During the confrontation, I was informed by a manager that Whole Foods has no policy supporting breastfeeding within its stores, which is disturbing given Whole Foods' consistent marketing of itself as being dedicated to healthy living. I also subsequently discovered that although Utah law protects breastfeeding mothers from being criminally charged for obscenity or lewdness, Utah has no protections for nursing mothers from being discriminated against or even asked to leave private establishments simply because they are breastfeeding.
This has to change. We are dedicated to the implementation of a law in Utah protecting breastfeeding mothers and their babies, as well as to the implementation by Whole Foods of a policy (including training of its employees) supporting breastfeeding within its stores.
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Below is a copy of the letter I sent to Whole Foods, to which they have not responded:
VIA FACSIMILE AND CERTIFIED MAIL
Whole Foods Market, Inc.
550 Bowie Street
Austin, TX 78703-4644
June 22, 2011
On June 17, 2011, my family and I made a visit to Whole Foods Market at Trolley Square at 544 South 700 East in Salt Lake City, Utah. As we were walking through the store, a Whole Foods employee, C______W______, approached me and asked if she might speak with me. I was breastfeeding my child at the time, and she asked me if I “would not mind covering up” because she had "received some complaints and some people were offended by it.” It was highly inappropriate and deeply offensive of her to accost me in this way, and I told her so and asked to speak with her manager. She informed me that she was the night supervisor and repeated that she was only asking because someone had complained to her.
My husband then explained to her that it was my legal right to breastfeed our child. Indeed, several Utah statutes clearly state that the breastfeeding of a child—whether or not the breast is covered—is not an indecent, obscene, or lewd act (e.g., Utah Code Ann. § 76-10- 1229.5). However, your employee ignored my husband's statement and continued to maintain her claim that she was only looking out for the best interests of all customers which, apparently, did not include my family. At this point, a security guard (apparently working at the store through Whole Foods' contract with Centurion) standing behind Ms. W_______, claimed, "More people are offended by it than not," and stated, "Look, we just don't want you doing it." I asked him if he had any statistics on who was offended; he ignored my question.
From there, two other employees, L______ and C______ were called in by Ms. W______, to assist in the discussion. They offered cursory apologies to me and suggested alternative locations within the store where I might choose to nurse, blatantly denying the stigma that they were imposing upon my family. It is disheartening that, especially in a retail establishment that prides itself on encouraging and enabling healthy living, a child receiving nutrition and immune system protection as nature intended is considered somehow unsightly and a nursing mother is pressured to cover up or hide herself to avoid “offending” others.
In light of the recent Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding, which describes the crucial importance of supporting nursing mothers within society (see pages 12, 18, and 19) and the serious, documented health problems caused by not breastfeeding, your staff's actions were all the more inappropriate.
This highly embarrassing situation could have been avoided entirely if your associate had only explained to the allegedly offended parties the obligations that she and Whole Foods Market are under in respecting my right to breastfeed my child. During the discussion, I asked C______ what Whole Foods Market's policy was regarding breastfeeding within the store; her appalling response was to laugh at me and comment condescendingly, “I've never heard of a policy about breastfeeding!” It is clear that your employees lacked the training they needed to effectively handle this situation.
My family was humiliated for more than 30 minutes while other patrons gawked and whispered, all due to the night manager's contradictory claim of trying to create “a family place for young children.” Previously I have made bi-weekly visits to your establishment, happily purchasing most, if not all, of my family's meals, a practice I am now reconsidering after this disturbing experience.
In light of this, and in light of the fact that Whole Foods has stores in states that not only specifically exclude breastfeeding from obscenity laws but explicitly prohibit discrimination against breastfeeding mothers, I ask that you agree to implement a policy that clearly supports breastfeeding mothers within your establishment. This policy should include training for all staff members on the importance and biological normalcy of breastfeeding. Additionally, by displaying breastfeeding welcome signs throughout your store, you will further communicate to patrons that Whole Foods Market welcomes and supports breastfeeding mothers.
If Whole Foods Market is going to ethically maintain its commitment to healthy living, then it needs to support breastfeeding, not degrade those who are trying to do the best they can for their children.
Please let me hear from you by July 11, 2011, as to your plans regarding moving forward with instituting such a policy.
cc: Whole Foods Market, Inc.
1821 30th Street, Unit A
Boulder, CO 80301
Fax: (303) 938-8963
Whole Foods Market, Inc.
544 South 700 East
Salt Lake City, UT 84102
Fax: (801) 990-0037