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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Noe Valley Whole Foods Opening: The Protest that Never Was

Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2009 at 11:25 AM

Also, you don't need health care if you eat our food.
  • Also, you don't need health care if you eat our food.
A smattering of people were clumped around the as-yet unopened Noe Valley Whole Foods this morning around 9:15. It was an exceedingly pleasant day, and the babies and dogs that make up much of the neighborhood's population were out in force. An opening of a Whole Foods in a nice neighborhood full of families is not usually cause for tension. But after the company's co-founder and CEO, John Mackey, penned an editorial for the Wall Street Journal tsk-tsking a public option for health care and suggesting that people should just, y'know, eat better, the store has been the target of protests and boycotts. Just recently, the Oakland Whole Foods was subjected to a dancing flash mob. This particular opening seemed like a prime opportunity for making a point, as supervisor Bevan Dufty, who was instrumental in helping the store open, was slated to attend the ceremony.

But anybody who stopped by the quiet event hoping for a spectacle would be sorely disappointed. There were exactly two tables set up in front of the store, one manned by advocates for the restoration of Hetch Hetchy and the other populated by folks trying to drum up support for single payer health care in California. The sole moment of conflict occurred when a one of the Hetch Hetchy tablers called out to a passerby, "We need our national parks!"

"We need water, too." She replied.

"We get our water from Tuolumne." Retorted the tabler.

The woman looked primed to respond and then thought better of it, walking away.

Tension diffused.

The group that came out in support of universal health care was extremely well behaved. One man played the accordion and sang a rather catchy little ditty about the single payer option (though, truth be told, we had a hard time discerning the lyrics other than the generous usage of the term "single-payer option." You had to be there).

click to enlarge Future Whole Foods shoppers.
  • Future Whole Foods shoppers.
A group of about 200 people more concerned with high-end groceries than health care or Hetch Hetchy amassed by 9:45. The attendees thronged a table set up in the parking lot where a large piece of bread was arranged next to some flowers and shopping basket full of groceries to be raffled off. The Noe Valley Whole foods really wants Noe Valley to know that it loves Noe Valley. The neighborhood's name is displayed prominently on the  outside of the building and a big, "I (Heart) Noe" decorates the indoor window.

Whole Foods team leader Angela Lorenzen welcomed the attendees to much polite clapping and cheering, saying that she knew it seemed like a long time coming, but in actuality the swiftness with which the store opened was practically a record. She thanked Dufty for this and then scanned the crowd, presumably for the supervisor. He did not materialize.

This was followed by a brief speech from Noe Valley Farmer's Market founder, Leslie Crawford, who had partnered with the company to help establish an edible garden at nearby James Lick Elementary. "Why?" She asked, "Because Flaming Hot Cheetos don't grow on trees." (Yes, but what if they did? Imagine the possibilities.) Shortly thereafter, the bread (an enormous loaf that covered an entire table) was broken and people began filtering into the store when Lorenzo once again took the mic, declaring that a "special guest" had appeared. The special guest was none other than the missing supervisor, who quickly heralded the opening of the store and then announced that he had written a letter to company founder Mackey and that everyone was invited to read it.

  • The bread-breaking

And thus, with a modicum of fanfare, people stampeded into the store where they were prepared to stuff heirloom tomatoes and organic rice crackers into their forest green shopping baskets.

  • Polite advocates for universal health, with accordian.
  • Not playing hard to get.

When queried if he was relieved that there were no disturbances during the opening, Joe Rogoff, the vice president of the Northern California region of Whole Foods, simply demurred that they were happy to see such a welcoming crowd and said that, "...people had been pressing their noses to the windows for weeks."

Workers have to clean those, residents of Noe Valley.

Dufty told the Weekly that, "...While I didn't expect Mackey to attend the opening of the store, I thought I should express my thoughts to him and I tried to do so as respectfully as possible."

Dufty's short letter (reproduced in total below) thanked Mackey for his commitment to San Francisco and then quickly pointed to positive studies concerning Healthy SF,  the city's health access program, suggesting that Mackey "consider alternative views."

We are sure he will get right on that.

  • Polite advocates for universal health, with accordian.

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Andy Wright


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