Widgets Magazine


Why I disrupted the Whole Foods CEO at Stanford

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.



  • Zachary Groff

    Having been to one of Whole Foods’ farms and heard the lies Whole Foods spewed to the press in response to an expose of blatant fraud, I have to heartily second this piece. If John Mackey really believes that animal agriculture is wrong, it’s time to end it.

  • ATanner

    Thank you for bringing the animals’ voices to this debate. They would want John to stop his atrocities immediately.

  • Sapphire Fein

    I’ve been to Whole Foods’ farms, and I know what the truth really looks like. It’s time John Mackey and his team made Whole Foods truly friendly to animals, not just vegans.

  • Chris Dietrich

    Brave activists. Thank you. It’s simple. We shouldn’t be hurting defenseless animals and we shouldn’t be afraid to say so.

  • dancingwaters

    The vegan soups and other vegan dishes served at the Whole Foods where I shop go far more quickly than other dishes. Maybe John Mackey should consider turning Whole Foods into a vegan supermarket?

  • Wilson Wong Wen Sean

    Mr. Mackey is a walking example of why being vegan doesn’t mean you’re an ethical person to animals… But I do have hope in him; he has so much potential to do good!

  • A Stanford vegan

    I have respect for what DxE does and agree that touting “humane” meat production as a compassionate practice is disingenuous. But I’m puzzled and concerned by this particular disruption. My question: if you met with John Mackey, what specifically would you ask of him? What is the strategy here?

    Would you want him to make Whole Foods vegan only? I doubt he has this power. Plus, Whole Foods and its CEO help animals on a massive scale by making it easier for people like me to switch to more plant-based foods. If Whole Foods became vegan only, it wouldn’t be such a large, successful company and consequently wouldn’t help as many animals.

    Would you want him to speak out more in advocacy of animals? That’s exactly what he was doing at this event. And protests possibly make him less likely to do more.

    Would you want him to change Whole Foods’ messaging? Maybe that would be fruitful. What would be the ideal messaging?

  • Kitty Jones

    The video is really inspiring. Thank you for speaking up for the animals. It does not matter if Whole Foods has vegan options or if Mr. Mackey claims to care about their well-being…. the bottom line is that they are still being murdered. We must end this violence.

  • Jenna MIles

    If not completely vegan, they need to at least stop saying animal abuse can ever be humane.

  • SomeoneAtStanford

    I’m someone who has started eating less meat, not giving it up. I’d rather eat meat from Whole Foods still than meat from any other store. I think you’d have a hard time convincing others to give up meat without Whole Foods providing the vegan options they do (try going to Safeway and get something vegan that tastes good!.

  • Orlando Torres

    He doesn’t have power to pass a decision to stop selling animals overnight but there are thousands of more achievable things that would still help animals. Off the top of my head:

    1: Make a commitment to start reducing their income from animal products, with a goal to eliminate them by a certain date.

    2: Create a plan to start giving more emphasis and promotion to vegan alternatives, to eventually replace profit that came from animals.

    3. Resolve to stop promoting the idea that violence can ever be compassionate. This is a dangerous lie that no animal-lover would ever spread. They should start spreading the idea of complete animal liberation instead.

    4. Decide to start actually meeting the standards that they place on their labels (avoiding consumer fraud).

    Etc, etc.

  • WilliamRD

    I’ve seen some Whole Foods farms and they’re the best in the industry.

  • Wayne Hsiung

    Powerful piece. Thanks for this, Priya!

  • John

    Wow! Whole Food’s has done some really effective marketing if someone can be confronted with the cruelty of Whole Food’s farms that has been exposed and still be a loyal customer. Hopefully you keep an open mind and realize you not only can give up meat and dairy, but also become a voice for the animals.

  • John

    This is truly amazing work. I wonder how much longer John Mackey will dodge your questions Priya…

  • Wilson Wong Wen Sean

    So if the best is still so bad.. what does that imply about the entire animal industry?

  • keira

    This action was so inspiring. Thanks to the DxE team for pulling this off. The animals need liberation now. Not ‘humane’ lies and ‘compassionate’ violence. We need to amplify their cries for the whole world to hear.

  • keira

    Please realize the only way to care about animals is to stop eating their flesh completely & take action for their liberation.

  • Jeff

    He SAYS he’s an animal-loving vegan, but what ethical vegan who took their ethics seriously would head a company that kills hundreds of millions of animals, and lie about the conditions under which they are raised?

  • Orlando Torres

    I’m glad to see someone calling out Mackey’s hypocrisy. What kind of “animal-lover” works this hard to convince people killing young animals can be ethical and compassionate?

  • Orlando Torres
  • Orlando Torres

    Yes! The “humane lie” is the biggest obstacle to animal liberation. Whole Foods is basically presenting “humane meat” as an “ethical” alternative to veganism.

  • Orlando Torres

    Yes! They should at the very least state it as a goal.

  • Level80Vegan

    Looks pretty good to me. When can we cook them?

  • Heather Moore

    Good for you! I’m vegan too, and Whole Foods has tons of vegan options, but I soured on the store when it bragged about selling “humane meat” from farms that were anything but humane. Seriously. Does this look “humane” to anyone? http://investigations.peta.org/whole-foods-humane-meat-expos

    So-called “humane farms” aren’t even monitored and the standards are not enforced. It’s not just our farming practices that need to change, but our eating habits. If people think it’s cruel to confine animals on filthy factory farms and mutilate them without any painkillers, then they must also acknowledge that it’s wrong to kill animals for food in the first place. If people want “humane,” they should opt for vegan food.

  • Jeff

    Not only stop eating their flesh, but stop participating in their exploitation for food, clothing, entertainment, or any other purpose. Animals are not (or shouldn’t be, anyway) our property!

  • Jason Farnon

    “I love my dog as dearly as I love my sisters.” lol

  • Orlando Torres

    I see, whenever you realize you have no logical arguments you just try to say something “bold” to show you’re so “tough” that you don’t care about harming animals for pleasure. Not original, not funny, not hurtful, just pitiful. I hope one day you have the courage to question what you’ve been taught.

  • Jeff

    To date, there have been four investigations of animal farms supplying Whole Foods that are touted as “humane.” All have found appalling conditions (cf. this investigation of a turkey producer: http://dailypitchfork.org/?p=992). “Vegan” John Mackey, who has gotten fabulously wealthy from his company’s sales of animal products, has publicly claimed that the animals whose body parts and secretions Whole Foods sells are “raised with care and respect.” Clearly nothing could be further from the truth. This demonstration occurred only after numerous attempts to personally contact Mr. Mackey, including this open letter (http://directactioneverywhere.com/wf-letter/#letter), were ignored. Humane animal agriculture is a myth, and Mr. Mackey needs to stop pretending otherwise.

  • Rose

    I really appreciate the bravery of these people to stand up to what is seen as the norm. I really appreciate that they are a strong voice for many defenseless species, and I will applaud the CEO of whole foods for any measures he takes to rectify these horrific realities.

  • Tom Tkach

    John is the perfect figurehead for his shareholders. The new Greenwashing is Humanewashing.

  • Dog Lover

    He prefers profit over compassion.

  • Carolyn Bryant Schaub

    Vegan police suck. John Mackey does not OWN whole foods. He cannot force their hand.

  • Jeff

    That’s not the point. He is actively promoting the lie that Whole Foods suppliers are treating animals humanely. The fact that he is not a controlling shareholder in Whole Foods has nothing to do with that.

  • neuroticoctopus

    The CEO has power, but not enough to force all WF customers to go vegan, or to demand that stock holders lose money by making the whole company sell only vegan products. Your expectations are unrealistic, and detracts from promoting the real change that has to happen first, at the consumer level!