milks, soups, etc), canned goods and various other products are said to be donated to the sf food bank, but I have often witnessed them just being tossed.”

This former employee points out the Whole Foods image hypocrisy:

“And waste, it wouldn’t be nearly as much of a smack in the face if the company wasn’t doing so much chest pounding about conservation and recycling. I could say much more but I’m short on time. More should be done to expose this and force a change.”

And finally,

“They don’t recycle properly. I worked at 3 different stores and the last one I worked at didn’t have a recycling program at all. Some overly committed team members took it upon themselves to take some recycling every week, but the majority of it went in the dumpster. OH! And the recycling bins that were in the cafe for the customers to use were for appearances, that stuff went in the regular trash too.”

The real tragedy is massive food waste is of this kind is not exclusive to Whole Foods Market — other chain grocery outlets are guilty of the same unnecessary and deliberate food waste.

According to a UN funded study, one third of all food produced for human consumption goes to waste, amounting to more than one billion tons of waste around the world every year.

Employee Abuse

One former employee with cancer was apparently fired for requesting Sunday’s off so she could recuperate from chemotherapy treatments.

Another employee who worked for Whole Foods for 15 years was allegedly fired because he was caught drinking a Kombucha (an effervescent tea-based beverage) in the checkout line before paying for the beverage.

The horror stories continue. But the story doesn’t end there.

Whole Foods Market, An Organic Mafia

Ronnie Cummins, Executive Director of Organic Consumers Association, describes CEO John Mackey’s Whole Foods Market as the Mafia.

“We call Whole Foods and United Natural Foods the organic Mafia,” Cummins told Corporate Crime Reporter. “And it really is like that. There is tremendous fear in the industry to say anything critical of Whole Foods and United Natural Foods.”

Cummins alleges Whole Foods and their distributor, United Natural Foods, retaliated against pressure Cummins applied on the two companies for their fraudulent use of the term “natural food”.

“It has happened over the past twelve months as we stepped up this campaign to expose the myth of natural foods,” Cummins said. “And at first, Whole Foods and United Natural Foods thought they could ignore the campaign. But then they noticed we had an alliance with the United Farmworkers and with the Teamsters.”

According to the Whole Foods website, Whole Foods defines natural food as natural products that can include both organic and non-organic agricultural products.

Mackey cleverly shifted attention away form the Orwellian blur between “organic” and “natural”, by establishing a partnership with a non-profit called the Non-GMO Project to verify and label Whole Foods GMO-free store brand products using the Non-GMO Project’s compliance seal.

Mackey sells 100 percent organic food, but also sells wintertime air-freighted mangoes and Argentina asparagus he calls “natural food”.

And since the line between organic and conventional produce continues to grow ever so thin, Mackey isn’t really all that far off the mark, apparently only his business tactics are.

Mackey is a vegetarian and has worked with PETA, Animal Rights International, and Animal Welfare Institute, to promote humane treatment of factory farm animals raised for slaughter or dairy food production.

Too bad the Whole Foods Market corporate philosophy towards their employees doesn’t match Mackey’s apparent empathy and compassion for animals.

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Spence Cooper
Inquisitive foodie with a professional investigative background and strong belief in the organic farm to table movement. Author of Bad Seeds: A FriendsEAT Guide to GMO's. Buy Now!
Spence Cooper