Posts Tagged ‘John Mackey

John Mackey at The Pitchfork

» August 10th, 2013

Readers might easily miss it, but below is a copy of Mackey’s response to an older post about the heroic hiker Josh Garrett, who just set a new record for hiking the Pacific Trail–doing so as a vegan (and with Mackey’s support). More on Josh’s accomplishment next week.

For now, here’s is Mackey’s comment, one that I hope readers will respond to in a spirit of constructive dialogue.  Readers know that I’m a qualified but very eager supporter of the Whole Foods experience as well as admirer of John Mackey. I know not all share my opinion, but we can all agree that civility is the prerequisite to insight.

From John Mackey:

Josh finished the trail and beat the previous record by a full 5 days–59 days and 8 hours.  This is an amazing accomplishment and I’m very proud of him.  It was an honor to provide the financial and logistical support for him to accomplish this.

For the record–I stopped eating even pastured eggs from my own pasture raised chickens about 6 years ago, so I’ve been strictly vegan for 6 years now (vegan plus a few pastured eggs from my own chickens for 10 years).

Sorry to hear that some of you don’t like Whole Foods Market (or me) very much.  However, I challenge you to come up with another food retailer who has done anything close to what Whole Foods has done to educate people regarding the benefits of a plant based diet or who has done a fraction of what we have accomplished in lessening the suffering of billions of livestock animals.

Oh, yes, I’m also on the Board of the Humane Society of the United States so I guess I’m guilty of more crimes against animals in my strong support for this organization both with my time and my money.  I’ve been astounded over the past 4 years of being on this board with how much good this one organization actually does in the world for animals.

It is easy to to judge and attack others for being less “pure” than oneself.  It is far more difficult to actually make a real difference in the world and to really change things for the better.  Best wishes in following your own heart’s path.  I will continue to follow my own.

Josh Garrett’s 2,655-Mile Vegan Journey

» June 10th, 2013

Imagine hiking 42 miles in a single day. Imagine doing it over the toughest terrain, be it vast stretches of merciless desert, cragged mountainsides, or raging rivers. Throw in a 30-pound pack and a few rattlesnakes to dodge. Now, if you can get your head around such a challenge, imagine doing this for 63 days in a row, over 2,655 miles, from Mexico to Canada. Ridiculous, you would think. Impossible. 

Not if you’re Josh Garrett, a 30-year old track coach and exercise physiology teacher at Santa Monica College. Garrett will not only leave sometime this week to hike the famed Pacific Crest Trail, but he will do so as a relatively new vegan aiming to break a relatively new record: the 64 days, 11 hours, and 19 minutes it took Scott Williamson to hike the trail in 2011.

Garrett is no novice. He has hiked the trail before, in 2009, and recalls the journey as “one of the greatest experiences of my life.” It took him 88 days. Between then and now, however, two experiences have braided into one to make his current record-breaking quest an inspiring reality.

First, he went vegan. This change was instigated in 2011 by getting to know a couple of turkeys rescued by a friend. After coming to know (and adore) these animals, he watched a Mercy for Animals undercover video of a slaughterhouse employee using live turkeys hanging from a conveyer belt as punching bags. “I was sickened,” Garrett explained, “and my own consciousness started to change.”  The fact that a plant-based diet had the added benefit of providing Garrett unprecedented reserves of energy was equally critical to his decision to reconquer the PCT.

Second, last year Garrett met a friend who also happened to be an avid hiker and vegan. This person recognized Garrett’s considerable talent and encouraged him to go after Williamson’s record, offering to sponsor Garrett by providing not only moral support, but food, water, and hiking gear. That friend was John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO. Mackey said, “Josh is not only a very nice person, but is also the strongest hiker I have ever had the privilege to hike with.”

Mercy for Animals, the organization integral to Garrett’s vegan awakening, is backing the venture as well. Through its website it will give updates on Garrett’s progress, a map of the trail, and opportunities for supporters to donate financially. Nathan Runkle, executive director of Mercy for Animals, said,  “We hope that Josh’s selfless journey inspires others to take steps in their own lives to help prevent the horrible suffering of animals on factory farms by adopting a healthy and humane vegan diet.” Garrett is eager to raise awareness of MFA’s mission.

For all his verve and optimism, though, Garrett recalls having “mixed feelings” when Mackey first floated the possibility of breaking the PCT record. “I loved the idea of the challenge,” he said, “but didn’t want to let anybody down if I didn’t make it.”

I think Garrett can rest assured on this one. The fact that he can even conceive of accomplishing a physical and mental feat that is beyond most of our imaginations elevates Garrett into yet another model of vegan compassion and inspiration for future vegans to follow. Plus, his motivation is, as Runkle noted, so “selfless” that, in a way, it’s beyond failure. “The more I learn about animals used in the food industry,” Garrett said, “the more I want to help.” He added, “I walk because they can’t.”

I for one plan to cheer him on the whole way. And beyond.


Double Dipping on Welfare Labeling

» March 28th, 2013


In preparation for a talk I’m giving to a roomful of food and agriculture writers tomorrow, I revisited some of the research I did last year on welfare labeling. In general terms, my opinion on these value-added markers of humane treatment hasn’t much changed: they’re basically a sham.

Still, many consumers look for them. Whole Foods has capitalized on the emerging desire to purchase “humanely raised” animal products by seeking certification from an organization known as Global Animal Partnership. GAP offers a tiered rating system, with 1 being the least rigorous and 5+ the most. John Mackey, a vegan and WF’s founder, played a direct role in helping to design these standards.

The differences between 1 and 5+ are significant. Consider chickens. A level 1 rating (to cite only a few examples) makes no stipulations regarding stocking density, permits single-legged catching, and requires zero outdoor access. A level 5 rating also has no stocking density requirements but requires constant pasturage and bans single legged catching, stipulating that  “chickens must be caught by the body with both hands.”

From a genuine welfare perspective, differences such as these are existentially irrelevant. It’s never in the interest of a chicken’s welfare to be scooped up and trucked to the slaughterhouse. From a lesser-of-evils perspective, though, the ratings matter and, as such, it’s therefore important to note that there are no incentives for producers to graduate from 1 to 5+.  A producer need only meet the minimum threshold of 1 to make it into Whole Foods.

But here’s the thing: a comparison to the pre-existing “organic” label for animal products reveals that the lowness of the GAP threshold renders its level 1 rating almost redundant because, with very few exceptions, the level 1 requirements are no different than the “organic” requirements. In some cases they’re notably worse.

Both standards agree on the following (again, this is not a comprehensive list): they allow disbudding and castration without anesthesia; make no stipulations regarding ammonia levels, periods of darkness, or stocking density in chicken sheds; they do not have specified space allowances for housed pigs; they permit septum rings and ear notching; they make no limits on how chickens are picked up; neither has a litter management program for turkeys; and they do not address slaughter standards.

As noted, there are differences between the labels. Organic certification requires that pigs have outdoor access while GAP level 1 does not; organic allows tail docking while GAP level 1 does not; organic requires windbreaks for pastured cattle while GAP level 1 does not; organic has no limit on how long cattle can travel to slaughter wile GAP level 1 limits that time to 25 hours.  These differences notwithstanding, a comparison between the organic and GAP level 1 labels are, for all intents and purposes, a wash.

Which raises an interesting question: why, if welfare is the concern, seek a new label in addition to “organic”? If GAP 1 is effectively the same as certified organic, and if there is no incentive for producers to climb the ladder of welfare improvements, then why bother with the promotion of a separate “welfare” label?

The only answer that I can think of is that doing so allows producers and retailers to charge more for the animal products that, by labeling them both “organic” and “GAP certified,” will make consumers feel that much better about eating the flesh of an animal who, in the end, could give a cluck what label you stuck to his dead body.





Vegan Power: Anecdotes of Inspiration

» January 20th, 2012



A version of this piece ran in the on January 18.


Here is a comprehensive list of what I ate, in one form or another, on the day I wrote this:

Kale, mustard greens, carrots, celery, onions, mushrooms, quinoa, amaranth, pinto beans, beets, parsnips, turnips, yellow peas, brown rice, kimchi, purple cabbage, butternut squash, blueberries, a banana, hemp seeds, flaxseed oil, snap peas, an apple, cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds, pistachio nuts, garlic, broccoli, raisins, granola, avocado, polenta, salsa, a few saltines, a piece of raisin toast with apricot jam, tofu, coffee, olive oil, harisa, chickpeas, tomatoes, a small handful of chocolate chips, a couple of beers … and a vitamin.

For the vegans with whom I share breakfast every weekday morning at a Casa de Luz in Austin, Texas, it’s a standard daily spread. Forty-three discrete plant foods, a couple of processed items, a little alcohol and caffeine, very few carbs, a B-12 pill. Nutrition is shifty business, but I’m guessing most experts would deem this to be a well-chosen array of grub. I might keel over tomorrow, but for now, at the end of the day, I feel as though I could climb Everest. The food was delicious, too.

I mention this list to offer a personal counter-narrative to the increasingly popular and decidedly dour “I’m a recovering vegan” storyline. Perhaps inspired by Lierre Kieth’s The Vegetarian Myth, a book that chronicles the author’s losing battle with a plant-based diet, bloggers have clogged foodie networks with angst-ridden accounts of fatigue, sickness, hair loss, anxiety, diminished sex drive, and mental breakdown after quitting animal products. The problem with these accounts, as far as I can tell, is that those who made the vegan leap (and I praise them for doing it) did so without doing due diligence on the details of intelligent veganism. Someone can live on potato chips, pot, and cherry soda and call himself a vegan. Many recidivists have evidently tried to do just that.

Whether you are convinced by a book such as The China Study or not, there’s no disputing the fact that a diet rich in plant-based, unprocessed food is a smart diet. My point here isn’t to suggest that a diet including modest amounts of lean meat can’t be healthy. It surely can be. Instead, I want to reiterate the equally healthful consequences of a healthy vegan diet. I can brook a million excuses for why a person simply cannot go vegan — cheese! yogurt! cream in my coffee! — but the assertion that veganism, when done right, isn’t healthy is just plain bunk.

For me, the most persuasive evidence supporting a healthy vegan diet is anecdotal. The vegans who frequent Casa de Luz, my breakfast (and often lunch) destination, are paragons of good health. Many of them are significantly older than I am — in their 50s, 60s, and 70s — but they rock on with glowing intensity, looking much younger (in some cases by 20 years) than they are. Every now and then a local vegan hero will drop in — John Mackey (founder of Whole Foods), Rip Esselstyn (pioneer of the Engine 2 diet), a noted musician who will remain unnamed — and we’ll gawk in admiration. The everyday reality, though, is that a dozen or so ordinary people with whom I eat have done extraordinary things as a direct result of intelligent veganism. They’ve conquered obesity, chronic disease, depression, and a host of food-related disorders by exclusively eating an exciting diversity of plants. If there’s one lesson I’ve learned by eating with seasoned vegans it is this: the diet empowers.

Beyond anecdotes, of course, there’s considerable scientific evidence showing that veganism is a smart way to eat. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that a well-planned vegan (and vegetarian) diet is “healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” This is a much more cautious assessment, however, than many studies suggest.

According to one study, “vegetarian and vegan diets are effective in treating and preventing several chronic diseases.” The adaptation of a low-fat vegan diet can substantially mitigate the impacts of type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and Parkinson’s disease. Veganism reduces the risk of colon cancer. Vegans have abetter ”antioxidant status” than non-vegans. Veganism is more effective at combating obesity than other prescribed diets, such as that promoted by the National Cholesterol Education Program. Veganism has been shown to lower risk factors associated with cardiac disease. As Dr. Michael Greger, director of public health for the Humane Society of the United States, explains, “A plant-based diet is like a one-stop shop against chronic diseases.”

I could continue in this scientific vein, but again, it’s the stories of personal transformation that make the biggest impression. Writing in the current issue of VegNews, Jasmin Singer, director of Our Hen House, profiles a one-time morbidly obese diabetic who went vegan, lost over a hundred pounds, cured his diabetes, and now preaches the virtues on his website. Singer goes on to relate the experience of Dr. Greger’s grandmother, who by her 60s had endured two bypass surgeries and was confined to a wheelchair because of debilitating chest pain. Doctors had effectively given her a death sentence. After adopting a strict plant-based diet, she lost the wheelchair, dramatically improved her health, and lived an active life well into her 90s. Especially poignant is Singer’s own story. At 31, her doctor declared her well on the way to early heart disease — an all too familiar situation for people in their 30s who have never before worried about high cholesterol or spiking triglycerides. Following Dr. Joel Furman’s Eat to Live program, she lost 80 pounds and is now a supremely healthy vegan activist helping others avoid the road she once stumbled down.

The transformations initiated by a healthy vegan diet go well beyond physical health. For those who want it to be, a plant-based diet is also a potent political comment on our broken food system. What’s so compelling about these personal stories — besides the inspirational message — is the fact that we’re looking at a diet for which the ultimate beneficiary is the individual. Healthy veganism explicitly serves no corporate or industrial gods. In fact, it counters these interests. I’m routinely told by executives at big food companies (yes, I talk to these people) that they’re not the least concerned with the growing interest in local, sustainable, and humanely-raised animal products. After all, they can always co-opt the alternatives if the alternatives begin to cut into market share. Their fear is that people will stop eating animals altogether. It is veganism that keeps them up at night. As long as people keep eating meat, they’re happy. (The only time I’ve ever heard 50 big food executives fall into a stunned, collective silence is when I spoke extensively about the numerous benefits of veganism in a talk I gave to the National Corn Growers Association.)

If the prospect of simultaneously giving corporate food executives nightmares while achieving personal dietary empowerment — not to mention lowering your carbon footprint and minimizing animal suffering — has any appeal, then veganism is for you. But here’s the thing: You have to do it right, and doing it right means consuming a broad diversity of nutrient-rich plants. A good start toward doing that is available in these books and on these websites: 21-Day Vegan KickstartBecoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Plant-Based DietVegan for Life: Everything You Need to Know to Be Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based