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Whole Foods' meat counter needs to clean up its act, protesters say

The tasso is not always greener at Whole Foods.

The tasso is not always greener at Whole Foods. Associated Press

On Thursday afternoon, the sun broke through the clouds and bathed the shining revolving door of the downtown Minneapolis Whole Foods in light. The temperature was mild, and there was a gentle breeze in the air; perfect weather to put on a cow suit and hold a sign.

A small crowd of people in jackets and knit hats gathered on the corner of Washington and Hennepin Avenues, six to eight feet away from the all-natural grocery chain, holding signs that read “Planet Over Profits” and “#Cleanupmeat.” There was indeed one person in a whimsical-looking cow costume, and one dressed as Ronald McDonald -- in a Whole Foods apron and wielding a chainsaw. Customers exiting the store with brown paper grocery bags and cups of to-go soup averted their eyes.

The misfit crowd was assembled by Mighty Earth, a global environmental nonprofit with a particular bone to pick with Whole Foods.

The fact is, for all of its green stickers and earthy-brown packaging and heavy reliance on words like “organic” and “local,” Whole Foods isn’t exactly an environmental darling. Not as far as its meat products are concerned.

A lot of Whole Foods meats come from large corporations like Tyson and Cargill, companies that raze native prairies to make room for more and more heavily fertilized corn and soy, which is later fed to the cows, pigs, and chickens they sell.

All of that destroys local vegetation, depletes topsoil, and causes fertilizer to seep into lakes and streams. In short, a lose-lose-lose for the environment.

Whole Foods -- which didn’t respond to interview requests -- is far from the only store selling meat from these mega-companies. McDonald’s is also a target for Mighty Earth’s sustainability campaign.

But the difference between McDonald’s and Whole Foods is that one of them has a tree-hugging, hippie-dippy reputation.

“Whole Foods is known for its sustainable brand,” Mighty Earth coordinator Mireille Bejjani says. “But they’re not really living up to it.”

Mighty Earth volunteers made a spectacle of themselves outside of the downtown Minneapolis Whole Foods, all for the good of the planet.

Mighty Earth volunteers made a spectacle of themselves outside of the downtown Minneapolis Whole Foods, all for the good of the planet. Hannah Jones

The demonstrators -- and 30 or so local small businesses that have signed onto the petition -- are asking both companies to adopt some environmentally friendly standards for their meat products, starting with buying from farmers that take precautions to prevent runoff and don’t deplete land as quickly. Hence the apron-wearing clown with the chainsaw.

Deanna White, who attended the protest on behalf of Clean Water Action Minnesota, says she “wants to be optimistic” they’ll listen.

“I haven’t met with [Whole Foods] personally,” she says. But she’s hopeful pressure from shoppers will convince Whole Foods to, in turn, put pressure on companies like Cargill and Tyson.

And if it takes a cow suit and a chainsaw to get their attention, so be it.