Whole Foods. To be honest, I haven’t really thought much about Whole Foods ever since it was purchased by Amazon. Actually, I hadn’t thought much about Whole Foods before that. Sure, I mentioned it a few times, beginning in 2008 with a bit where the late Dan Olmstead claimed to have heard (secondhand, of course) a bit of information that “they” knew that mercury in vaccines causes autism. Occasionally, I mentioned Whole Foods because Mike Adams attacked it for supporting breast cancer awareness, how Seth Mnookin mentioned Whole Foods’ antivaccine stylings as if to condemn the left as antivaccine when in fact the founder of Whole Foods was an anti-union Libertarian and admirer of Ayn Rand, and how Whole Foods sells all sorts of “gluten-free” skin products, and other woo being promoted by Whole Foods.
That history aside, I had (mostly) forgotten about Whole Foods and hadn’t written about it for a while, even though there’s one a mere two blocks from where I work that I occasionally go to when I have time to get lunch or to pick up a few things. Then, yesterday, I saw this article by Maddie Stone:
If you look past the colorful organic produce displays and sustainably-sourced seafood counter, however, you’ll start to notice incongruities. There’s nothing particularly healthful, for instance, about the homeopathy aisle — a section of Whole Foods’ Whole Body Department that sells 19th century pseudoscience masquerading as cold and flu remedies — or the shelves filled with supplements and probiotics making claims that often don’t hold up to scientific scrutiny.
But all of this pales in comparison to the disinformation Whole Foods is selling in its check-out aisle: magazines with articles promoting vaccine skepticism.
Insider recently found several magazines that have run articles raising unfounded concerns about the safety or efficacy of vaccines. These messages are not only out of line with the mainstream medical consensus, they are actively dangerous, according to public health experts.
I must admit that I’ve never looked inside an issue of the magazines sold by Whole Foods promoting antivaccine misinformation. Oh, sure, I’ve wandered down the aisles where Whole Foods in Midtown Detroit sold (and still sells) pure quackery.
Tell me more, Ms. Stone. Tell me more…about Well Being Journal:
Scattered amongst the breezy magazines devoted to healthy cooking and pet care are titles like Well Being Journal, a bi-monthly publication sold at Whole Foods stores in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia, among other locations. It has published articles that tout medically unsupported homeopathic therapies as “non-toxic” alternatives to vaccination. Others promote the debunked link between the MMR vaccine and autism. One particularly egregious article in a 2017 issue, adapted from a defunct anti-vaccine website, is literally titled “MMR Vaccine Causes Autism.”
It’s not Whole Foods, though. It’s also Sprouts, Natural Grocers, and Barnes & Noble, although Whole Foods has more locations. Well Being Journal, unsurprisingly, features articles touting discredited vaccine-autism claims and even articles by an old “friend” of this blog, J.B. Handley. It also features this sort of content:
Another issue from 2018 features an excerpt from vaccine skeptic and family physician Richard Moskowitz’s book “Vaccines: A Reappraisal.” It includes a lengthy compilation of “clinical perspectives” on vaccines that hit many of the anti-vaccination movement’s favorite talking points. In the excerpt, prominent anti-vaccine doctor Sherri Tenpenny asserts that vaccines weren’t responsible for eradicating polio (they were), while homeopathic doctor Toni Bark compares mandatory vaccination policies to forced medical procedures performed in Nazi Germany.
The magazine commonly features articles written by alternative medicine gurus — naturopaths, acupuncturists, energy healers, intuitives, and some medical doctors — on topics like meditation, chronic illness, and toxins in consumer products. But these pieces promoting vaccine skepticism aren’t anomalies.
Sherri Tenpenny? I just wrote about Sherri Tenpenny just yesterday. She’s still spreading antivaccine misinformation, only this time in a manner that can truly cause harm, as she’s trying to convince people in Samoa that measles isn’t dangerous and that the measles vaccine is the cause of the outbreak through “shedding.”
Then there’s Natural Awakenings. I’ve mentioned the magazine before. It’s a quack magazine. It’s antivaccine, too:
When Insider reached out to Scott Miners, founder and executive editor of the Well Being Journal, he said in an email that the magazine is not “against vaccines” but rather seeks to foster “an informed discussion” and “find the truth for the good of all.”
Miners defended the book excerpt by JB Handley, noting that it does not precisely assert that vaccines cause autism. While that’s technically true, the excerpt does state that there is “clear and compelling scientific evidence that supports the connection between vaccines and autism,” which is false.
No, this is not an “informed discussion.” Rather, it’s a misinformed discussion that results in what I like to refer to as “misinformed consent” or, as I’ve been calling it more recently, misinformed refusal to consent. As for J.B. Handley, his claims are so easy to deconstruct and refute that one wonders why he even bothers.
It’s not surprising to me that Whole Foods is providing a home for antivaccine misinformation, although, in fairness, I must point out that Whole Foods is far from the only store that distributes Natural Awakenings.
I must also pick a few nits:
To Hotez, the fact that Whole Foods, like its parent company, has apparently turned a blind eye to vaccine skepticism on its shelves isn’t surprising. Anecdotally, he said, the affluent, educated, liberal-leaning consumer base Whole Foods targets appears to be particularly susceptible to anti-vaccination messaging.
As much as I admire Dr. Peter Hotez, I can’t help but note that (1) antivaccine nonsense is the pseudoscience that spans the political spectrum and (2) the founder of Whole Foods was anything but liberal, and the selling of nonsense at Whole Foods began very early in its history.
Although I’m always happy to see pushback against antivaccine propaganda in mainstream sources, I also can’t help but observe that this story is a bit of a nothingburger. For one thing, as I mentioned above, Natural Awakenings is a throwaway free magazine that I can find at way more places than just Whole Foods. I’ve seen it at a local Coney Island that I frequent. I’ve seen it at a local specialty food store that my wife and I sometimes go to. I’ve seen it a few other places too. I don’t recall having seen Well Being Journal around my neck of the woods, though.) In any event, if you look at the Natural Awakenings corporate website, it prominently brags about having a $1.5 trillion marketplace, being the #5 health and fitness magazine, having published for 25 years, and having 3+ million readers a month.
Just for yucks, I perused the version of the magazine being sold in Michigan. The December issue features the sponsored profile of a profile of a local chiropractor, who “specializes in chiropractic combined with functional nutrition to help patients obtain natural pain relief, balance hormones and employ nutrition for anti-aging protocols and adrenal fatigue. In addition to providing chiropractic adjustments,” he offers applied Kinesiology, lab testing, whole-food-based nutritional supplements, cold laser, stretches, exercise and pulsed electromagnetic field therapy. Then there’s an interview with orthopedic surgeon Mary Neal, who had a near death experience during which, according to here, she got a glimpse of the afterlife and now preaches that God and the afterlife are real. In other issues, there’s another sponsored profile of a reflexologist and a “wholistic” veterinarian who offers “fewer conventional drugs and limited vaccinations.” Of course, there’s also an article on “natural” ways to keep your thyroid healthy. Then, of course, there’s this article that does the “both sides” approach giving credence to antivaccine views. You get the idea. There’s a lot of woo; so of course there’s antivaccine woo. It goes with the territory.
In the end, Whole Foods’ letting the distributors of a couple of free magazines that promote “natural” quackery is just part of the package that is Whole Foods’ promotion of nonsense. Of course Whole Foods stocks these sorts of free rags! It sells homeopathy, supplements, “detox” cleanses, gluten-free everything, whether it ever had gluten in it or not or whether it’s even meant to be consumed. Antivaccine pseudoscience is part and parcel of the whole package, because if you’re selling homeopathy you’re almost certainly selling antivaccine nonsense as well.
Don’t get me wrong. I like seeing Whole Foods called out for this. Also, since Amazon bought Whole Foods, you’d think that, given its proclaimed efforts to remove movies promoting quackery from Amazon Prime and dubious quackery from sale on Amazon itself, it might want to take a look at one of its more prominent acquisitions from the last few years.