Eden canned foods at Weavers Way.

Eden canned foods at Weavers Way.

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

  • Dave

    The co-op already seems to have the right idea: “Feel free to vote with your wallet.” If enough customers (members and non-members) avoid the products, the co-op will likely stop carrying them. Shelf space is too expensive to stock items that nobody wants.

    To demand that the co-op immediately discontinue sales, though, is to force your system of values on everyone else. At the core, isn’t that what angers some of these members about Eden?

    • RG_McDonald

      Eden Foods isn’t forcing their values on anyone.

      They are attempting to exercise their Constitutionally-protected right to refrain (based upon religious conviction) from providing BC to their employees.

      Eden’s employees are not without recourse, and neither are Eden’s customers.

      Constitutional protections are for EVERYONE, ALL THE TIME, and not merely when they serve someone’s purpose.

      • Dave

        I agree with you–Michael Potter has the right to legally exercise his personal and religious views, and the Supreme Court has held that corporations like Eden have similar rights. What I was trying to say with “isn’t that what angers some…about Eden” was that at least some WW members *appear to believe* that Mr. Potter is forcing his values on others. I said it poorly, though, and it was presumptuous to make that assumption in the first place.

        I don’t share Mr. Potter’s views on contraception, but I stand by my main point that voting with the wallet seems like the best and most reasonable expression of support or disagreement. You seem to agree.

        • RG_McDonald

          That’s a very reasonable and well-expressed response, Dave – thank you.

          My concern is always with those who would modify, or remove our rights because it serves whatever purpose they might be about.

          In previous decades, infringements on liberty (book-banning, free-speech issues, etc.) were viewed as a product of right-wing thought. In our current era, nothing could be further from the truth, as so many on the left see politically-correct adjustments to the Bill Of Rights as a reasonable method to advance an agenda.

          I know nothing of Mr. Potter’s religious or political views, but I DO know that to excoriate him for having such views, or to attempt to de-rail his company based upon the CEO’s views on birth control is WRONG.

          People like J.J. Van Name are arch-cowards; individuals so afraid of political opposition or the expression of anything other than a sanctioned religious view that they’d prefer to abandon our Constitutional protections for some sort of half-assed “democratic” solution, such as “a poll”. That said, Van Name has every right to his opinion, and I wouldn’t be very impressed with anyone who wanted to deprive him of a livelihood because of it.

          The excellent letter from Catherine, below, is pretty succint, and gets right to the point.

  • Steve
  • RG_McDonald

    Self-congratulatory, sanctimonious, small-minded & exclusionary progressive-fascists with little or no regard for fundamental religious freedoms – what a surprise.

  • Catherine

    Look! The co-op is a STORE! If you don’t want to buy Eden Food Products DON’T BUY Eden Food Products. Don’t push your political agenda by prohibiting, or attempting to prohibit, the co-op from stocking its shelves with a particular company’s products because you don’t agree with the political agenda of the company providing those products, and high quality products at that! Eden Foods could have opted-out of that part of the health issue to which it objected or allowed its employees to do so, but it did not. So, why trash the co-op? The co-op is a vital business to this community. Consider how long (I was born into this community in the 40s), the community has waited to have this fine co-op/business here, so please “[f]eel free to vote with your wallet.”

  • Turkoholic

    Let’s call this what it is. An employer is forcing his religious convictions on his employees. Co-ops have a proud history of supporting social justice movements through boycotts. I am personally working to get all the co-ops in the Washington DC area to boycott Eden Foods.

    I need to correct one common piece of misinformation. Many prescriptions for birth control pills are not for preventing pregancies, but for treating serious medical conditions. The bottom line is an employer has no business in deciding what a doctor prescribes to an employee of his. So if a doctor prescibes something for her patient, for any valid medical reason it is not any of Michael Potter’s business.

    If he or any other business owner has a problem with that, then discontinue the insurance coverage (which will incidently save the company money) and let his employees go onto the health care exchanges and get subsidized coverage.

    Period. End of story.