by Sue Ann Rybak
The Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which said that “closely-held” corporations could opt out of insurance payments for some forms of birth control to which they object for religious reasons, has generated a controversy at Weavers Way Co-op.
The controversy has arisen over one of the co-op’s suppliers, Eden Foods, whose CEO Michael Potter has revived his 2013 lawsuit to stop employee health insurance coverage of any form of birth control because it “forces citizens to violate their conscience.”
Because of the Eden Foods action, many members of Weavers Way have called on the co-op to boycott Eden Foods products.
In a statement posted on Weavers Way Co-op website entitled “Before There Was Hobby Lobby, There Was Eden Foods,” Mary Sweeten, editor of the co-op’s newspaper The Shuttle, said the issue was “complicated,” echoing an earlier statement by Norman Weiss, the co-op’s purchasing manager.
“Eden adheres to the highest organic principles, pushes hard for consumer-friendly food labeling and remains independent when its competitors have been swallowed up by multinationals,” Sweet wrote.
Last year, Weavers Way asked members if their buying decisions were affected by the political views of manufacturers and other companies. The poll found that 82 percent of members said their views were affected by the views of manufacturers and other companies, but, less than half those polled thought the co-op should take an official stand.
In the August issue of The Shuttle, Weiss noted that “Eden Foods has a track record of maintaining very high standards.”
“They created healthier packaging and help maintain organic integrity, objecting to USDA watering down of rules, he said. “Eden appears to provide quality jobs and support a thriving food industry.”
While the co-op is not boycotting Eden Foods, it leaves the decision to buy Eden Food products up to its members, saying on its website, “Feel free to vote with your wallet.”
Co-op member Alexandra Langendorfer, of Mt. Airy, wrote: “We try to support fair reimbursement for workers, but what about fair health care for women? In some food categories Eden is just about the only choice at the co-op.”
Member Michael R. Frumer, of Chestnut Hill, wrote: “It will be something of an inconvenience for us if the co-op discontinues Eden Food products, but it looks like they have to go. This organic food company is refusing to pay for employees’ birth control. Just like Hobby Lobby, Eden Foods has sued the Obama administration, claiming its owner’s religious rights should trump employees’ rights to access contraception.”
Sally Lane, of Lafayette Hill, asked the co-op to take a survey of members.
“I would like to request that the management of Weavers Way consider discontinuing Eden products (which I saw on the shelf during my shift yesterday), due to the company’s attempt to deny coverage for contraceptive benefits to its employees based on the CEO’s religious beliefs,” Lane wrote. “While I’m sure the co-op cannot respond to every request regarding specific products, a survey of members regarding issues of this type might be reasonable.”
J.J. Van Name, of Mt. Airy, also encouraged the co-op to take a poll.
“Hey Norman – thanks for the ‘It’s complicated’ perspective,” Van Name wrote. “I get it, but to me, it’s not complicated. I don’t support/buy from any right-wing nut companies, and don’t believe the co-op should either. Yes – take a survey of our members – at least the women. As ‘complicated’ as it might seem, and as great as their product may be, hitting CEOs who hold these extremist views in their $ belt is the only way they sit up and take notice.”
David Woo, of Roxborough, encouraged the co-op to “gather more information and data” before it makes a decision as an organization.
“So the question is which issue to back, ACA or organic standards,” Woo wrote. “Tough, tough choice and it appears we can’t have both – back the company for food purity, boycott the company for ACA health care fairness.”
Woo added: “We should all circle back to the ICA Cooperative Principles and our own governing ends as well as our bylaws to start gearing up our own processes to work through this Eden Food controversy.”
The August edition of The Shuttle listed nearly 70 different Eden products carried this year by the co-op. Weavers Way’s best-selling Eden Food products are canned legumes and soy milk.
Weiss said sales of Eden Food products did drop from $4,500 in April to $4,000 in July, adding, however, that it was normal for sales to drop during the summer. The co-op’s total estimated sales for the month of April were more than $1,500,000.
While several Weavers Way members may view Eden’s actions as a step backwards in terms of social justice, for the time being, the Co-op will leave the decision about whether or not to purchase Eden Food products up to its members.
Jonathan Leeds, Weavers Way membership manager, may have summed it up the best in his Shuttle article “Eden Foods Suit Raises Values Question for Co-op.”
“One of the strengths of Weavers Way is that it encourages public dialogue around important issues, even when those issues might be sensitive or controversial, and even when there is little chance of a consensus,” Leeds wrote. “It is not when we all agree that makes the co-op stronger, it is when we all have a voice.”
To read Eden Food’s statement on the lawsuit, go to www.edenfoods.com/articles/view.php?articles_id=219