Thursday, July 21, 2011

Responses from Whole Foods Market and Next Steps

We have received two letters from representatives of Whole Foods Market. 

The following letter from Whole Foods, which spells my name wrong and is signed by the store manager of the Trolley Square location in Salt Lake City, Utah, is dated July 5th but was not sent until July 11, 2011 (the day by which I had asked to have a response to my letter).  (I have removed my mailing address and the store employee's name from the body of the letter.)

There was apparently a post office error and I did not receive the letter until today.  Whole Foods' position, as described in this letter, is wholly unacceptable.  In spite of the fact that Whole Foods has stores in states that protect (and provide an enforcement provision for such protection) women's right to breastfeed in any public or private location in which they otherwise have a right to be, this letter seems to indicate that Whole Foods believes that they are fully justified in allowing store employees in states without such laws to freely confront breastfeeding women as they see fit.

In this television news piece that aired last night, the reporter stated that the Whole Foods representative who was interviewed “insists the workers who confronted Angelina did not violate store policy—just tried to make everyone happy.”  According to this statement, it appears that Whole Foods does not have a corporate policy to ensure that its employees do not harass nursing mothers, which means that this situation could easily happen again in any Whole Foods location.

However, the following letter from Whole Foods, dated July 20, 2011 (yesterday) appears to offer hope for a positive resolution to this situation.  It is from Libba Letton, who has engaged positively in the discussion on our Facebook page, and who appears to be supportive of policy changes to ensure that breastfeeding mothers are truly welcomed and supported within Whole Foods.  (I have also removed contact information from this letter.)

Given the conflicting messages that have been conveyed by different Whole Foods representatives, we believe even more strongly that if Whole Foods Market is to continue to ethically maintain its claimed commitment to healthy living, it needs to take the initiative to immediately create, publicly distribute, and include in its employee handbook a clear policy affirming its support of breastfeeding women in its stores.  This should include appropriate, consistent, and positive responses for similar situations in the future, as well as a commitment to training all current and future employees on the policy. 

This is an opportunity for Whole Foods Market to affirm its own slogan of “Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet” (TM) and to show that it does in fact wish to support women who are feeding their babies the perfect “whole food”—human milk.

We are in the process of composing a detailed response to Ms. Letton.  We will post it here at the same time that we send it to her.  We are also discussing ways to expand our efforts to illustrate to Whole Foods the benefits of taking a clear position on this issue.


  1. Eloquently said, Ms. Love. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you wrote here. It's good to know there is at least one person in the entire WFM family that has some common sense regarding BF. And of course, she is a DOULA!!!! I am made hopeful by everything Ms. Letton has said thus far, both in the letter above and on the FB page for the nurse-in. I will continue to support you and ALL BF moms! Viva la Boob!!

  2. Wow, how sad that WHOLE FOODS does not support breastfeeding in public. Do they ask the teenage girls to cover the buttcheeks hanging out of their shorts or the amount of cleavage that is shown for fun? Probably not.

  3. I don't know who Libba Letton is, I do know of Randy. He is simply a Store Director. Have you gone to their corporate headquarters yet? I would love to help you in any way I can, and being a local Utah blogger, with a strong audience, I would be happy to get the word out. Please contact me at info {at} jobdescriptionmommy {dot} com
    Keep fighting the good fight!

  4. I guess I just don't understand why throwing a blanket over your shoulder would have been the end of the world. Don't get me wrong, I'm a breastfeeding mother and in a clinch I think that a little public exposure is better than a screaming child, but everyone is comfortable with different levels of exposure, and I don't think that, having been approached by an uncomfortable customer, the store employee was out of line by asking you to cover up. From what I can tell, the problem wasn't the breastfeeding itself and the employee wasn't rude, just trying to make everyone happy.

    As breastfeeding mothers in a society that has an unfortunate number of social taboos about breastfeeding in public, we do need to stand up for ourselves and assert our right to feed our children the way nature intended. I have breastfed in public on many occasions without incident, however I have always used a cover of some kind out of consideration for the people around me. We are much more likely to be accommodated and accepted by others in public places if we are willing to accommodate and accept that not everyone wants to see our boobs.

    I understand your point of view, but I don't feel that WFM was in any way trying to limit your ability to breastfeed in their store, merely asking you to respect the modesty of others. My opinion is that we earn more goodwill towards the advocacy of breastfeeding in public when we are responsive to the needs to the people around us. We may not all agree, but at least by remaining as discrete as possible we aren't creating more opposition to our position by making someone else uncomfortable. It's all about mutual respect.

    That being said, I do want to state absolutely that I do not think that you were trying to be disrespectful or difficult. However, I don't think that the customer who complained or the employee who approached you were trying to be either. I don't know the exact circumstances. Maybe you didn't have any sort of cover up, even an improvised one. We are mothers and these kind of things get forgotten all the time. Maybe you were sitting in the darkest corner of the cafe you could find trying to be as private as possible. And maybe you sat down at a table in the middle of the store, ripped your shirt off, opened up your bra, and let one boob hang out while the other was being nursed. Maybe the reality was somewhere in the middle, and you sat down, pulled up one side of your shirt, slid baby underneath, and you felt that should have been good enough because nothing was really exposed. I think it's easy enough to understand how each of those situations will garner a different reaction from the people around you. Not knowing the specifics, I stick by my stance that if someone is uncomfortable enough to ask you to cover up more, it really shouldn't be that big a deal to do so.

  5. Chelsey~ Many children, especially 18-month-old children and above refuse to nurse under a cover. Many smaller children don't like it either. It is impractical and actually unhealthy for a mother to stop what she is doing every time her child needs to nurse simply because people around her might be uncomfortable. We, as mothers, should never let the comfort of others dictate how we parent, especially if we are choosing to parent in a biologically normal way of nursing children on cue. Many of us who choose to mother our children this way have learned how to nurse while doing other things – in this case shopping. Many of us have nursed while shopping at Whole Foods. We should not be discriminated against.

    It seems that when progress made in society, some people are made uncomfortable. It is actually a good thing. Discomfort helps us, as a society grow and mature. Discomfort is also very subjective. How is a mother to know if those around her our uncomfortable with what she's doing? It is not her responsibility to make people around her comfortable - her responsibility is only to ensure her child's needs are met in the best way she knows how - in this case nursing. I applaud mothers who will nurse in the open despite the discomfort of some. Hopefully more of us will follow Angelina’s lead.

    Melissa Knighton (I know it says unknown when I post and I'm not sure why).

  6. Looks like a "Nurse-In" is called for...

    You certainly would have the support of every breastfeeding mom who shops at Whole Foods.

    You could organize just a local Nurse-In or seek the support of nursing moms across the nation to "Nurse-In" on a given day all together, in their local Whole Foods.

    Good luck to you in your effort to protect the rights of mothers to feed their babies.

  7. Ok, my definition of discreet is probably much different than that of someone who works in the porn industry and someone who is a priest. Who is right? DISCREET DOESN'T WORK!! If someone is uncomfortable by breastfeeding, look away! Just as someone who is uncomfortable with clothing (be it a woman in something revealing or a guy in tight jeans) don't look. Why is it we have to change how we feed our babies because someone else is uneducated? Can I ask a bottle feeding mom to cover up? Quit treating breasts like they're some secret body part, they're made for feeding babies first!

  8. Have you contacted a lawyer? I'm still not so sure that as a place that is open to the public they do have the right to discriminate against a breastfeeding woman. A private club or private residence is different then a place of business open to the public. You should speak to a ACLU lawyer.

  9. Chelsey-

    I wholeheartedly agree with Melissa that a good dose of discomfort may be needed for a lot of people. Our culture's taboo about breastfeeding is simply not one that we should pander to even if if we could (my son refused to be covered after about 3 months and still pulls my shirt up farther no matter how I try to be discreet). There was a wonderful article in one of the La Leche League publications about this very recently and as I recall a couple of those key points seem to apply here:
    1. When we cover up, we convey the message that we ARE doing something inappropriate for public. Which is not what we are doing, or are we? I think some of us mamas have to get over our OWN inhibitions and convey confidence and non-chalance (like this mama seems to have been doing) instead. What are people supposed to think we act bashful about feeding our babies in front of them?
    2. Yes, open breastfeeding will make some people uncomfortable, but if more of us did it slowly people would be less uncomfortable and eventually we could make some really great progress normalizing breastfeeding in our culture. Which would benefit EVERYONE, especially future babies who might not have otherwise been breastfed at all without the visibility and normalcy that will one day (hopefully) emerge in our culture if we work at it.

  10. It doesn't sound like they "harassed" you and it doesn't sound like they do not support breastfeeding in public. They merely asked you to respect others around you who may feel uncomfortable by it. I am a proud breastfeeding mother, but I accept that others may feel uncomfortable with an exposed breast so I toss a blanket over my shoulder. It is possible to conceal yourself with a blanket without completely covering your child. They even make devices you can put over your head to still have direct eye contact with your baby. As a business, they sound like the were trying to accommodate all of their customers by suggesting what, I think, sounded like a fair and reasonable solution. I think you are the one who is being difficult by not being open enough to respect the feelings of others who are not trying to deny your right to breastfeed, but just asking you to respect that others may be uncomfortable with an exposed private part.

  11. Libba Letton's letter to you seems wonderful. Have you called her? It sounds like Randy, the Store Team Leader, is oblivious to the sensitivity of the situation. His job is to run a grocery store, not represent (much less establish) company-wide policies. I would continue the dialogue with Libba and I bet it will result in a company-wide policy being implemented. Bravo!

  12. Yes, let's just ignore the Constitution and business's right to do what they want on their own property. Let's just tear up that nasty little Constitution protecting private property rights, it's not needed, right?? The Supreme Court has ruled on this, and so has Utah state law where this happened. Whole Foods acted fully within the scope of the law.

    Would I have asked her to cover up? No. Would I have asked her to leave. No. I do, however, support the business in exercising their Constitutional right to run their business the way they see fit.

    As a side note, I find it hypocritical for a Whole Food BABY division to exclude a mother from the premises for breastfeeding, I won't be supporting their business in the future.

    In case the FemiNazi's jump down my throat:

    1) I think this was a bad decision on Whole Food's Part

    2) I won't support the business in the Future, I think they are hypocrites.

    3) I support the Business in exercising their Constitutionally guaranteed and protected right to control what happens on their property.