For our Foodie Friday Fun piece I want to look at something Whole Foods announced a month or so ago. On the surface it seems as if it’s very much in keeping with their brand positioning and is something that will make a positive contribution in sustaining the food chain. Why, then, are so many people questioning both their motives and the effectiveness of what they’re doing? A quick examination is useful in raising issues we can all think about as we try to move our businesses forward.
First the facts. Whole Foods announced that they will stop selling fish caught from depleted waters or through ecologically damaging methods. They won’t carry wild-caught seafood that is “red-rated,” a color code that indicates it’s either overfished or caught in a way that harms other species. This will impact the sale of octopus, gray sole, skate, Atlantic halibut and Atlantic cod caught by trawls, which some say can destroy habitats. Instead, they say they’re going to sell sustainable replacements like cod caught on lines and halibut from the Pacific. Pretty straightforward, right? Hopefully by not selling the fish that’s most threatened or whose capture might damage the environment, Whole Foods is marching in step with their brand image and their customers’ mindset.
Except maybe not. First, for those of us on the east coast, Pacific fish needs to be flown here. Without having the “is global warming manmade” fight, let’s just assume it’s better to eat locally sourced ingredients for a lot of reasons, the environment and taste among them. Next, it ignores items such as scallops which are not endangered but are caught using many of the same methods (dredging) that are being excluded. Third, the list the chain is following is produced by the Blue Ocean Institute and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California which some attack as having their own agenda. Finally, the more cynical (read that as New England fisherman) commenters question if the whole thing isn’t just a PR stunt to get some good out of the fact that cod and other of the “red-rated” fish will be hard to find and very expensive so to mitigate the lack of availability the chain is just tossing it out completely.
I have no clue which position is right or wrong. I raise the discussion because it’s a great example of how even what seems to be a company trying to do some good can involve an awful lot of issues to which technology gives a lot of visibility. What about the fisherman whose livelihoods are affected? What about other local jobs that support them and the excellent work most local fishing communities are doing to preserve the fishing beds (which obviously they should have started a long time ago or we’d not be having this discussion!)?
We’ll file this one under no good deed goes unpunished, I guess. It’s all of our jobs to try to do good as we’re doing well. The trick is to make sure that others see it the same way and if they don’t, that at least you’ve considered their positions and are prepared to discuss your reasoning.