'Food for People, Not for Profit'

The slogan "Food for People, Not for Profit" sums up the philosophy behind a movement for food justice where the production of food is done ethically and its consumption is considered a collective right. In the late 1960s and 1970s, a number of vegetarian, natural, and whole foods cooperatives and collectives where founded on this principle.

One example is the Wholefoods Collective at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Founded in 1977, this student-run collective includes a vegetarian kitchen, cafe, grocer, and catering service. The collective aims:

  • to provide only vegetarian and vegan food, using organic and ethically produced ingredients wherever possible;
  • to encourage voluntary student participation at all levels of cooperation of the restaurant/space, in an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation;
  • to demonstrate that a collective (operating by consensus decision-making processes) is a viable alternative to a hierarchical organisation;
  • to create an atmosphere which promotes social awareness and the possibilities for social change through encouraging use of Wholefoods as a venue for student cultural, social and political activities;
  • to maintain a non-profit philosophy whereby the restaurant aims to break even.

In terms of "Food for People, Not for Profit," the Wholefoods Collective is an example of modeling the vision for change here and now.

However, the Wholefoods Collective stands in stark contrast to another "whole foods" operation, that being Whole Foods Market. The two names aptly denote the different philosophies. That is, while the Collective focuses on food for people, the Market focuses on food for profit. Unfortunately, it is the Market that has recently come to be wrongly associated with the term "vegan." This is unfortunate because, unlike the Wholefoods Collective, the Whole Foods Market is an invalid model for the vegan ideal.

Yet, on January 24, 2005, a number of nonhuman animal advocacy organizations from the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, many claiming to promote a "vegan diet" and one appropriating the term "vegan" in its name, signed a letter endorsing Whole Foods Market in its development of new methods for nonhuman animal exploitation - euphemistically titled "Farm Animal Compassionate Standards."

And then, on October 7, 2005, Kim Stallwood and Tom Regan, at a conference titled "The Power of One," presented John Mackey, the anti-labor and staunch capitalist president and CEO of Whole Foods Market, as the model for change. Of course, this is in line with Regan's classist/neoliberal views, and Stallwood's role in helping to coordinate the Non-Profit Industrial Complex takeover of nonhuman animal advocacy. Even the title, "The Power of One," promotes individualization at the expense of veganism as a collective process.

The most common defense offered up by the organizations and individuals promoting Whole Foods Market is profit. We're told that Whole Foods Market must make a profit and that if they stopped exploiting other animals they would go out of business. And if they go out of business, we are warned, then no one will institute the new methods for exploiting other animals.

But veganism isn't about instituting new forms of nonhuman animal exploitation, nor is it about assuring that multinational corporations should continue to profit – especially from said exploitation! I wonder how many local, community-based vegetarian food cooperatives and collectives that ran under the philosophy "Food for People, Not for Profit" throughout North America and the United Kingdom have been driven out by Whole Foods Market? Whether it is in the tens or hundreds I think it is apparent that by supporting Whole Foods Market we have forgotten the vegan ideal.

Which brings me back to the Wholefoods Collective and modeling the vision for change here and now. The Wholefoods Collective is a model I believe we can work with. At fist glance it may only seem like an example for student-run campus operation, but, even so, this obviously does more to model the vision for change here and now than getting "cage-free" eggs or even commercial veggie burgers offered in the cafeteria and other campus food services. However, I believe there is little reason to limit this model to a campus setting.

To some, the Wholefoods Collective model may seem idealistic. It works on a campus with the support of the university student association, but would it work in the "real world"? A pragmatist, for instance, might believe it is more realistic to support corporations like Whole Foods Market than focus on a community-based collective.

The fact is that the Wholefoods Collective is in many ways a significantly more realistic option than Whole Foods Market, especially for those most in need of real options and real change. First, many poor and working-class people can't even afford to shop at Whole Foods Market, also known as "Whole Paycheck." Furthermore, Whole Foods Market, like most supermarkets, will not even consider doing business in many poor and working-class communities. Whole Foods Market in particular looks specifically for upper-middle class communities with a high level of college-educated residents. Thus, Whole Foods Market really only provides options accessible to the most privileged communities.

On the other hand, a community model like the Wholefoods Collective could be far more accessible to a wider section of society. For example, a similar collective could be managed by poor or working-class people as a way of bringing real vegan options to our communities. This is especially true for those living in a "food desert," those communities where because of the lower income and education level of the residents supermarkets simply refuse to open. If similar volunteer-based collectives can provide books and bicycles to their communities, then it can be done for food.