Food activists slam Whole Foods
When last week’s ice storm knocked out power to Whole Foods Market’s Bayside location, store managers were faced with a problem: what to do with the tons of frozen and refrigerated food gradually warming inside the store. About five van-loads of butter, eggs, cheese and other products were delivered to the Wayside Soup Kitchen on Oxford Street, but a far greater amount of food was discarded, dumped into two large dumpsters on the market’s property.
A group of local activists noticed the dumpsters full of perfectly edible food and took action. In the early hours of Dec. 13, they hauled away six station-wagon loads and two pickup trucks’ worth of food — including meat, eggs, vitamins, butter, milk and frozen vegetables. A member of the group named Aaron — who spoke to The Bollard on condition his last name be withheld, citing legal concerns — said there was still a lot of food left, so plans were made for a daylight run later that Saturday.
That’s when things got ugly.
Aaron said he hoped a swarm of people would show up and overwhelm any effort Whole Foods could make to protect the discarded food before it was hauled to the incinerator. “It would have been a public relations nightmare for Whole Foods if they tried to stop us,” he said. However, only a handful of people accompanied Aaron back to the market late that morning. And when they arrived, they discovered one of the dumpsters had already been hauled off, and a truck was readying to take the other.
The activists attempted to stop the truck from taking the second dumpster, prompting Whole Foods to call the police. When the cops arrived, Aaron said an argument ensued and he and his fellow dumpster divers were threatened with arrest. They left without further incident.
Aaron and his cohorts believe the Texas-based natural foods chain could and should have done more to get the food to the needy. “The food was never in an environment where it could have spoiled,” his partner wrote in a bulletin posted on MySpace. “Even though the power was off in their freezers, the temperature would not have warmed to a dangerous level, and when it was brought outdoors, it was well below freezing.”
“The sheer wastefulness that Whole Foods took part in is disgusting,” the message continued. “Their unwillingness to share this food with the community members that came, with open vehicles and willing hands, is disturbing.”
The message ends with a vague call to “take action” against the grocer. “Do not be fooled by their ‘Green,’ ‘Natural’ and ‘Sustainable’ propaganda,” Aaron wrote. “Whole Foods is a wasteful, disgusting, fucked up corporation. Shop local! Support a farmer! Eat seasonally! Fuck the Bastards!”
Barbara Gulino, a spokesperson for the Portland Whole Foods, said the food was discarded for health and legal reasons. “There are health laws we have to follow,” she said.
However, neither Gulino nor Whole Foods public relations manager Robin Rehfield know what the legal consequences would be if someone fell ill after eating discarded food. “I can’t really speculate what the repercussions would be,” said Rehfield.
Wayside’s executive director, Jeff Estabrook, said the estimated 3,000 pounds’ worth of cheese, eggs and butter from Whole Foods will be distributed to food pantries throughout Cumberland County.
Aaron said the food he and his group hauled off is being shared with friends, family and other community members.
— Patrick Banks