This week, Oxfam is hitting the road to serve up some food for thought to raise awareness of the human suffering happening behind the food on supermarket shelves and to call on Whole Foods to take responsibility.
Everyday food products, like seafood, are often produced by millions of people working in inhumane conditions, earning extremely low wages, and living in poverty. What’s worse is that supermarket executives are making big profits while these workers can barely feed their families.
As part of Oxfam’s new campaign, Behind the Barcodes, we conducted a study that found that big supermarket chains like Whole Foods aren’t doing enough to ensure safe working conditions and improve lives.
But it doesn’t need to be this way. That’s why Oxfam will be driving from Washington, DC, to Austin, Texas—the home of Whole Foods’ headquarters—to ask the supermarket to tell us the whole story behind their food and to listen to the more than 200,000 concerned consumers who have already spoken out through our campaign. The supermarket has yet to respond to Oxfam, which begs the question: What are they hiding from us?
Along the way, the food truck will be stopoing at Whole Food stores and college campuses in different cities. We are calling on you to join us in advocating for the millions of people who work in inhumane conditions and earn poverty-level wages and pushing Whole Foods to take responsibly and help end the human suffering behind our food.
We’ll be documenting our road trip to respecting human rights, so follow along with us using the hashtags #BehindtheBarcodes #WholeStory.
Day One—Washington, DC/Charlottesville, VA
On the eve of day one, the Behind the Barcodes Food Truck stopped at the University of Maryland (UMD) to talk with some of our CHANGE Leaders about the Behind the Barcodes campaign.
“I think it’s really important to raise awareness on workers’ rights in the food industry,” said UMD CHANGE Leader Malika Bai. “When you shop at Whole Foods, most shoppers go there asking for the sustainable food options, but the supermarket doesn’t tell you about the actual people who are working really hard to get that food processed. The worker stories shared through the [Behind the Barcodes] campaign bring awareness to this, which is why I wanted to get involved.”
The next morning, we officially kicked off our road trip tour in the nation’s capital, talking with Whole Foods customers all around the city. We started at the Whole Foods in Foggy Bottom, speaking with George Washington University students and Washingtonians about the human suffering taking place behind our food at Whole Foods. Then, we drove to some of the city’s most famous sites, including the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building, talking to tourists and raising awareness about the people behind our food. We then headed down to Charlottesville, Virginia, for the evening, stopping by a Whole Foods to talk to a few Virginians.
Day Two—Columbus, Ohio
We spent most of the day driving through the hills of West Virginia, arriving to Columbus in the late afternoon. The truck drove around Ohio State University, chatting with a few students and snapping a few photos around campus. We also stopped at a Whole Foods in the evening to talk to Ohioians about the human suffering behind their Whole Foods food.
Day Three—Louisville, Kentucky/Indianapolis, Indiana
The Behind the Barcodes food truck made a morning stop in Louisville, Kentucky, then headed to Indianapolis, Indiana for the afternoon and evening. As we’ve been talking to customers of all ages and backgrounds, the one thing that stands out is the shock factor with Whole Foods performing so poorly when it comes to protecting workers' rights in their supply chains. "I had no idea!” or “Wow! I never would have guessed Whole Foods would!” was a common expression. The supermarket has built a reputation for itself as one of the most ethical grocers in the industry, which is just one of the reasons why we are working to help raise awareness on the issues with consumers. Supermarkets care what we think, and as consumers, we have the power to demand the people behind our food are treated humanely.
Riding back to our hotel, the food truck’s battery died, leaving us broken down at the gas station for a few hours! Thankfully, we got the repairs done quickly and will be able to keep driving tomorrow.
Day Four—Chicago, Illinois
We finally made it to the windy city, with a jam packed schedule, stopping at four different Whole Foods stores and taking in some of the beautiful and iconic city sights. The Oxfam staff had a lot of help spreading the word of the Behind the Barcodes campaign to Chicagoans thanks to our passionate volunteers of all ages.
“Many people have no idea where their food actually comes from and the farm-to-table process,” says Loyola University of Chicago student Zachary Brindza. “ I volunteered with the food truck today because giving consumers the information they need to make informed decisions around their food choices is so important. That way consumers can make sure they are supporting supermarkets when they are doing good things but also to put pressure on them when they can step up and do more.”
Day Five and Six—St. Louis, Missouri and Little Rock, Arkansas
The Food Truck drove through St. Louis on our route to Little Rock, AR, stopping at the Gateway Arch to snap a team shot. In Little Rock, we stopped at the city’s main Whole Foods, talking to staff and the store manager about the campaign.
Day Eight—Austin, Texas
After a rainy drive and one tow truck ride later thanks to a broken windshield wiper blade, we made it to Austin, TX, where Whole Foods headquarters is located.
Rhett Par, a senior at Texas State University and Oxfam CHANGE Leader helped organize student activists on her campus to volunteer with the food truck tour in Austin. “It’s so important for customers to know the process it takes to bring food to our grocery stores,” says Par. “We [consumers] hold power that can help influence how supermarkets treat the workers who produce our food.”
We stood outside Whole Foods talking to customers, later marching to their headquarters down the street to deliver over 200,000 petitions that demands the grocery store keeps human suffering out of our food. Will Whole Foods respond? We hope so.
To read more about Oxfam's Behind the Barcodes campaign, visit behindthebarcodes.org