Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Safeway Spies

As much as I am in favor of supporting healthy eating habits, I don’t think that this is the way to go:

"Safeway plans to offer hearty premiums to healthy workers"

"US shoppers could find their health insurance premiums being linked to their food-buying habits, if an innovative initiative by a leading supermarket wins acceptance. Safeway, which operates over 1,700 supermarkets across the country, says it plans to offer its employees discounts on their health insurance if they participate in a service that tracks the nutritional quality of the food they buy at its stores.

Safeway's proposals would be linked to the retailer's online FoodFlex service, launched in November as an offshoot of its loyalty card programme. Participating customers are invited to provide details of their family members, how active their lifestyles are, and whether they have specific health issues. The system uses the information on their Safeway card to deliver a nutritional analysis of their purchases at the store, rated against USDA recommended consumption levels of 25 nutrients and vitamins."

from full story at:

Now, I don’t know about you, but I mostly like my supermarket loyalty cards to offer me discounts and coupons specific to my buying habits. The idea that they could be tied into some Big Brother computer that then determines my insurance premiums is truly scary. [Well except that I don’t shop at stores with those clubs anymore, but still, I don’t like it for anybody else either] What’s next? They look at what you buy to determine your Medicare taxes? Whether you qualify for certain procedures (I’m sorry, ma’am, but your heart attack is the direct result of years of eating pizza rolls, and therefore considered a pre-existing condition) [Because as we all know, if you are in any way at fault for what happens to you medically, then insurance companies don’t have to cover it. They only cover, apparently, accidents and acts of God. Wait, then they shouldn’t cover pregnancy…oh yeah, many don’t. Maybe they’d cover unwanted pregnancy. What an interesting question.].

Anyway, I’ve never been freaked out by the gathering of my information, I guess I just figure it’s part of our society. But in this instance I think the information is being used in an improper way. I believe that insurance – at least, group insurance – has got to be equal for everyone. Right now I’m young and relatively healthy, and I never minded paying for those who are older and sicker. One day I will need the help of the young myself. That’s how it works in socialized medicine (check out Sicko – I love the Canadians who are like, “Why wouldn’t we want to take care of each other?” Jesus must have been Canadian, eh?)

I guess they are talking about bonus benefits, so that’s money off the premium everyone pays the same. But I still don’t like it. It could easily lead to penalties. And way too much snooping. And some person with who-knows-what credentials deciding what is and isn’t healthy. Like we drink all full-fat dairy products because we subscribe to the less-but-better-tasting-is-more food philosophy – would that ding us? These decisions are based on the “USDA recommended breakdown of 25 nutrients and vitamins,” which means that Whole Grain Fortified Fruit Loops would be considered more healthy than an apple!! No, I don’t like this at all. It’s way too subjective and tied to a system that does not reflect holistic reality (just molecular chemistry, which ain’t always the way to go).

Plus we know that the cheaper food is the less nutritious food, and I’ll bet Safeway workers can’t afford to always eat organic, free-range, all-natural stuff. It goes back to the “let them eat organic” attitude, the snobbery inherent in the eating well philosophy, where we run into trouble when we admit that in fact we are not going to make eating well possible for those with less means. Until food stamps are accepted at farmer’s markets (which they are, in some places), and broccoli costs less than a twinkie, we are going to remain hypocrites for penalizing the poor for their eating habits. They eat what our society makes available to them. And just removing the processed food (or the fast food restaurants) isn’t going to fix it. That doesn’t give them the means to travel outside their neighborhood or afford to shop once they get to the Whole Foods.

Yes, I see lots of problems with this Safeway plan. It’s yet another example of attempting to industrialize and economize something that’s more an art than a science. I hope the workers will reject this plan, and I hope their union has some pull.


Juniper said...

I personally hate those systems so much that i won't get a card even if it gets me a discount -- i hate the idea that anyone is tracking what I'm buying and putting me into a "consumer demographic."

I don't think it's actually true, though, that it's more expensive to eat in a healthy way. It's more expensive to buy organic than non-organic produce, of course, but just eating non-organic produce is still better than eating twinkies (and produce is still pretty darn cheap). If the comparison isn't between organic and non-organic, but between processed and non-processed (food out of a box or jar vs food that requires preparation), or between carnivorous and vegetarian, both of the healthier choices are cheaper. That's been my shopping experience, anyway.

And the interesting thing is that once you start buying predominantly non-processed, non-meat/dairy kinds of foods, the difference between organic and non-organic products becomes pretty negligible. When I first moved here, I regularly alternated my purchases between Ralphs and Trader Joes/Wild Oats to compare prices. My produce was always from Wild Oats (since TJ's produce kind of sucks and is over-packaged.) Often, buying pretty much the same things, my cost was slightly higher at Ralphs than at Wild Oats.

Of course, there's no denying that the time to create a real meal is more extensive than the time to make a meal out of a box or canister. And it's time that we are all struggling with -- where pretty much everyone in our culture is impoverished, regardless of our income levels.

Just to encourage you not to give up on a relatively cheap AND healthy grocery store experience!

Stasi said...

Well according to a study by the University of Washington, healthy eating DOES cost more.

Jay said...

Healthy living costs depend on where you live and shop. Farmer's markets can provide fresh food at a fraction of the price of supermarkets and none of it's preserved or genetically modified.

Jay @ The Canvas Art Shop