I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of voting with our dollars lately. To sum up my thoughts in case you’re in a hurry, here goes: every dollar we spend is a vote for the way a company, charity, or organization “does business.” We’re either supporting a vision for the future of the world that is aligned with our personal beliefs, values, and vision, or we’re not.
For those of you more interested in the long version, I’ve used Whole Foods as an example of how I vote with my dollars based on my beliefs and values. I hope it will inspire you to think about your spending as a vote for the future as well.
I read an article on Huffington Post recently that was essentially a parody on shopping at Whole Foods. It was funny and it played into the stereotypical comments that go something like, “Whole Foods = Whole Paycheck.” The comments come from the fact that as compared to the “average” American diet as purchased at the “average” American grocery store, Whole Foods is more expensive. Touche. If cost is all that matters to you, the point is absolutely true and you can move on to the rest of your reading list.
But if you dig a layer deeper and think through the economics, the values of Whole Foods, and the value added back into your life by eating mostly organic, natural, whole foods, the conversation changes.
Let’s take a little bit of a short ride through the world of food we live in today. First of all, the three most consumed food products in the US today are…. Wheat, corn, and soy. They occupy the vast majority of the crops produced here in the US. In turn, these three crops are responsible for much of the debate about genetically modified organisms and the effects of pesticides on our health and environment. I won’t even get into the argument about their collective effect on our gut health and immune system.
To further the complicated truth about these crops, they are heavily subsidized by the federal government, giving farms even more reason to produce the crops. Additionally, corn is used heavily in the production of biofuels, which, of course, results in more subsidies. Down and down the intertwined spiral goes between corporate-farm entities, the government, and the processed foods we see lining the average grocery store to fuel the “average” American diet.
An article from February 5th in the New York Times, highlighting the possibility of more farm land transitioning to fruits and veggies, summed up the corn conundrum:
…plantings of field corn surged to a record 97 million acres in 2012, from 79 million in 2002 — or roughly 20 times the amount of land given over to other vegetables and fruits.
According to Gallup, as of 11/1/13, 27.2% of Americans (more than 1 in 4) is obese and 35.5% are overweight. The rate of obesity in America has been climbing steadily since 2008, when Gallup began measuring the statistic. According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 2 “average” American men and 1 in 3″average” American women will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in our lifetime. Finally, according to the CDC, 1 in 3 males and 2 in 5 females born on or after the year 2000 in America, will develop diabetes in their lifetime if nothing changes.
A thesis could be written on the topic, and some could vilify me for drawing hasty conclusions, but I’ll do it anyways. The “average” American diet over the past 25 years is not working out so well for us. Factors that lead to increased risk of disease (like obesity) are on the rise, and we’re seeing an uptick in disease as a result.
My point in highlighting all of this is that three essential factors affect our physical well-being:
- What we put in our body (food)
- Our physical habits (sleep + exercise)
If this is true, then our food choices matter in a big way. When we think about the decision to shop at a place like Whole Foods (or even better, local farmer’s markets) from a “cost factor” point of view, yes it is expensive. However, when we think about shopping at a place like Whole Foods as a lifestyle decision that affects at least two, if not more, of the four factors above, our decision criteria likely change.
Whole Foods’ value statement looks like this:
- We sell the highest quality natural and organic products available
- We satisfy, delight, and nourish our customers
- We support team member excellence and happiness
- We create wealth through profits and growth
- We serve and support our local and global communities
- We practice and advance environmental stewardship
- We create ongoing win-win partnerships with our suppliers
- We promote the health of our stakeholders through healthy eating education
These values are reflected in everything Whole Foods does. Their CEO elaborates on creating the kind of culture where values matter in his book, Conscious Capitalism.
When I spend a dollar at Whole Foods, I know it supports some or all of the following:
- Creating economies of scale for organic foods, thereby decreasing the cost over time for all consumers
- Funding or supporting local farms and causes around the world through the Whole Planet Foundation and Community Giving program
- Practicing more sustainable environmental processes – from the LEED certified design of the physical store to the food production value chain
- Education for more people about the value of whole, natural, and organic foods on physical health
- A mission to drive down the occurrence of obesity and disease while driving up the quality of life of our collective communities
Whole Foods reflects my beliefs about the future of the world. They’re driving the conversation around health and wellness related to the food we put in our bodies and the effects our food system has on the environment. They are proactively educating people about the choices they don’t even realize they’re making. They’re pushing chains like Kroger and Costco to reinvent their store design and increase natural or organic product offerings.
Every dollar I spend with a company like Whole Foods is a dollar I’m using to vote for the future I want for my children and their children.
I had planned to write about Warby Parker, Charity:Water, and Counter Culture Coffee in this post because I vote with my dollars at these companies as well, but I got passionate about Whole Foods, so I’ll leave it here for now. If you want to learn more about voting with your dollar, start reading into the companies and stores where you spend the majority of your outgoing dollars. What kind of world are they supporting? How does that make you feel?
What are some of the the companies you support with your spending?