Tuesday, September 27, 2011

On Bob's Red Mill and Misplaced Indignation

Last week, The Informed Vegan ran a piece about how Bob's Red Mill is planning to donate $25 million towards nutrition education to the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU). According to The Informed Vegan, OHSU is notorious for animal testing and because of its decision to make this donation, Bob's Red Mill's "standing as a conscious and compassionate company is about to take a serious hit". In last week's piece, it's mentioned that both OHSU and Bob's Red Mill were vague in addressing whether or not any of the donation will be targeted specifically for animal testing, and thus The Informed Vegan goes on to suggest that its "loyal customer base of animal lovers and vegans may boycott" the company in response.

Confusing a "Who" with a "What"

In an update today, The Informed Vegan commented on company co-founders Bob and Charlee Moore's official written response yesterday to the buzz about their donation. And yes, as it was pointed out at This Dish Is Veg (a website which promotes welfarism and vegetarianism alongside veganism) in an editor's note to yet another online expression of outrage over the news, it is indeed the co-founders' donation and not the company's. In February 2010, Bob gave the company to his then 200+ employees. Of course, this sorta relevant information seems either forgotten or blurred in the flurry of blog posts, green website articles, Facebook status updates and angry tweets that have been popping up online over the last few days and with most of them calling for a boycott of all Bob's Red Mill products. Proof of this can be seen in a recent open letter to the Moores from Your Daily Vegan's KD Traegner ("Should You Boycott Bob's Red Mill?"), who informs the Moores that because of the donation, she will no longer be a Bob's Red Mill customer.

Here's the scoop, though: Bob's Red Mill isn't donating money to OHSU. The company's co-founders
who are no longer its owners and have not been so in well over a year and a half are donating money to OHSU. As pointed out earlier, the company is now owned by the people who work there -- Bob's former employees. One could argue that the money the Moore's are donating comes from the profits they'd reaped as owners, but boycotting a company from which they no longer profit to retaliate against their using past profits as they see fit just honestly makes no sense. The only ones who'll suffer in the end are Bob's Red Mill's new owners -- those who now run the company. The Moores have already stated that they have already committed themselves to making the donation. The Moores are no longer the owners of Bob's Red Mill. The truth is that this whole proposed boycott begs the question: What is hoped to be accomplished with a boycott in the first place? Of course, this is assuming that a boycott by a small section of a company's customers (vegans, in this case), other circumstances being different, would even be effective. (That's an entirely separate potential blog post altogether, though.)

Cherry Picking and Low-Hanging Fruit

Traegner's open letter reflects the sentiment expressed in The Informed Vegan's follow-up post on the matter that regardless of whether the money goes to directly fund animal research, it's funding an entity which engages in animal research. There are a couple of things I'd like to point out before going any further. First, I'd like to point out (the obvious?) that I certainly have no issue whatsoever with vegans refusing to purchase products either tested on animals or from companies who otherwise fund animal testing or other forms of animal exploitation. As a vegan, I'm against all forms of animal exploitation, whether it takes place on a farm, in a lab, in someone's backyard -- you get the picture. Also, I like Traegner. I've interacted with her over a few topics on Your Daily Vegan's Facebook page and over a period of time have appreciated her responses to others' queries and have enjoyed our own exchanges quite a bit. I was a little surprised to see her get behind the Bob's Red Mill boycott buzz, but it seems that many have taken off running with it, so I hope that she doesn't view me as somehow having nefarious reasons for singling out her website. I've just used it as an example of what's being written by various activists across the interwebs this week.

Now, just to play devil's advocate, let's put aside this whole nasty reality that contrary to over-publicized belief, Bob's Red Mill is not, in effect, donating a cent to OHSU. Let's pretend that Bob and Charlee Moore are, in fact, still the owners of the company (which, as I've pointed out repeatedly, they are not):

Bob Moore isn't vegan. He's not even vegetarian. From 1978 and then until he turned the company over to his employees in February of 2010, Mr. Moore's profits from the company were going to purchase the various food items, sundries, clothing and so on containing animal products which are habitually consumed by non-vegans (and no doubt including the purchase of products involving animal testing). Although some of the company's new owners may indeed be vegan, chances are that all 200+ of them are not, so even now, the company's profits are being taken and reinvested into various forms of common animal exploitation -- no doubt including the purchase of products with ingredients which were tested on animals. Of course, this is the case with the overwhelming majority of food manufacturing companies (e.g. Tofutti) and it's honestly almost impossible to avoid when purchasing any manufactured products.

It's a little odd, nonetheless, how Bob's Red Mill has been held up as some sort of exemplar for "conscious" manufacturing when its previous owner was not vegan and since
Bob's Red Mill isn't even a vegan company. Some of its products contain dairy. When I first read the story about Bob's Red Mill's purportedly donating money to OHSU and of how vegans the world over should particularly be outraged, the first thing I did was hop over to its site to see what on earth was already there over which nobody had bothered to previously express outrage. On top of some of its actual products containing dairy, the Bob's Red Mill website actually promotes and facilitates the consumption of animal products. If you check its recipes section, you'll find a sub-category for "vegan", but the use of various animal products is the norm for the majority of the recipes and the default even in those where a reference may have been made to an animal-free substitute as an optional replacement (e.g. dairy-free milk). From eggs, butter and milk listed off in a user-submitted recipe for Kamut Cherry Crumb Breakfast Cake to the cheese and meat in a Bob's original recipe for a Spicy Sausage Kasha Bake, animal-based noms are plentiful on the company's website. Where's the outrage over this? Why initially single out this company for a purported donation to a research facility that conducts animal experimentation but turn a blind eye to the fact that the company both facilitates the use of (i.e. through its recipes section) and sells animal products to begin with?

I've no doubt that this question will be overlooked or dismissed as irrelevant by some. Hell, for the moment it seems as if the more obvious and pertinent fact -- that Bob's Red Mill itself is not making a donation to OHSU -- is being completely overlooked. Do I think it's unfortunate that the Moores have decided to take $25 million and to hand it over to a facility which exploits animals? Absolutely. I also think that it's unfortunate that as non-vegans who once owned a non-vegan company, they're being held to task over this as if they or Bob's Red Mill had ever been exemplars for vegans in the first place. They're not and they never were.

Let's get our facts straight.


Lucas said...

Very nice. Great post, Mylene!

Vegan Zagnot said...

Well thought out and clearly explained regarding your point of view. The folks at Food Fight! Grocery have been out in front on this. Check their Facebook page. A little investigation and not assuming the worst in people, would do us all some good.

KD said...

Hi Mylene! First, I greatly respect your work (as you know) and appreciate the opportunity for the open dialogue.

In regards to the Moore's not owning BRM, I did read that he gave the employees the company but retained his position of running it-


So in my mind, Mr. Moore is currently profiting from Bob's. After all, he is still at events, online, and blogging for the company- it's a bit confusing since you say he doesn't work there, yes? I might be wrong here, and if so I'd have to rethink my position on the whole matter, but if he is profiting from BRM then I still don't want any part of it.

That said, I think you make some excellent points that are worth questioning. You mention the company promotion and selling of animal products, and that these items seem to be overlooked. I don't want to diminish those issues because they are important to consider and debate- I view these issues equally problematic, yet different, than a direct donation to a facility that tests on animals.

And I just want to say that animal testing is not simply a vegan issue. Are Bob & Charlee vegan? Is Bob's Red Mill a vegan company? It doesn't matter. I'm not holding them to some crazy vegan standard, I think cruelty-free should be everyone's standard.

Thank you for your post!

speciesistvegan said...

I think this might be the most rational thing I've ever read here. No offense, but I would have guessed that you'd be in the knee-jerk "Let's kill Bob's Red Mill" camp. Many good points. Kudos.

Loopdihoops.com said...

Well done!

The Rational Vegan said...

Thank you!

@KD, I'm sure you've read my responses. Nearly all our economic transactions empower someone to harm animals, whether the products we buy are cruelty-free or not. Picking out one case over all the others doesn't make much sense. Why boycott this company, yet still purchase clothing, cars, paper goods, etc. from other companies that don't give a fig about animal rights? If we want actual change, we need vegans making decisions at every transaction point in the economy. Getting to the point where that is feasible is up to us, but putting up a protest at every big target doesn't seem to get us anywhere closer.

Mylène said...

Lucas, thanks.

Vegan Zagnot, I'll check out Food Fight!'s Facebook page this evening when I get home. Thanks.

KD, thanks. I have certainly not stated that Bob Moore no longer works at the company, just that he is no longer its owner and that the donation to the university is a personal donation that he and his wife are making using their own money, so boycotting the company (assuming that boycotts ever make any sense whatsoever) is illogical. The donation is not coming from Bob's Red Mill. I'm not sure that Moore's continued involvement with the company in any way affects anything I've written. He is no longer the owner. He may get a salary and still be directing things behind the scenes, but the employees now own the company and its profits fill their bank accounts. He may be on salary, but a boycott doesn't change that; it would just affect the actual owners' profits (assuming that a boycott would even put a dent into anything in the first place). Most importantly, though, is that the donation to OHSU isn't being made by Bob's Red Mill's. What if another employee at Bob's Red Mill had decided to make a donation to the same university? Would it make sense to boycott the company, then? What about tracking the donations made by every executive officer of every other company from which we purchase items? I mean, that's what would be necessary for the sake of consistency.

You wrote:

And I just want to say that animal testing is not simply a vegan issue. Are Bob & Charlee vegan? Is Bob's Red Mill a vegan company? It doesn't matter. I'm not holding them to some crazy vegan standard, I think cruelty-free should be everyone's standard.

I don't believe that as long as a situation involves animal use that there is any way that it can qualify as "cruelty-free". I do not believe that there is such a thing as a product's being "cruelty-free" if it is not vegan. I do think that it's incredibly relevant that neither the Moores nor the company they used to own are vegan, since a great deal of outrage is being expressed over the Moores' donating money to an institution involved in animal exploitation, when the truth is that both the Moores and Bob's Red Mill are already involved in animal exploitation. Singling out animal testing as somehow being worse than raising cows for their secretions, chickens for their eggs, et al. misses the point that all animal exploitation is immoral. And I really don't see this as a "crazy vegan standard". I'm sorry if you see it that way.

speciesistvegan, thanks, I think? I'm a little surprised at the wording and message of your comment, but am glad that it all worked out.

Erika said...

Thank you for this. It's the best post so far on this issue. I've really personally struggled over the last week trying to figure out how I really feel about it. This helps. A lot.

Truly Scrumptious said...

Re: "this sorta relevant information seems either forgotten or blurred in the flurry of blog posts, green website articles, Facebook status updates and angry tweets"

is simply not what I found. It was mentioned several times in several of the places I read about it. Some sources even took the trouble to call BRM and find out just what the relationship between BRM and the Moore's is - and it turns out they still profit. [eta: I see KD addressed this a bit.]

Anna Graham Shonle said...

Thanks, M.
I was wondering what this was all about but hadn't had a chance to look into it on my own, and I'm glad this was the first thing I ended up reading about the issue. Nicely done.

Mylène said...

Truly Scrumptious, maybe you saw more detailed mentions of the financial relationship between Bob's Red Mill and the Moore's. The articles I've cited are the ones I read in their entirety and for the most part, most everything I've read has involved people stating outright that "Bob's Red Mill is donating $25K to a university engaging in animal testing" or "Bob's Red Mill's owner Bob Moore is donating, etc." and neither statement is true. People are calling for a boycott based on their assumption that either Bob's Red Mill (i.e. the company itself) is donating money, or that Moore is still owner of the company, when neither is the case. Boycotting Bob's Red Mill because someone on their payroll is facilitating a certain type of animal exploitation, given that the company itself isn't vegan and that neither its previous nor its currents owners are vegan (i.e. owners past and present have engaged in and are engaging in all types of animal exploitation) is inconsistent, and singles out animal testing as somehow being more unethical than something that isn't a hot-button issue like just plain old raising animals for their flesh and secretions.

Moore insists that the money won't go directly towards animal testing. Now, I don't know how much water that holds, but if it is the case, then his forking over money to the university is no different than heading over to Whole Foods to pick up one's weekly tub of hummus while Whole Foods otherwise profits from animal slavery and slaughter. Pouring money into Whole Foods' coffers -- even if just buying vegan products -- allows it to stay in business and to keep meeting others' demand for animal products.

It's just really wrongheaded to single out animal testing as being any worse than other forms of animal exploitation, particularly the exploitation of animals we raise for human consumption. That's what this boycott would end up doing if it was, in fact, Bob's Red Mill making the donation. But all of that is sort of irrelevant, since it's not.

Erika, I'm glad if it helped in any way.

Mylène said...

Thanks, Anna!

iheartar said...

Thanks so much for taking a step back and analyzing this situation. I personally thought it unusual that so much attention was paid to this, when it was rift with inconsistencies. I wondered aloud elsewhere in other discussions whether the "nutrition and wellness" programs for which the donation was earmarked was going to promote animal products. It did seem a little strange to me to uphold Bob to a higher standard than others when he isn't a vegan, has a company that uses animal ingredients, and promotes the consumption of animal products.

Granted, it is good that his money won't be earmarked for animal research, and it is a testament of how activists can influence others, but should we stop short and say that's good enough when other animals will suffer regardless?

Perhaps we as vegans should've been boycotting Bob's Red Mill all along for their use and promotion of animal products?

Charleen said...

I recently heard that there's been some confusion as to where said donation is coming from- Bob's Red Mill Co. or Bob Moore, the founder. Indeed, the donation is made by Bob Moore and his wife, Charlee. It's also been said that because it's from the Moore's, there's no reason to boycott the Company. Quite simply, this is flawed reasoning.

As responsible vegans, the only tangible form of protest and instrument of change we possess, is often only with our money. Bob Moore is the CEO of Bob's Red Mill and the public image of the Company. The Company and Bob Moore have a mutual relationship regarding the exchange of funds (salary/profits). This fact makes the Company responsible for mitigating or handling the actions of it's employees- including the CEO (it is standard practice for employees of many companies to be contractually obligated to not portray the Company in a negative manner through personal actions). This is why a boycott of Bob's Red Mill Co. is justified- one of their employees (who happens to be their public face) has portrayed the Company in a negative manner to us vegans.

I'd like to also add that it is flawed to reason that we, as vegans, should have no problem with this donation to an animal testing facility because the Company endorses animal use in regards to recipes (farm animals vs. lab animals). We should do nothing because we can't do everything? This carries the argument to a level of absurdity. Let me be clear, ALL animal exploitation is wrong. But this is bigger than a "vegan" issue. Most people in this world, vegan or not, believe torturing animals is wrong. It's far easier to convince someone that locking an animal in a cage, injecting them with chemicals, and letting them lay in their own excrement is worthy of being labeled an atrocity- than it is to convince them that the grilled cheese sandwich they're eating is the same.

It's unfortunate that sometimes we have to choose our battles when it comes to ending human dominion over other animals. What would we do otherwise? Nothing? No way, not me, not in good conscience.

jessy said...

thanks for posting this, Mylène. i too thought Bob was connected to the company and i was boycotting. the whole "ordeal" over Bob's Red Mill got me thinking and has spun me into a whirlwind/tailspin. should i not be supporting any companies who aren't entirely 100% vegan? i mean, i don't support any company that animal test, but i do support companies (like Follow Your Heart) who aren't 100% vegan. i've been struggling with this for a while now and i'm torn. is it my laziness that stops me from making my own goods when i can't support 100% vegan companies to get what i choose to consume? or is it that i'm "voting with my dollars" and showing these companies that i'm supporting their vegan products and not supporting their products that use non-human animals and their products? i don't have any answers and i'm working on finding them, and working on finding what will serve me, but it's tough. it's definitely tough.

Truly Scrumptious said...

I don't disagree with this post/position. Animal research is no worse than animal-food production.
It's just that, to me, there's something to be said for boycotting in a case like this when there are alternatives (Arrowhead Mills, Eden, King Arthur, etc, in the grains category), and especially when we haven't learned that those alternatives give huge sums of money to questionable research facilities. (I mean, we don't always have that level of information about a company/CEO, but having that info, we can make more-informed decisions or we can decide to ignore that information.)

I wouldn't buy a food product with a pink ribbon (indicating the company gives money to Susan G Komen Foundation) when there are alternative products that don't have that pink ribbon, regardless of the "veganity" of the company/owners.

Bob gets his money from us when we buy BRM, and he is giving that money to a school that actively participates in animal research. I know: Bob's not vegan, so he has very different ideas about animals already, let alone when it comes to research. No doubt he thinks human health is more important than animal lives. But given a choice between buying a BRM product, which contributes to Bob's wealth and thus his ability to donate, or buying flour from, say, Fairhaven Flour which isn't donating money to a questionable facility, I think it's reasonable to take the alternative, even if the owners of Fairhaven aren't vegan themselves.

Some of us do primarily shop at the vegan stores/websites so that we aren't buying (or at least, not much) from Whole Foods, et al; yes, I understand not everyone has that option. Shopping at the vegan stores/sites is how we vegans can opt-out, at least a little bit, from contributing to the profits of animal exploiters, even if the brands sold through the vegan stores aren't made by entirely vegan companies (because, then we'd all starve!). Just a little less money in the pockets of the animal profiteers.
And that's the effect that having information about Bob's donation can have: by buying alternatives when we have this sort of information, we have the chance to do a little opt-out, a little "I'll just take the alternative in this case, thankyouverymuch," a little "I'm just going to take a stand on this principle." It may be an insignificant, tiny fist-shake, but it's our hard-earned money and our principles; we want them to matter.

bitt said...

Yes it wasn't the company that funded the donation, but bob was certainly using company blog and twitter to show off about it. He linked it to the company's image and therefore put the company under scrutiny. For those who are not gluten-free, there are plenty if other options but for GF folk oftens bobs is it.

Mylène said...

iheartar, I'm a little surprised at all of the fuss over this, as well. It just goes to show how even vegans are somehow able to turn a blind eye to what we consider "normal" animal use vs. what we view as a Big Bad sort of animal use. To single out this act of Moore's while ignoring that the company for which he works both profits from and promotes animal use is wrongheaded.

jessy, I agree that it's tough. It's incredibly difficult these days to find a food manufacturing company which isn't somehow associated with animal use on some level or another. Even eating unprocessed foods can be problematic since a lot of small organic farmers use animal products to grow their crops. Heck, I've even been to farmers markets in Pennsylvania with Amish-produced fruits and vegetables no doubt grown in soil tilled by enslaved animals. We do the best we can, I guess. The fact that animal use is so pervasive in varying degrees is all the more reason, as far as I'm concerned, to not try to pick away at animal issues by micro-focusing on things (e.g. this call for a boycott of Bob's Red Mill for a donation they never even made) rather than spending our time trying to get people to understand that animals aren't ours to use at all. We have so much work to do as advocates.

bitt, you can certainly avoid any companies you'd like for whichever reasons you'd like. Moore can't help, at this point, that he's associated with Bob's Red Mill any more than (on a much bigger scale, obviously) someone like Bill Gates couldn't avoid continuing to be associated with Microsoft, even if he walked away from the company. The man and the company aren't one and the same, though; they're two completely different entities. I'm hoping that most vegans can distinguish between the two and not waste precious time that could be used to educate others about veganism by getting sucked into this pointless organization of a boycott of a company which already exploits animals.

Mylène said...

By the way, back in January Moore donated $5M to Oregon State University to establish a research center. Oregon State engages in animal testing. Where was the outrage then? http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/animals_laboratories/usda_reports/oregon/2008_usda_annual_oregon_state_university.pdf