This Whole Foods Obama chicken ad misfires badly

In Manhattan's notoriously liberal Upper West Side, residents' complaints force the organic grocery chain to pull an ad they considered racist.

By Jason Notte Feb 22, 2013 4:52PM
Whole Foods' chicken ad featuring Obama outrages neighbors (© NBC 4 New York, York's Upper West Side may be where hungry tourists stop in at H&H Bagels for breakfast, Barney Greengrass for lox and whitefish and Zabar's to nosh on some cheese or salad. But it's also where Martin Luther King Jr. and Columbia University students voiced opposition to the Vietnam War and where Riverside Church handed out tents to Occupy Wall Street protesters.

It's the home of Lincoln Center, the Museum of Natural History, Barnard and Juilliard.

It's just not the kind of place where Whole Foods (WFM) can put up an illustration of President Barack Obama touting the grocer's chicken special and expect folks to shrug it off as anything but racist. Yet the Whole Foods on 97th Street and Columbus Avenue put up just such a caricature earlier this week before receiving a flood of complaints.

A Whole Foods spokesman told The Huffington Post that the location ditched its caricature of the president selling organic chicken "once it was brought to our attention by a shopper that it may be perceived as offensive." Judging by the neighborhood's reaction, that's an understatement at best.

"There are certain things that have been used to put down black people," neighbor Woody Henderson told NBC 4 New York.

The same Whole Foods spokesman said the store's artists created various pop-culture images to promote sales and events, and that the image wasn't meant to be offensive. Were the depiction of President Obama selling Whole Foods' 365-brand cereal, it might not have offended anyone. However, the specific combination of the image and the product being sold didn't sit well with folks on the Upper West Side's streets.

"Even if he's not the president, you're going to have an African-American promoting the sale of chicken?" Jason Nunez of the Bronx asked NBC. "They can do better than that." 

This hasn't been the first culture clash for Whole Foods and its clientele. Back in January, CEO John Mackey went on National Public Radio and compared the new health care law to fascism. He's also unsettled his notoriously left-leaning consumer base by identifying himself as a libertarian in 2005 and questioning employees' right to health care in 2009.

While slip-ups like the Obama ad may fly in places like Kentucky, where a man who put a mannequin of the president eating a watermelon on his front lawn didn't see how it could be construed as racist, the Upper West Side isn't a great place to play the "Who, us racist?" game.

"I don't think you can find a more pro-Democratic neighborhood," Whole Foods neighbor Jeffrey Schaper told NBC. "They're sort of shooting themselves in the foot."

More on moneyNOW

Feb 22, 2013 7:03PM
The Sheriff pulled up next to the guy unloading garbage out of his pick-up into the ditch. The Sheriff asked, “Why are you dumping garbage in the ditch? Don’t you see that sign on that pole in front of you.”
“Yep,” he replied. “That’s why I’m dumpin’ it here, ‘cause it says: ‘Fine For Dumping Garbage.’”
Y’all kin say whut y’all want ‘about the South, but y’all never heard o’ nobody retirin’ an’ movin’ North.
Feb 22, 2013 7:01PM
THE "47%"!!!

… or, How obama was Re-elected, and clinton will be too:

When devastating hurricanes struck the East Coast, even
houses of worship were not spared.  A local television station
interviewed a woman from New York's Harlem area and asked
how the loss of churches in the area had affected their lives.

Without hesitation, the woman replied, "I don't know 'bout all
them other peoples, but we haven't gone to Church's in years.
We gets our chicken from Popeye's."
Feb 22, 2013 7:00PM
Obama is neither black, nor white. He is mixed.
Feb 22, 2013 6:54PM
Has anybody thought about whether or not the organic chicken was offended by being put in the same picture as the worst president we have ever had.
Feb 22, 2013 6:53PM

A silly question... Isn't he just as much a white as he is black?  If may say being white, this ad in no way offends me!

Feb 22, 2013 6:53PM
SO I am really, really tired of the race card. But why does assigning chicken to one race or the other even exist!!?? Chicken is GOOD AS HELL and so is Watermelon and I am white!!! You are crazy if you dont like chicken and watermelon and are embarrassed to be seen eating it in public !!
Feb 22, 2013 6:51PM

I don't want to see any Irishmen selling corned beef and cabbage on St Patrick's Day.  We know Obama shops at "Whole Foods"  because during the campaign of 2008 he complained about the high price of arugula at that store.  I guess though, he doesn't like chicken.

Feb 22, 2013 6:51PM
Well I am a white female, yet there is every race in my family now. For the first time in my life I am working with a mostly black colleague set. None of them know I have black people in my family and none will because they do not bother to get to know me because my appearance is white. The fact is most of them are racist towards me because they think I am "too white" for them. The fact is that a lot of American blacks in this country are very racist towards people who are white or appear to be white, including some people who are bi-racial or simply do not give into the black facade prevalent in our country. Meaning you aren't "street" enough or stereotypical in their eyes and therefore you aren't black enough. It's completely ridiculous. People are people no matter who you are or where you go. The only thing that really matters is how we treat each other. If you cannot treat people with respect and let go of the past you are just less than an animal, with no heart or compassion or ability to learn. Even animals care for each other, while some people just want to perpetuate their small-mindedness and hatred.
Feb 22, 2013 6:49PM
Come on folks! It's the President advertising chicken! And no different than when companies use certain former presidents to advertise their products. IE, that foreign car company that uses sound-a-likes of Clinton and Obama to advertise it's cheap, recession-proofing supposedly high mpg cars. (I refuse to give them a real plug here, so you'll have to look it up yourselves.) Get over yourselves, no member of the newer generations even knows these old stereotypes anyways.
Feb 22, 2013 6:46PM
what magnet for racists this story is.  Reading the comments is like being at a convention of bigots.
Feb 22, 2013 6:45PM
I agree with you all..and let me say this the only reason racism is said to exist is simple for lawsuits and easy money !!!! And just so its understood RACISM IS ONLY FOR PEOPLE OF COLOR !! I worked at the largest pharma com. hospira !! i have a friend who was korean !! he was talking to a female of color (ie; black women ) from the south ! they were talking about the diffrent foods of ther culture..It turns out she PUTS MAPLE SYRUP ON EVERY THING and I mean every thing !! All he said was ""  your like aunt jemima with all the maple syrup you use""  he did not say you look like or any thing like that !!! HE WAS FIRED FOR A RACIST COMENT !!!! now if he said miss butterworth would it still be racist !! And as for the people of color rule that also excludes people of spanish & hispanic only AFRICAN AMERICANS can use this card !! at hospira we have seen asians--hispanic--caucasian all fired for the most simple words or even looks !!!
Feb 22, 2013 6:43PM
Black people can eat chicken if they like it. Is it racist to show a white person eating a saltine cracker? No. Plain foolishness.
Feb 22, 2013 6:42PM
This is the dumbest story I have ever read.  How racist and ignorant are these supposed intelligent people who live in the Upper West Side?  Wow!  Get over yourselves!
Feb 22, 2013 6:42PM
We haven't eaten at either Olive Garden or Red lobster for a LOOONG time.  Certainly not worth driving across town to get there.  I agree with the guy who said the food you get  looks nothing like the commercials. The last time we ate there the grilled seafood plate came with a thin..and I mean THIN... piece of fish, a saucer of tiny shrimp, (scampi?  really?)   some miniature  scallops and  not much else spread out on the plate. Not worth a fraction of the price we paid. There are better options out there for a nice dinner out.
Feb 22, 2013 6:39PM
Whoa people can't be shown eating chicken???? The insanity has to stop!!! Every commercial I see has a 'Non threatening black person' in it. Can't we all just agree that showing black people eating stuff shouldn't cause a crisis??? They eat stuff just like I do, maybe a little more often, but that's ok.
Feb 22, 2013 6:36PM

I'll bet if those Obama chickens had two left wings there would be no complaining!

Feb 22, 2013 6:36PM

I truly hope that some of the people who  posted here are not as ignorant of history as they seem. It is truly unfortunate that you don't want to recognize that certain images have been use in the past to stereotype groups of people and that to continue to use those images continues the stereotype. For those of you who are tired of racist cries - stop promoting stereotypes. MN landlord - non of those foods have been used as images to negatively stereotype a group of people. We all need a bad guy-  It's not thin skinned, its I'm a human - treat me like one. These statements prove that people who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it- if you knew the history behind the complaint, then you wouldn't want it repeated.        

Feb 22, 2013 6:34PM
Geez, the only thing this guy can sell is our souls,and he has.
Feb 22, 2013 6:30PM
That they are offended, offends me.
Feb 22, 2013 6:28PM

it seems to me that more and more african americans are becoming the racists. no matter what one tries to say or display, someone always sees it as being racist. here's an example, i worked with a guy whose last name was knune. i asked Mr. knune to come into my office, when he arrived, he said was that a racist remark? i looked in bewilderment and said, no, its your last name isn't it? ...

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