So, what makes you so mad that you would boycott a company? Immoral or illegal behavior? Sure. Abusive treatment of their employees? Absolutely! High prices and bad service? Yup. Their CEO has a different opinion than you about a political issue? A high level employee of the company made a semi-joking mildly sexist remark? Well...
This week featured in interesting set of events that got me to thinking. First, I don't shop at Whole Foods. Its not convenient, its too expensive, and I dislike the inherent snobbiness of the store and its customers. The CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal in which he opposed President Obama's health care bill and outlined several principles that he felt were important for revamping the current system. If you read the linked article, you will see that it is an informed, thoughtful opinion from someone who is obviously knowledgeable about the issue. You may not agree with all of it, but you have to agree that it is neither offensive nor inflammatory. Yet many folks disagree with that and there were some protests and boycotts of Whole Foods.
Event number 2 was the opening of this year's version of one of my favorite reality shows, Top Chef. For the first time, I've actually eaten at one of the restaurants of a competitor. Mike Isabella is a chef at the downtown Washington, DC restaurant "Zaytinya". Its a very popular place that specializes in "small plates". I'm not a fan of small plates (probably the subject of another post sometime), so have only eaten there once. Anyway, the food is good. During the show, Isabella was in a clam shucking competition. The competitor to his immediate right was a female chef who was keeping up with him. In an after the fact comment, Isabella said,
I look next to me and Jennifer has the same amount of clams and I'm like 'I'm doing something wrong', there's no way, no offense, but a girl shouldn't be at the same level that I am.
Throughout the episode, Isabella appeared to be a talkative, confident, and brash person. We've all met guys like that. I didn't think much about it until I read today's chat with Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema. Wow, there were at least a dozen posts indicating outrage at Isabella and declaring that they would never visit his restaurant again.
Here's what I think:
In the Whole Foods controversy, please. The guy expressed an opinion. Nothing that he wrote was offensive in any way. His end goal is exactly the same as the President's. He just disagreed about the most effective way to reach that goal. This is exactly the type of dialog and discussion that we need in order to come up with a good solution. How can anyone be offended by what he wrote? Disagree? sure. Become offended because he has a different view? Umm, no. Remember, we value diversity and difference. This includes opinions.
The Zaytinya case is a bit different. The comments he made were obviously sexist. I would say that it was mild sexism and said in a somewhat joking manner. But it contained more to be offended by than Mackey's column. Still, does this comment warrant any action more than a wince? People are free to boycott and I would never try to stop them. But if a single sexist comment forms the basis for a boycott, then a lot of things need boycotting. Plus, that same standard can be applied to ourselves. So we really need to make sure our own houses (and our jokes) are clean. And what about all of the other restaurants we frequent? Can we really be comfortable not knowing what type of offensive comments might be being uttered back in the kitchen? Should we interview the chef at each prospective restaurant to make sure we are comfortable with their attitudes? Me, I'm going make my decisions based on the food, price, and service.
What do ya think?