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, http://bit.ly/YdqdbX)New 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."


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193Comments
Feb 22, 2013 6:16PM
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It's impossible to avoid offending a group of people who want to feel offended.  The world has the same problem with the muslims.
Feb 22, 2013 6:15PM
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So let me get this straight, New Yorkers think the sign is racist because it is unlikely an African-American can afford to shop at Whole Foods?

 

Or because African-Americans don't eat organic chicken?

Feb 22, 2013 6:13PM
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Put Bush on that sign since he was the biggest plucker of all time.
Feb 22, 2013 6:09PM
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Blacks shouldn't be allowed to promote healthy eating?
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Lol, the pc police at it again ugh I'm offended boo hoo.  This country has taken a turn for the worst.  Grow a pair and move on already, mind your own damn business and get a job.

Feb 22, 2013 6:07PM
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Lol, the pc police at it again this country is doomed.  
Feb 22, 2013 6:06PM
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IF IT WOULD OF BEEN COLLARD GREENS AND CHITLINS IT WOULD OF BEEN OK.

MAYBE BABY BACK RIBS WOULD OF BEEN OK.

 

THERE NEEDS TO BE AN END TO THIS RACIST THING.

 

Nobody can make fun of anything without the RACIST THING  being brought in.

 

THESE COMPLAINERS NEED TO GET A LIFE OR GET OUT.

 

 

Feb 22, 2013 6:03PM
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Some people are so "Thin Skinned" it's a wonder they made it to adulthood. As for Omama, I could care less what color he is. As the President he is the worst in American history.
Feb 22, 2013 5:59PM
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Worse than the possibility that some think this is racist, is the fact that it is disrespectful. This trend that it is okay to say derogatory  things about a sitting potus is sickening. On the other hand I was disrespectful of tricky dick, oh wait he did end up a crook.
Feb 22, 2013 5:58PM
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Red Lobster and Olive Garden are but the burger king of fish and pasta.....jejejejeje
Feb 22, 2013 5:55PM
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Useless diatribe again. Who cares? Tired of the whole racist card being played at anything like this. As a 'Caucasian female', I'm really bored with all the crap from all the races on the planet. Can we all just be rational and use our common sense? What a bunch of bull.

 

Feb 22, 2013 5:55PM
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OK, but being completely disrespectful to Lincoln and Washington jumping around looking like fools just to sell car is ok?
Feb 22, 2013 5:54PM
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It made perfect sense to me to use Obama to shill "organic" chicken since the push for eating healthy comes from his wife! Nothing racists about that.  
Feb 22, 2013 5:54PM
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Colonel Sanders I guess is the only acceptable image for chicken sales, ain't that right boy?
Feb 22, 2013 5:51PM
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It's illegal to use someone's image for commercial purposes without approval... just that should kill this and shame on whoever did it.  You can't use the president's picture to sell chicken, I don't care who he is or what race.
Feb 22, 2013 5:49PM
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So is a norwegian promoting lutefisk racist? A Scot selling Hagis? A fake Australian on tv telling us to "Throw another shrimp on the barbie."? I'll bet that 99% of the poeple who thought this was racist are wealthy and white! Stupid.
Feb 22, 2013 5:41PM
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Give me a break, I am sick of the race card game. I don't care what color Obama is He is useless.
Feb 22, 2013 5:39PM
Feb 22, 2013 5:18PM
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So using this logic, it would be racist for KFC or Zaxby's or Chick Fil-A to have a black person in any of their commercials.  On the one hand, they would be racists for excluding black people from a TV commercial audition.  On the other hand, they would be racists if they hired a black person to promote their food.  Brilliant.
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