1.22.2011

A choice between nothing or nothing.


You may recall a story about Whole Foods a year ago where they bragged about a new program that would discriminate against fat employees. Basically, they set up a program that tied one's weight to their employee discount. Thin employees could get up to 10% extra off in-store purchases. For a single individual, that can easily be hundreds of dollars each year. If you're shopping for a family, it could easily be more than $1,000 annually.

Its pretty obnoxious stuff, but also old news. Still, I referenced it in a tweet a couple days ago because I was frustrated to see Whole Foods being lauded for being so good to their employees while they have an official policy discriminating against fat employees. This got their attention and I got a response from their official Twitter feed tersely telling me I was "incorrect". So, I elaborated by specifically referencing their discount program as the evidence that I was actually quite correct. They responded with:

"Sorry you feel that way but our Team Member incentive program does not discriminate against anyone....everyone can participate"

Frankly, I'm dumb-founded at how insulting a response this is. Looking at the comments of the f-word article, it also seems like they've been this insulting for a while. Because the extra benefits being given thin employees are optional, its not discrimination. That is deeply twisted logic. Fat people have no option for the extra 10% off their purchases. It is functionally invalid to claim this does not discriminate against fat people. The ability to participate in a system which will give them nothing is not a choice. It means they have a choice to get nothing or alternatively nothing. Its like they respect fat people so little that they don't even need to bother making sense when spitting on us.

So, while it may be old news, its still very actively discriminatory. I can't say I boycotted Whole Foods over this (though, I did stop going for several months). I respect the choice to do so, but I tend to feel like fat stigmatization is so taken for granted that its hard to penalize just those who are known to do it. Still, I find their justification for discrimination insulting enough that I am reconsidering. They are hardly alone in thinking fat people don't deserve the same things as thin people, but its pretty audacious to do that and then tell fat people that this isn't even harming us. The whole point is to harm us. Don't insult me and tell me this is nothing. If you can't stand by your policy of fat discrimination, maybe you should reconsider it.

15 comments:

Samantha C. said...

nono, you see, EVERYONE can participate in the culture that tells fat people they're intrinsically unhealthy! Surely, the fat employees can just lose weight if it's that important to them to save money! It would only be discriminatory if there were no proven way to make fat people thin or if it was scientifically valid that weight-loss diets don't work or....oh....

I love Whole Foods, but I wouldn't ever be able to work there with this policy in place. I find it weird sometimes the ways that the Green Movement tends to intersect with fatphobia - I'm hoping to make a post soon about a really terrible weight-loss-based poster put up by my school's sustainability department. There's this conflation of both Thin = Healthy, and Green = Healthy (veganism and vegetarianism especially, which Whole Foods caters to). Therefore, Green = Thin, and there's a lot of hate.

Twistie said...

Wow. This boggles the mind. The worst of it is that the people who put that discriminatory policy in place and support it may not even recognize how insulting, discriminatory, and shaming it is. Fat phobia and fat shaming are so basic to our current thought patterns as a society that the fact that it's unfair is pretty much invisible to most people.

Then again, once upon a time people couldn't see how calling homosexuality a mental disease was shaming and discriminatory. Once upon a time slavery was justified by the concept that 'those poor, underevolved natives' weren't intelligent enough to take care of themselves without a good whipping or seventeen a day. Once upon a time women were considered far too irrational to be thoughtful voters, let along legislators.

There are still, sadly, pockets of all these hideous, vile, painfully inaccurate attitudes around us... but they keep getting smaller and being less accepted at large.

My hope and belief is that one day people will look back on policies like this one with the disgust and derision they so firmly deserve.

Regina T said...

Wow Whole Foods...."everyone CAN participate"??? Really? So, that bodybuilder who technically has a bmi over 30 but works in your stock room doesn't qualify for the extra discount? And how is this discount given? Do the "under 30 bmi" employees have to carry a card stating those numbers? Is there a scale they must step on at the checkout counter? Who determines this discount?
Besides all the above, this policy is a massively epic LOGIC FAIL on their part in regards to anti-discrimination practices. Do you really think this policy will encourage healthy eating and fitness for ALL employees when it uses this method to determine that? So the "appearance" of health is all your going for right? If that fat team member happens to have pristine cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, yet fails in the BMI category, then no additional discount? And what do you do when a team member develops a brain tumor (which can cost a million dollars to treat and rehabilitate medically--just ask my dear friend who lost her 16 yr old son to one)? Do they still get the discount? You see, you can't start categorizing one group without factoring in other groups. But, since it's about fat, and society blames every bad thing that happens anywhere on fat, then I guess it's ok? Stay classy Whole Foods!

Meowser said...

I'm glad I have other options for gluten-free groceries besides them, and they get the bulk (ha ha) of my business, though I can't say I have a full-on boycott either; if I'm in downtown Portland it's them or Safeway, and Safeway, if anything, treats their employees even worse.

But my ex-husband once made an interesting point that there can be a better way to stick it to a company you don't like than a boycott: Buy only their loss leaders. They HATE that.

living400lbs said...

Oh, but see, fat people can lose weight.

Our culture really doesn't want to hear about how infrequently weight loss can be maintained, which makes it easy for people (and companies like Whole Foods) to view weight loss as an easy, attainable option for everyone.

living400lbs said...

Meowser - Yes indeed. We go to Safeway when 2-liters are less than $1 apiece and similar sales. ONLY.

throughalookingglass said...

... Um ... So the goal is to encourage employees to be healthier by imposing a penalty for being unhealthy according to some metrics. God forbid BMI isn't the super accurate measure of fitness that science is claiming it is, I mean, thank God this metric is perfect and there is absolutely no evidence that it could possibly be just a loose guide given a medium frame for ages 25 - 55 (which is the age range that ALL of their employees fall into) and a very specific activity level and assumptions of a fixed adipose/ muscle ratio per additional pound beyond the non-muscular LMI. Plus it isn't like hormones and food reactions could ever play a role into weight. Seriously, I have NEVER, as a woman, been concerned about weight fluctuations, especially over the winter. That is just crazy talk.

*Okay, gotta stop being sarcastic*

If WholeFoods (WF) wanted to give an incentive for better health then WF should first identify SOUND metrics, then develop plans to (at least passively) help employees. Maybe observe the following: caffeine, alcohol, complex blood panel, vegan/ vegetarian, exercise, etc.. These metrics should be based on personal goals (how many of us have seen a number and thought 'OMG I suck at life! How can I be so bad at this?')

Put people into friendly competitions where they are all on one team but the winners (somehow tracked) are announced. Have teams treat each other like runners do: the journey binds us all in sorority (or fraternity, whatever). Organize teams or pools where depending on your goals or needs you get discounts based on product needs for your goals.

See, health costs are reduced and everyone gets support and incentive to get healthier. Further, this works if you just belong to a community (vegan, cilliac (and other food allergies), mother of far too many, etc.) - Not Hard.

rebecca said...

Meowser (or anyone), is there a way to know which products are the loss leaders?

Meowser said...

Well, let's put it this way. If they're selling anything advertised at a price that appears to be dirt cheap compared to its usual asking price, that product is likely to be a loss leader. Not always (there are overstocks too), but that's the general idea. So check their ads, store-issued coupons, etc.

etooz said...

I have never liked Whole Foods. I heard about this back a while ago, and I was just not surprised. On the rare occasion I have set foot in a Whole Foods, the whole environment just made me feel uncomfortable. I find their food to be expensive and not at all impressive. Their carbon footprint must be quite large, too-- getting blueberries from Chile to Boston must take some doing. I found that particular instance to be the most upsetting-- Whole Foods, of all places, should care some about the communities they choose to locate themselves in, and should stock more local products. Maine has blueberries out the wazoo. Why weren't they selling those?

I don't know. I don't ever plan on shopping there, that's what it all boils down to.

silentbeep said...

Based on Whole Foods own internal logic (which I don't buy) this policy doesn't even make sense. In their minds, they think all the food they sell will help "make" people thin and therefor health. So, if I take them at their logic, this policy doesn't make sense within the "whole foods universe" because they are making it "harder" for their fat employees to be thin! i mean, if they are so convinced of the "thinning healthy powers" of whole food product, why are they not making it easier for their fat employees to get on on the action? It's so much b.s. on so many levels (again, I'm not buying into Whole Foods philosophy, it just seems like a fat concern troll created this "incentive" program).

Alexa said...

This program discriminates against everyone who hasn't been genetically predetermined to fit their arbitrary criteria. There are some people who can lose weight through dieting/exercise, so they assume that everyone can. Similarly, there are some people who can reduce their cholesterol and blood pressure through dieting/exercise, so they assume everyone can. This is very much not true; cholesterol levels are just as genetically heritable and predetermined as body size.

wriggles said...

People who know better are always in denial about their fat phobic behaviour. It's either not happening/ doesn't hurt or in this case, both.

They know it is unjustifiable yet don't want to stop it, even if things descend into farce.

I should be the Greens natural constituent, but I simply cannot get on board with them because of their contemptous disregard for the needs of the poor in both the developed and developing world.

Plus their base fatphobic 'analysies'. If you are so stupid for instance to compare the troubled earth to a fat body, then it casts doubt on your capacity to reason.

notblueatall said...

I was always uncomfortable shopping at WF because people would give me the stink-eye everywhere I went. The employees were nice but the other shoppers were near hostile towards me. I would walk around with my little hand-held basket and people would bump into me in an empty aisle as though I was taking up the entire store! I would squish myself into the tiniest space possible to allow people to pass, it didn't matter, I could have evaporated into mist and still be in these people's way. I tried other locations, it didn't matter. I was fat and that was that. Then heard about this discount bullshit and that was the final straw for me. I boycott and I tell people why all of the time. No one knows about this! It's incredible I doubt I've gotten anyone else to boycott, but I feel better knowing my hard earned money isn't lining their discriminatory pockets!

Sizzle said...

Whole Foods is actually not good to its employees. I know people that work there and their health coverage is laughable, among other things. I do not shop there and this is just more reason to avoid them!

Thanks for speaking out.

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