SOY TO THE WORLD: HOLIDAY WISHES FROM WHOLE FOODS MARKET
This past holiday season Whole Foods Market offered customers gift boxes and certificates brightly printed with the wish “Soy to the World.” Whole Foods Market, of course, perceives soy foods and soy milk—particularly modern packaged and processed soy products—as a major profit center. Soy also fits nicely within CEO John Mackey’s vegan agenda and his promotion of soy as the ticket to personal and planetary health. Sadly, soy to the world will not bring joy to the world this holiday season or any other.
The word “soy,” however, fits Whole Foods Market very well. As coined in the new urban lexicon (see sidebar “Talking Tofurky”) “soy” is streetwise lingo for something false, of poor value, or just not what it seems. That pretty much sums up a whole lot of the phony baloney, pseudo-organic products that Whole Foods sells. Indeed a whole lot of what this chain preaches is out of integrity with what it practices.
Heard of whitewashing? The variant found at Whole Foods is known as “greenwashing.” The chain put green leaves on its logo, prominently displays environmentally correct “core values,” and gives mouth service to sustainability, yet engages in numerous practices that are environmentally unfriendly.
“Bagging it,” for example. Whole Foods encourages us to bring our own bags to save the environment and gives bag credits to local charities. Eco consumers feel good about this, but what about all those highly processed and overly packaged foods toted home in them? Soy good to know that not one of those pricey crackers or cookies will crack or crumble. As for those sturdy plastic boxes, they’ll survive for years in the landfills.
SOY LOCAL OR SOY LOCO
Whole Foods talks the good talk about supporting local farmers and in fact is one of its conspicuously displayed “core values.” But walk down the aisles and almost everything comes from somewhere far away. Where were all those little soybeans milked to produce soymilk? Where did they catch those tofurkies? Where did those fruits and vegetables grow? California, Mexico, Chile, India? Not soy often in our own backyard.
How do local farmers feel about Whole Foods Market? Many mutter “Soy loco” (“I am crazy”) under their breath whenever they give in and sell to Whole Foods. Farmers who expect a fair wage for their hard work can rarely sell to Whole Foods given the chain’s aim to buy dirt cheap and sell sky high.
More rain forest acres are destroyed for soybean crops than for raising beef cattle, yet soy is touted as green for the environment. Most of the Midwest has been destroyed by the monocropping of three vegan staples: corn, wheat and soy.
“Soy to the World” means planeloads of soy products donated to survivors of famines and natural disasters. Seems benevolent, but there’s more to this than good PR. Disaster relief builds global business by making the world’s people dependent upon imported soy and other industrially grown, processed and packaged products. Such “charitable” practices undermine local farmers and cottage industries and wipe out indigenous crops.
Equal opportunity poor health. Yuppie vegans at one end of the spectrum pay premium prices for health-destroying soy foods. Poor people eat donated soy from relief packages. The results for both are malnutrition, digestive distress, thyroid disorders, reproductive problems, ADD/ADHD, allergies, even heart disease and cancer. Soy to the world.
|SIDEBAR: 15th Soy Symposium – Adapting to New Market ForcesNovember 11, 2010 in Washington, DC
Hosted by the United Soybean Board and the Soyfoods Association of North America, the 15th Soy Symposium included company executives, soy bean farmers, policy influencers (including Dan Glickman former, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and Chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America), journalists (including Sally Squires, former medical and health writer for the Washington Post and Jia Lunn Yang, financial writer for the Washington Post), industry representatives, academics (including Brian Wansink, former Executive Director of the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion), chefs and former Olympic gold-medal gymnast, Dominique Dawes, who was the featured lunch speaker.
The event was billed as a conference to “examine how food companies are adapting to four primary forces—health, economics, global marketing and sustainability.” The take-away points from the discussion were primarily ideas and strategies to get more consumers eating more soy food products.
To the credit of conference organizers, attendees really did dine on soy foods, rather than salmon and shrimp as in previous conferences. The menu featured mini tacos made with TVP, tofu dip, beef and soy sausage, soy nut cookies, soy yogurt, soy milk, Caesar dressing made with soy milk, black soybean chili, and tofu chocolate almond mousse.
In his opening remarks, Dan Glickman shared the story about how he told the theatre industry to use soybean oil instead of coconut and palm oils in movie popcorn. He praised the “bridge builders” like Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern and Bob Dole, who ushered in mega-corporate farming and helped formulate the dietary guidelines, based on the products of commodity agriculture. He stressed the need for more of the same to feed the world’s growing population and lauded the soybean industry’s role in shaping “nutrition” policy, especially in public schools.
The keynote address by Brian Wansink, PhD set the context for discussion by clearly defining who the industry should and shouldn’t be focusing on with respect to soybean consumers. He gave as an example the success soymilk producers experienced by targeting lactose-intolerant consumers. He further discussed looking at a triangle representing all the people in the United States: At the top of the triangle are “soy-seekers.” These people love soy, look for soy in products and are huge champions. At the very bottom of the pyramid are the people who are “indifferent” to soy for whatever reason. It could be they don’t care, they are uninformed, or some other reason. The middle segment of the triangle represents the “nutrition pre-disposed”—not towards soy in particular, but towards healthy food in general. Wansink stated this is the segment the industry should focus on, as there is tremendous potential there. One of the problems in the industry, he said, is that people have focused too much on the top part of the pyramid and everyone is trying to get a piece of this tiny pie. The strategy for marketing to the pre-disposed segment is two-fold: Come up with a great idea that works for a lot of people (even if not all), and then after that find a ripple effect that works for others.
In a moment of honest revelation, Wansink spoke about the disappointment throughout the industry when highly anticipated health claims about the benefits of soy did not yield high sales for soy products, with the exception of soy milk. He suggested that the government promote soy products the way it promoted organ meats during World War II, as something good for you and good for the nation. He also suggested that marketing strategies target “nutritional gatekeepers,” that is chefs and family cooks interested in nutrition. Wansink further noted that as health claims failed to convince the population that soy was the magic bullet fifteen years ago, the opportunity for soy today is with the obesity challenge and the new dietary guidelines. Specifically, soy should be promoted as a solution to overweight by marketing it as a healthy substitute to meat and dairy products.
Other speakers discussed how soy products will help meet U.S. dietary guidelines, with its renewed emphasis on plant-based diets; noted that the soy industry is working on production of novel varieties of high oleic soybean oil low in saturated fat; stressed the marketing of soy as a complete protein, perfectly appropriate as the only protein source for infants, children and adults; promoted the use of “stealth health” as opposed to “muscling” in change to force dietary changes (that is, sneak soy into common food products); speculated on how to remove the allergens from soy; and figure out what to do about the fact that soy doesn’t actually taste very good.
One panelist was asked: “How do you counter negative data from wackos on the internet?” The answer: don’t add to the debate with more data because the “data is irrelevant.” People will believe what they want to believe regardless of truth. Effective marketing is the ultimate solution. The soy industry should “cultivate the root as opposed to fertilize the leaves” which means targeting children. The panelists agreed that Rachael Ray needs to eat a soy burger!
Interestingly, motivational speaker Dominique Dawes, a Silver Spring, Maryland native, confessed that as a child one of her favorite foods was chitterlings—which she ate by the plateful. It was one of many home-cooked “soul-food” dishes prepared by her mother. She also ate home-cooked foods during her career.
Thus the conference danced around the key problems with immensely profitable, highly fabricated soy foods—they are toxic and they taste terrible. A full report of the conference by a WAPF member, who attended and sat quietly in the back of the room, will be posted at the end of this article at westonaprice.org.
Meanwhile, John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO, likes to be seen as just a regular Joe. He earns only fourteen times the salary of his average “team member,” after all. While other corporate executives doubtless take home far bigger paychecks, Mackey’s “talking tofurky” here. If he were an executive who “talks turkey,” he would admit to also earning millions in stock options. He might also be sensitive to the fact that his store is widely mocked as “Whole Paycheck Market” because its extreme markups make it soy overpriced for the average consumer.
Whole Foods sells only organic soybeans, right? That’s what they say, but it took months—and an embarrassing exposé by the Cornucopia Institute—before just some of the Silk products made with commercial soybeans were removed from the shelves. Similarly, Whole Foods has sold a whole lot of veggie burgers, energy bars, and other “organic” products made with soy protein isolate and other ingredients processed using hexane solvents. Cornucopia also exposed that, but you read it first in The Whole Soy Story.
Elsewhere in the store, pseudo organic reigns. Consider factory-farmed “organic” Horizon brand milk and butter. As for produce, the artful displays conflate organic and commercial. And if the internet postings of disgruntled Whole Foods “team members” can be trusted, much—if not all—of it is cleaned with non-organic cleaners. Seems the organic cleaners are brought out when the inspectors come in. Shoppers who aren’t careful may go home with commercial produce just like that found at the supermarket down the block but at a substantially higher price. Whole Foods Market carefully crafts the illusion that it sells organic, but far more of what it sells is “natural”—whatever that means—or even commercial.
SOYLED HEALTH CLAIMS
Is soy the “miracle bean” that can cure everything from cancer to ingrown toe nails? Whole Foods would certainly like us to think so. Similarly, consumers who buy baked and deli goods at Whole Foods are almost always con-oiled, though canola is increasingly replaced by soy oil, which, if anything, is even worse.
Hemp, chocolate, or agave, anyone? Health claims for any of these are very “soy;” that is, not what they seem. Agave nectar, for instance, is tricked out high fructose corn syrup. Chocolate-covered soy nuts are surely the “tofurky” of snacks. Most sanctimonious of all is Whole Foods’ promotion of vegan goods with a green smiley face and the slogan “I’m vegan!”
All the onions are exactly the same size. Big, round and heavy! All the apples, too. Never saw anything like that in my own garden or orchard. Yet Whole Foods gives us row after perfectly presented row of produce. Bland, but pretty-faced, immaculately clean, blemish free, perfectly made up and not one strand of hair out of place, these are the Stepford wives of the fruit and vegetable kingdom. I guess Whole Foods thinks Stepford foods provide a stress-free shopping experience. No need to choose. Perfect for the shopper in Calvin Klone jeans.
The Urban Dictionary defines “soy latte” as something overpriced and pretentious, especially something that tastes good initially but leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. Seems to me that sums up Whole Foods Market awfully well.
|SIDEBAR: TALKING TOFURKYEager readers want to know how to incorporate the “health benefits” of soy into festive dinners. As the Naughty NutritionistTM, I suggest we not eat soy during this or any other holiday season, but instead speak it. In other words, let’s talk tofurky. Given that laughter is the best medicine, I present a baker’s dozen of soyspeak examples found in, or inspired by, the Urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com).
SOY : Short for soybeans, soy foods, or soy products. Something ersatz, poor quality or otherwise lacking good value. “Man, that joke was soy!”
TOFU: Soybean curd. Something that seems fine at first, but turns out to be ersatz or cheaply made. “Dang. Got my Tiffany diamond appraised and found out it was tofu.”
TOFURKY: A mound of pseudo turkey made of tofu and other interesting ingredients. Something bland and boring that has been tricked out to seem hip, cool or funky. “It’s a tofurky of a house—particleboard box iced with Corinthian columns, gables, griffins and a red tile roof.”
GOING COLD TOFURKY: The action of a vegan who gives up a habit or addiction at a single moment, rather than gradually. “I’m addicted to Facebook. Gonna have to go cold tofurky.”
TALKING TOFURKY: To use a ten dollar word or phrase when a one dollar one will do. For example, using “ambulate” rather than “walk” or “at the present time” instead of “now.” “Am I just dumb or is my boss ‘talking tofurky’ when he orders me to ‘validate support strategies for customer satisfaction parameters?’”
SOY MANELLA: Food poisoning from contaminated Tofurky or other soyfood product. “Can’t go shopping today, sweetie. Got soymanella at that Thanksgiving potluck.”
SOY LATTE: Overpriced and pretentious. “She wears Gucci socks to work out! How ‘soy latte’ of her!” VEG’N: Alternative spelling of vegan. Diet said to bring one to G*d . A loving, inclusive term that unites vegans and vegetarians rather than emphasizes their five letters of separation. “Oh my G*d, I’m a veg*n.”
VEG@N: Alternative spelling of vegan. “Why do you spell it veg@n instead of vegan?” “Cuz it’s where it’s at. Veg@n looks so cool!”
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2011.