Outside of "being a place that sells food," McDonald's and Whole Foods don't have a whole lot in common... right?
"Whole Foods has, for a while, been the darling of sustainability and eco-minded food," says Mireille Bejjani, a field organizer with Mighty Earth Twin Cities. "But they've been coming under more fire following the Amazon acquisition ... They're definitely not as looked up to as they used to be."
That's because there's at least one other similarity between the two companies: Neither Mickey D's nor Whole Foods has any sort of sustainability commitment to mitigate the environmental impact of the meat they serve.
And here, we thought those little "organic" stickers meant something.
The findings are listed in "Flunking the Planet: Scoring America’s Food Companies on Sustainable Meat," a recent report from Mighty Earth. The global environmental nonprofit doesn't condemn Whole Foods for selling meat, nor is it trying to get you to go vegan: "They care about organics and things like that, they do have animal welfare standards," Bejjani says of the grocery store.
But what Whole Foods doesn't have is standards to address what their meat supply chain does to the environment. Bejjani says it's the first step—growing corn and soy that's later fed to animals we eat—that can be the most destructive. A lot is grown by mega-corps like Tyson and Cargill, who will clear native prairie land and grassland (along with South America's rainforests), before dumping fertilizer into it.
The results include greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and widespread deforestation. It's why Mighty Earth is currently engaged in a worldwide campaign—The "McWholeFoods" campaign—to address the negative effects those practices have on the planet.
Here in Minnesota, where water nitrate levels in some areas have already climbed troublingly high, Mighty Earth is first turning its focus to water pollution and deforestation. They're asking McDonald's and Whole Foods to adopt environmentally friendly standards for the meat they sell: buying from farms that use cover crops during the off season to reduce erosion, or have better buffer zones to prevent runoff and pollution.
For growers, those changes would also help with a third problem, according to Bejjani: "By having these more sustainable farming practices, they won't deplete the land as quickly and have to clear more land." These are strategies some farmers use now, and she says they do allow for profits and good crop yields. "It's just a question of making that shift in the food industry and getting these big companies to make it."
Their grassroots movement here in Minneapolis started six and a half weeks ago, and they've already amassed a petition with 1,000 signatures calling on the companies to act. The latest campaign leg kicks off Wednesday, October 10 at 11 a.m. with a press conference near the Stone Arch Bridge (900 First St. S., Minneapolis).
The idea? Get folks to call Whole Foods' and McDonald's regional company HQs, voice their opinions on the issue, and tell them what environmentally conscious consumers want. It'd be "pretty uncommon, for companies like McDonald's and Whole Foods, to get these calls from customers," Bejjani says. Local speakers will be on hand to bring in the Minneapolis perspective, including Becky Hill, vegan baker at Uptown's all-vegetarian restaurant Fig and Farro, and Don Arnosty of conservation group the Izaak Walton League.
Thanks to the global nature of food, "The production steps of food have become so distant that we only think about what ends up on our plate," Bejjani says. "But I think there's a new wave of interest, along with the vegetarian and vegan wave that's developing. People are thinking about it."
If you can't make it to tomorrow's event, follow Mighty Earth Twin Cities on Facebook, where they'll share the phone numbers to dial so you can air your beefy grievances.
Bejjani says the campaign will continue through December, with phone banking, petitioning, and more ways to get the word out.