Based on little more than magical thinking

Steven Salzberg at Forbes points out that Whole Foods Markets does some very good things, like having a seafood sustainability policy and offering humanely-raised chicken and beef. On the other hand it also does ridiculous things, like flogging homeopathy, opposing GMOs, and refusing to sell aspirin.

Whole Foods sells homeopathic medicines that are little more than snake oil. They make claims for health benefits, both on their shelves and on their website, that are based on little more than magical thinking. For example, they sell “homeopathic flu remedies” claiming that “when taken at the first sign of sickness, these can provide temporary relief of symptoms including fever, chills, and body aches.” This is simply false: no homeopathic treatment has ever been shown to be effective at treating flu symptoms. (I’ve written about homeopathy in more detail here and here.)

It’s ironic that on the one hand, Whole Foods proclaims “We’ve long believed that consumers have a right to know what’s in your food”. But when it comes to homeopathic remedies, they neglect to inform consumers that these remedies do not contain the ingredients on the bottle at all.

Well that’s because there aren’t any! That’s what makes it work!!


Whole Foods has an anti-GMO policy, adopted across all their stores, that ignores the science of GMOs. They announced last year that they would label all products in their stores to indicate whether they contained Genetically Modified Organisms. They also have announced that they are trying to eliminate GMOs from their shelves.

That’s just…superstitious.

Whole Foods won’t sell the pain relievers aspirin and ibuprofen, because they’re not “natural.”Instead, their Whole Body department sells a wide range of nutritional supplements, for which they make claims such as this:

“Not sure which supplement to choose? Grab a full-spectrum wellness or immune support formula. These combinations of herbs, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are specifically designed to effectively improve overall wellbeing and enhance immune support.“

And you can’t tell us they didn’t, because that’s so vague you won’t be able to tell!



  1. AsqJames says

    Yep, aspirin’s not natural enough for me either. Whenever I get a headache I boil up some willow bark and drink it like tea, the results are miraculous.

    I think it’s criminal that the evil pharmaceutical industry refuses to investigate nature’s natural remedies and uses propaganda to convince everyone to consume their artificial chemicals (like aspirin) instead.

  2. Al Dente says

    I’m reminded of the bit from Tim Michin’s poem “Storm”:

    Alternative medicine, I continue
    Has either not been proved to work,
    Or been proved not to work.
    You know what they call alternative medicine
    That’s been proved to work?

  3. martincohen says

    Since ginseng increases the effectiveness of whatever it is used with, I takes it together with a placebo and get truly astounding results!

  4. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    You boil up willow bark? Hah! Superstitious fool! I take a placebo!!

    But is it a natural placebo, Blanche Quizno?

    According to the precepts of homeopathy, ginseng would be even more effective if you didn’t take it at all, martincohen.

  5. Katie Anderson says

    Willow bark works because it has aspirin in it. Well, the harsher chemical aspirin is derived from that has a problems like a higher risk of ulcers. And there’s a bunch of other crap mixed in there other than just the actual thing that is making you feel better.

  6. resident_alien says

    Um, Katie Anderson, I think AsqJames knows that willow bark contains salicylic acid (aspirin is a brand name for acetyl-salicylic acid) and was making fun of the sillier kind of
    semi-informed New Age/hippie/Earth-Mother types…That’s how I read it anyway.

  7. moarscienceplz says

    So if one of the Whole Foods people contracted AIDS would they refuse the unnatural drugs that turned it from a death sentence to a manageable condition?

    What if somebody in the store had a heart attack? While they are waiting for a bio-diesel fueled ambulance, or better, a pedi-ambulance, they can’t give aspirin to the victim. At least they will die a “natural” death.

  8. Ed says

    I smash my hand with a hammer to distract myself from the pain of the headache.

    Or I listen to right wing radio which is painful at first, but then makes me completely numb and unable to think about anything.

  9. moarscienceplz says

    Well, the harsher chemical aspirin is derived from that has a problems like a higher risk of ulcers.

    Low-dose aspirin alone did not significantly increase ulcer incidence.

    And there’s a bunch of other crap mixed in there other than just the actual thing that is making you feel better.

    Other than binders and enteric coatings to reduce stomach irritation, nothing besides aspirin is listed as an ingredient on my bottle of generic aspirin. Citation please, or else you are a liar.

  10. Trebuchet says

    Whole Foods also has a CEO who was caught redhanded sockpuppeting financial forums to pump his stock price.

  11. Pierce R. Butler says

    … they would label all products in their stores to indicate whether they contained Genetically Modified Organisms.

    That’s just…superstitious.

    What problems do you have with labeling? For those who object to GMOs on grounds of resisting agribusiness monopolies, that’s useful information; for those who expect health problems from eating GMOs, this provides a (partial) way of confirming or contradicting that hypothesis.

    Note also, btw, that Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has also cut his part-time employees’ hours as part of the wingnut crusade against Obamacare.

  12. Dunc says

    For those who object to GMOs on grounds of resisting agribusiness monopolies, that’s useful information

    How so? If you interested in “resisting agribusiness monopolies”, you have a hell of a lot more to be concerned about than GMOs.

  13. smrnda says

    Once I found that the whole foods CEO was some kind of anti-worker anti-union shithead, I resolved to never spend a cent in their stores – I came across his writing in some book of tracts in promotion of totally deregulated capitalism.

    Glad to have even more reasons not to shop there. All said, I get bit tired of how much the Naturalistic Fallacy is being promoted these days, all the sillier when it’s over the internet.

    Agribusiness monopolies are their own problem. It’s best not to muddy the waters of attacking corporations with anti_GMO nonsense.

  14. bigwhale says

    If food wants to voluntarily label themselves as not containing something, even for irrational reasons such as kosher nor non-gmo, that is fine. But requiring food to add an extra label that they contain proven safe GMOs is a harmful policy.

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