Whole Foods scrambled last week to deal with a flap over a Ramadan Halal foods promotion, in the wake of criticism by anti-Islam bloggers and subsequent accusations that the supermarket chain caved by backing away from the campaign.
Here’s what happened:
In a July 27th post on the official Whole Foods blog, a writer for the blog My Halal Kitchen talked up the store’s selection of products from Saffron Road, a company that makes Halal frozen food products, and encouraged readers to check them out when preparing for Ramadan. There was no plan to market the partnership between Saffron Road and Whole Foods in stores, according to Fast Company reporter Neal Ungerleider, who initially wrote about the promotion.
But never ones to overlook Sharia creep into the food supply, a few right-wing bloggers picked up the story and blasted Whole Foods for promoting Islam.
On July 29, anti-Islam blogger and commentator Debbie Schlussel called Whole Foods “anti-Israel” and accused it of “whoring itself out to Islam for profits.” Schlussel continued:
Here’s a tip, Whole Foods: there is NOTHING “cosmopolitan” about Islam. In fact, Islam is the antonym to cosmopolitan. Retro is in. Retro back to the year 622 and the values of savages will NEVER be in.
Whole Foods … For the Organically Conscious Jihadist. Way more humane because, hey, “free range chickens” can run away from the IED. allahu natural fruitbar.
The right-wing sites Free Republic and Bare Naked Islam reposted the original Fast Company report — though Bare Naked Islam also suggested that “maybe we should send Whole Foods these videos of halal slaughter,” and posted a number of said videos.
Shortly after, the Houston Press obtained a letter from one region — the Southwest Region, which oversees stores in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma — that cites “negative comments from some [customers]” in backing away from the promotion. “While we want to continue with the program,” the e-mail said, “it is probably best that we don’t specifically call out or ‘promote’ Ramadan.”
The e-mail adds: “We do need to hold off, however, on displaying any Ramadan signs in our store at this time.”
The story went viral, and set off a slew of outraged blog posts and tweets, like this one from author and activist Reza Aslan (via The OC Weekly): “Thank you Whole Foods for caving to Islomophobic zealots & canceling #Ramadan promotion. Now can u get ur customers to wear deodorant?”
But Whole Foods has denied that it was backing off its campaign, and pointed out that the e-mail did not come from corporate leadership. Whole Foods PR representative Kate Lowery told the Houston Press: “To set the record straight, Whole Foods Market is NOT cancelling our current halal promotion, which is centered around the timeframe of Ramadan.”
“We never sent a communication from our headquarters requesting stores take down signs at all,” she continued. “We have 12 different operating regions and your [sic] reacted by sending out directions to promote Halal and not specifically Ramadan after some online negative comments and after viewing signage made by one individual at a store that didn’t point to these products.”
“Every region operates autonomously,” spokeswoman Liz Burkhart also said, The Atlantic reports. “They have their own set of leadership, their own offices. Unfortunately one region reacted by sending out directions to promote halal and to focus less on specifically Ramadan because they got some negative online comments.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations came to Whole Foods’ defense as well. “Whole Foods should be commended for reaching out to Muslim Americans consumers though its Ramadan promotion by being inclusive of various ethnic and religious traditons in America,” said Munira Syeda, spokeswoman for CAIR’s chapter in Greater Los Angeles.
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