Gay consumerism reaches a whole new level with the opening of a Whole Foods Market in the glittering new $20 million Chicago LGBT Center. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune (echoed by articles in the Advocate/Gay.com/Planet Out and Queerty) gushed about the excitement of "the first retailer of its size to anchor a gay community center in the US."
Whole Foods is a notorious union-busting chain, whose CEO, John Mackey, a free-market capitalist in green-face, is fond of comparing unions to herpes or parasites. Whole Foods is also known for opening stores near smaller, community-based or cooperative health food stores, often forcing the smaller stores out of business (the Starbucks model). And perhaps no other business could be more responsible than Whole Foods for the corporatization of organic agriculture, by which a few mega-farms dominate the marketplace, and the availability of bananas, tomatoes or raspberries at all times of the year becomes more important than locally grown, sustainable farming.
While the wine-sampling machine in the new Whole Foods may become an illicit favorite of queer youth, it seems important to question whether Whole Foods will help to make the Center "a safe space and a catalyst" for all queers who might seek out its services, as former Executive Director Robbin Burr declared to CBS (for now, let's leave aside the fact that the Center just opened a few months ago, and already has a former director).
Who, exactly, is made safe by Whole Foods? Certainly not Chicago's most marginalized queers who might seek out space in the Center (if allowed inside by security) -- homeless queers, queers on disability, queers of color, queens, transpeople and queer youth without enough money to buy prepared food at eight dollars a pound. What about Whole Foods workers denied the right to unionize, and routinely fired for ridiculous "infractions" like giving a botched latte to a fellow worker for free? Oh -- and what about farmworkers in Chile, Mexico, and other destinations warm enough to provide year-round gourmet produce?
But wait -- I'm forgetting that, as Daryl Herrschaft, director of the workplace project (!) for the Human Rights Campaign, states in the Chicago Tribune, "Gay consumers are more likely to be brand-loyal than their heterosexual counterparts." That must be why the HRC store partners with sweatshops around the world to provide its customers with Nike-swoosh equals signs and gay marriage snow globes.
What's next? Will LGBT centers nationwide race to provide the best shopping opportunities for their consumers? How about a rainbow Abercrombie store? A pink-triangle Gucci boutique? Or, something for all of our families... a gay-for-pay
Wal-Mart/Barney's New York/H & M superstore?
Ah, the possibilities of corporate/community partnership are just endless!
Mattilda blogs at nobodypasses.blogspot.com