Barefoot and healthy at Whole Foods??       ... workin' on it ...

 

In late 2017 I sent a physical, paper letter to both the national headquarters and the local regional offices of Whole Foods Market.  It was the culmination of a long and frustrating string of simply not being able to reach people, either getting voicemail all the time and no responses to messages, or promised callbacks never happening.  They had an outstanding open customer-service case that someone was supposed to follow up on, but it felt like they just didn't want to think about it.  To be fair, around this same time the Amazon acquisition was going on, so key people in corporate circles possibly had a few other things to chase down.

Still, if they worked that hard to try and ignore me, I am left to assume that a few happy feet running around their stores are simply not a problem and that all customers should be welcomed equally -- per their own "interdependence" marketing tag-line, "Whole Foods Market stores are for everyone".  Now, if your own experience differs from that, feel free to get directly in touch with the circumstances -- I can give you my case number, so you can ask why it was never given due attention and followup and WHY on earth would any such harassment still be happening.

This is the text of the letter as it went out, on fairly official-looking letterhead.



Whole Foods Market, Inc
Northeast Regional Office
250 Forest Street
Marlborough  MA  01752
att:  Christina Minardi and colleagues

Whole Foods Market, Inc
US National Offices
550 Bowie Street
Austin  TX  78703-4644
att:  John Mackey, David Lannon and colleagues


To whom it may concern, greetings:

This letter is being sent to both your Northeast regional office and to
the Global Corporate offices, as I don't know where certain operational
directives originate from.  Courtney in your global office didn't seem
to know either, but encouraged me to write to both entities.

The issue concerns signage in the front entrances of several stores in the
Northeast region around the Boston metro area, whose wording references
footwear requirements for patrons.  While this is something commonly seen
around the food retail industry, it is a misguided and intrusive relic of the
past which is rapidly disappearing at locations of more enlightened chains.
I am one of many people around our area who goes through life without shoes
for health and personal reasons, and am quite comfortable and confident in
doing so.  For all but the most extreme hostile conditions, I simply don't
need them -- I'm routinely out hiking in the woods and climbing mountains,
unshod over sharp rocks and gravel and even broken glass bits, or striding
confidently through urban environments, and none of that is a problem for
well-conditioned feet.  Five minutes on the Internet can find you plenty of
information about the clear health benefits and very low risk of the practice.
If you need a quick starting point, visit "outbarefoot.org" for pointers to
some of the many extensive resources about this and additional search
suggestions.

Grocery store aisles, despite all the outdated mythology we grew up with,
are some of the most benign surfaces to be barefoot on and there's just no
reasonable point in having rules to the contrary anymore.  It is nothing more
than discrimination, which started in the sixties and seventies and now over
half a century later, still plagues us.  It is, and always was, "fake news"
based on falsehoods.  Be assured that the shoeless lifestyle is getting more
popular because of the documented physiological benefits and simple comfort/
convenience.  Trying to micromanage patrons' footwear may actually *bring*
legal risk to an establishment, where simply ignoring it is harmless.  Your
premises duty of care does not extend to any patron's feet -- check with your
legal staff.  Any perceived hazards, such as the classic "smashed pickle jar",
can easily be seen if present, avoided, and possibly even picked up by a
caring patron and brought somewhere for proper disposal.

Please re-read your own "declaration of interdependence" page on the WF web
site, and look carefully at some of those original founder pictures.  How many
of *them* would be kicked out of your stores by misguided managers?  Of all
places with so much rhetoric about healthy choices and responsibility to the
community, I'd expect Whole Foods to be one of the longtime leading lights of
lifestyle acceptance.   Dictating anything about footwear to your customers
runs completely counter to your own stated core values:

	  ...  Our stores are "inclusive."
	Everyone is welcome, regardless of race, gender, sexual
	orientation, age, beliefs, or personal appearance. We value
	diversity -- Whole Foods Market stores are for everyone.

But this isn't what we see in the field, at "America's healthiest grocery
store".  Your unfriendly directives aren't even consistently worded.  The
location in Andover MA has white vinyl lettering on the front glass
which reads

	NO PERSON SHALL ENTER STORE WITHOUT SHIRT AND SHOES

This seems downright threatening, like someone who tries will end up as
that day's 100% organic butcher's special or something.  The location in
Arlington MA is a little more moderate, reading

	PLEASE DO NOT ENTER WITHOUT SHIRT AND SHOES

but still expresses a hostile attitude toward good-faith paying customers.
I haven't taken an extensive site survey but when even one particular region
can't get this unhealthy stance uniformly presented, that renders the whole
idea even more ridiculous.  Nobody needs this kind of arbitrary bullying,
which can easily bring on the same kind of second-class-citizen feelings
in the victims as racial tension.   On the bright side, employees at these
locations don't seem to care one way or the other, which is positive evidence
that acceptance already exists at an on-the-ground human level.  People
*are* slowly learning.

You have been asked about this before, and callously tried to ignore it.
Please look up the letter you received from Stephanie Welch in 2013, where
additional evidence was presented about the harms of being forced into
footwear.  She is a professional physical therapist, and has written
extensively on the medical hazards of long-term shoe wearing.  I can
retrieve a copy from an online forum archive if you need a refresher.
I find it inexcusable that your executive leadership didn't take her
seriously back then and perform the necessary supporting research and
global-level action.

I am therefore asking again, with the full backing of the growing worldwide
community of "barefooters", that all such customer-contrary signage be
permanently removed.  All employees must remain clearly aware and assured
that there is nothing wrong with unshod customers and they are *not* to be
harassed over their simple lifestyle choices.  It may not be the most common
situation that store personnel will encounter near-term, but it is decidedly
"a thing" nowadays and becoming more so all the time.  Your area competition
has long since learned and internalized this -- Trader Joe's, Target, Walmart,
Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, to name just a few -- all by corporate policy
do not discriminate against patrons over footwear.  There are no valid
excuses anymore, not that there ever really were.

Thank you for prompt and effective action in this matter.  I am
available for further questions / discourse via any of the means
listed in the letterhead.

/s/ ...


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