Shopping for Wholeness: The Political Economy of Whole Foods Market and the Commodification of Altruism




Lakomski, Allison Marie

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



For the majority of Americans, Whole Foods Market needs no introduction. Whole Foods started as a small natural foods store in Austin, Texas, but has grown into the eighth-largest food and drug store chain in the United States, earning recognition for it higher ethics and its higher prices in the process. Despite the recent attention given to Whole Foods Market Corporation in academic and popular literature, few analyses have considered the breadth of its actions and the potential long-term impact of its corporate financial success. Working from Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey’s theory of “Conscious Capitalism,” this dissertation is an analysis of the contradictions in the company’s attempt to produce social, economic, and ecological change through a modified form of capitalism. Situating Whole Foods within the interrelated histories of ethical consumption, the American supermarket, and the natural foods industry, this study reveals that—contrary to the popular opinion that Whole Foods is exceptional as a business—the practices of Whole Foods are one outcome of the trajectory of capitalism. Whole Foods mobilizes ethical consumption by presenting care for people and the planet as part of its brand. The company attempts to address some of the most negative effects of capitalism by showing consumers that their choices can facilitate positive change within the market. Conclusively, this dissertation shows that what appear as admirable efforts by Whole Foods serve to mask the company’s role in the preservation of exploitative social relations and ecologically detrimental practices. Far from serving in the creation of a better world, the drive of Whole Foods to profit hinders the achievement of the company's mission by perpetuating the illusion that capitalism can be both optimally profitable and ethical.



American studies, Business ethics, Consumer studies, Environmentalism, Fair trade, Food studies, Philanthropy