Why I disrupted the Whole Foods CEO at Stanford

Feb. 28, 2016, 11:59 p.m.

I’m an animal-loving vegan. So is John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods. But on Wednesday night, a team of animal rights activists and I loudly disrupted Mr. Mackey (VIDEO) at a lecture he was giving on veganism.

What is going on?

As an investigator who has spent much of the past two years exposing Whole Foods’ farms, I have special reason for anger. I have seen the animal suffering wrought by Whole Foods’ brutal practices. Animals are crammed shoulder-to-shoulder in filthy, ammonia-filled sheds. Millions are so sick and broken that they die even before arriving at the slaughterhouse. Yet the company has the audacity to claim its products are “free range” and “humane.”

Like so many of you, I’m disturbed by animal cruelty. I love my dog as dearly as I love my sisters. And I’ve cried many tears watching footage of animals wasting away in manure pits, torn to pieces due to the inevitable outbreaks of cannibalism, or festering with tumors the size of grapefruits. But I’ve wiped away my tears and, like an increasing number of animal lovers across the world, decided to take action. The Open Rescue Network I am a part of has, under cover of night, rescued dozens of victims from the clutches of Whole Foods and other animal-abusing giants, all while garnering major media attention in the process.

But open rescues can only achieve so much on their own. To solve the problem of animal agriculture (an industry that The Economist has called “a danger to the world“), we need to bring the stories of animals like Mei Hua — a baby bird we found trapped and starving in a manure pile at a Whole Foods farm — straight to the corporate power at its root. And so we have repeatedly gone to Mr. Mackey with one simple request:

John, will you have a conversation with us?

A corporate executive genuinely concerned with integrity should be grateful to activists for exposing fraud and misconduct. Yet, to date, Mr. Mackey has refused our repeated requests for dialogue and hidden behind the walls of corporate power.

Until Wednesday.

Despite a heightened police presence and security sweeps to filter out Whole Foods’ critics from the Law School — all to protect Mr. Mackey from any critical questioning, according to the organizers — a dozen other Direct Action Everywhere activists and I infiltrated the lecture. I showed Mr. Mackey a picture of Mei Hua. I asked him how her brutal suffering could possibly be consistent with “animal compassion.” And then I was joined by my fellow activists, who rose up one by one out of their seats. We pointed out what is, from the animals’ perspective, an obvious truth: What Whole Foods is selling isn’t food at all; it’s violence.

John Mackey says he is vegan. Well, there is a long history of companies, from Enron to BP, using “moral credentials” to distract from egregious misconduct. (How better to justify animal abuse than to say it’s being sold by an ethical vegan?) But a true commitment to trans-species justice extends far beyond our own personal choices. It doesn’t matter if you’re vegan, John. What matters is whether you stand for the liberation of all sentient beings.

We came to Stanford on Wednesday to determine what Mackey and Whole Foods really stand for. If Mr. Mackey truly believes in integrity, compassion, and veganism — and isn’t just using the halo of animal ethics as a marketing ploy — he will do the right thing. He will sit down with us to find a way to show the public the truth: that the only truly compassionate food system is one where animals are not being used or exploited at all.

The ball is in your court, Mr. Mackey.

– Priya Sawhney 

Contact Priya Sawhney at priya ‘at’ directactioneverywhere.com 

Priya Sawhney is an organizer for the global animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere and founder of Animal Liberationists of Color. She was previously a community organizer at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic.



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