Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Whole Foods, Paula Abdul, and Ramadan **[UPDATED]

When I was a kid I had a huge poster of Paula Abdul on my bedroom wall. I also had a picture of her on the back of my door, in my trapper keeper, and owned every tape she ever recorded [Though not a very discerning fan to be clear since for years I thought her song 'Rush Rush' was in fact titled 'Mush Mush' about a snow-dog race in Alaska]. It was less about the music and more about the last name- Abdul. A Muslim last name. I analyzed her clothing, her accent, pored over interviews in Tiger Beat trying to figure out where she was from. Morocco? Turkey? [I quite frankly still don't know since by the time the internet was ever present I lost interest].

I admired this woman because her last name was similar to names I knew in the small circle of my life. And considering back in my day there were hardly any South Asian or Muslim people on the large or small screen, or anywhere really- I longed for a face to identify with. In school we celebrated Hanukkah, Christmas, and later Kwanzaa, but where was Eid? It wasn't. I felt I practiced a secret faith, that I belonged to an invisible minority- where were we when I turned on the TV? [You know, normal versions of 'me' not mustachioed bandits or terr.orists in action films] And while now, for the life of me, I can't understand why it was so important to me to have a person who reflected me on television or in any media, period, I do remember how earnestly I longed for it. I imagine children today are no different in this regard.

My son is growing up in a different world. Aziz Ansari, Dave Chapelle, Talib Kweli, Mindy Kaling, Kal Penn, Russel Peters, are just a handful of famous faces who in some way, resemble him. He also is born into a world where Eid Stamps are a given. Seems silly but such an important and hard-earned milestone that did not come easy. It's a whole new world from the one I grew up in and I'm glad for it. [though let's be honest, he will not be watching any Aziz, Chapelle or Kweli material for some time to come].

When I see dates at Sam's Club and Krogers, not just any dates, but Mejdool dates just in time for Ramadan, I don't take its presence lightly. Seeing variations of my face or race reflected in the media, seeing something as small as dates, to me they are a silent acknowledgment to Ramadan and on a bigger scale an acknowledgment of me: you're a part of the fabric of this society, we see you, we recognize you.

Which is why when Whole Foods decided to explicitly state in internal e-mails that we should not highlight Ramadan in signage in our stores as that could be considered 'Celebrating or promoting' Ramadan, it felt like a punch to the gut.

Whole Foods, in years past, sold items from Muslim distributors during Ramadan. They advertised this with small crescent and star logos above the items, just as they have passover signs over relevant products, just as they celebrate many other holidays. Apparently some people didn't like this, and shared their bigotry with Whole Foods which made them decide to remove any mention of Ramadan from their stores this year. A Q&A for store clerks explicitly covered the issue as well: Is Whole Food Market hosting a campaign to celebrate Ramadan? No. Whole Foods Market is not promoting Ramadan.

To be clear, I don't expect grocery stores or malls to have Ramadan banners or any sort of accommodation for this time. It's a corporate world and its up to the corporation who they acknowledge. But. Its one thing for a company to simply not consider Ramadan for it to be just an afterthought. It's another to make it a store policy not to acknowledge it because some bigots told you not to, especially when you did so in the past.

When I see Asif Mandvi, or Moz Jobrani, and their mainstream success, I see an implicit message that says you exist. And when I hear about Whole Foods taking affirmative steps to make sure that they in no way, shape, or form acknowledge Ramadan, I see an explicit message that says: but we really wish you didn't.

And while I'm not outraged, shocked, or devastated, and nor am I planning to boycott or toss [cage-free] eggs at their store fronts, this news story saddened me. And I'd be lying if I didn't say, I'm a little hurt, and most certainly disappointed.

UPDATED TO ADD:  Since I know Whole Foods has issued statements denying any of this and saying they are still running promotions for Ramadan based items, I went to Whole Foods today. I asked them for their Ramadan related items, the seasonal items. They stared at me like I was asking to locate the aisle for skewered koala bears. Five sales clerks later, Customer Service said that while they have some Saffron related products they aren't carrying anything different than they ordinarily would and were definitely not doing anything related to Ramadan. Riddle me that Whole Foods?

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

amen!

Aisha said...

thanks, anon :)

sprogblogger said...

That's so disappointing. If they're promoting/celebrating one religious holiday, then they should celebrate everyone's--and deliberately omitting one that they've celebrated in the past? Shameful. Bigots should educate themselves.

Of course, if you look at it another way, at least corporate HQ had to send down a directive NOT to celebrate. Which means that most stores were likely planning on doing so. Which means that it's a whole lot more visible a holiday than when I was a kid. Corporate pushovers giving in to the worst of American society is bad, but it sounds like the individual stores were ready to celebrate.

Small comfort, I know, but here's hoping things change by the time Waleed is old enough to help with the shopping!

Julia Munroe Martin said...

This is awful and pretty shocking. Shame on Whole Foods for buckling to those people who complained -- of course it was still a corporate decision so one wonders who the real bigots are.

Aisha said...

Susan, I'm honestly okay if they don't acknowledge Ramadan or Eid since its their prerogative but it was just icky to see an e-mail sent out specifically making a point that they were not to do so. You are right, at least doing the promotions was going to be the norm- people were planning to do it- and I am sure not everyone at WF agreed with the decision.

Julia, that is a good point. They have defended themselves by saying it was not a national decision but a regional decision- but they won't name who or which region. I dont know, whatever the case its disheartening.

Yen said...

Oh my god, I know this isn't the point of your post, which I completely can relate to as I grew up thinking I was white since no one on tv/movies/radio looked like me (not even the bad guys), but Paula Abdul's heritage is half Syrian (father) and she's actually Jewish. I knew that off the top of the head because I used to be her biggest fan and that's not hyperbole or an exaggeration, as much as I wish it was. We must discuss our former fandom together someday.

Aisha said...

Yen, thanks for enlightening, and Syrian? Wow that wasn't even on the radar! While I was about to dispute your assertion of being her one time biggest fan ever, having seen your sincere devotion to Celine Dion I think that it is very likely you had me beat! But yes- post-book club we'll have to debrief on Paula Abdul and her one-time awesomeness, :)

Aisha said...

As an aside, as an adult, I now wonder, was she the "mylie cyrus" of our time? Did only kids under 16 enjoy her stuff?

Anonymous said...

People are so ignorant!!

E

Leigh Ann Ahmad said...

Ramadan Mubarak! Thank you for such a touching post!

Aisha said...

E, some people can be which is sad- but thankfully, most people are not! [I hope!]

Leigh Ann, Ramadan Mubarak to you too! thanks :)

katery said...

boo whole foods. very disappointing.

Anonymous said...

It is very disappointing to say the least...
A.

Aisha said...

Kate, A, yes disappointing for sure.

SYounis said...

This might make you feel better:
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/08/09/whole-foods-denies-canceling-ramadan-promotion/

Aisha said...

Thanks for sharing SYounis, I had read that they claimed the e-mail came from only one region but don't say where it came from- my issue with their denial is no one had ever argued that Whole Foods were never going to stock halal food during Ramadan- [had they done that I'd have been WAY more disappointed and might have considered other options for myself] what I read on the Houston Chronicle article they so despise in the piece was that they would carry products but without any of the usual signage or other promotion campagains that they have done in years past so as not to draw attention to their products. What do you think?

Aisha said...

I failed to finish my point, whoops- to be clear I don't think they're going to stop carrying the products but they are stopping advertising or signage of any sort- and that was not denied in the cnn blog post. I have to do a whole foods run today- so I'll be curious to see for myself what's up :)

Sadaf Trimarchi said...

Money talks. It's a corporate decision to retain the loyalties of the people most vocal and most likely to spend money. As muslim americans become more attuned to the power of their spending dollars and ability to mobilize their vote and the purse strings, their choices will become more apparent in stores and elsewhere.

I loved the Paula Abdul reflection. I'm guessing I'm at least ten years younger than you, and growing up, there was absolutely NO one in mainstream media that looked anything like me, or had a name like mine. When I first read Jhumpa Lahiri, years ago, I felt like I was reading the story of my own life growing up in upstate NY.

great writing.

S

Aisha said...

Sadaf, long time no hear, thanks for the comment :) you are right, money talks for sure. I think money is the reason Whole Foods was supplying stuff during Ramadan to begin with, but maybe they feared losing more than they made from us by not capitulating. Thanks for your kind words about my writing :) AND- I thought we were the same age? Are you ten years younger? I feel old. GULP. :)

erica @ expatriababy said...

Gah. I'm not affiliated with any religion in particular but this really piques at me. As a food-love and travel-lover, I would likely be enticed to buy and try new foodstuffs that were advertised or promoted for their seasonality, religious or otherwise.
My goodness. This is really insulting of whole foods. Yet another example of pandering to the lowest common denominator.
Thanks for brining this up, and I WILL use this piece of information to help guide my future shopping choices.

Aisha said...

Welcome to the blog Erica, thanks for your comment. Like you said, promotions and ads help people become aware of things. . . its just a shame honestly and for the reason you said so well, pandering to the lowest common denominator.

YM said...

I know many people would probably be like 'the moslem countries don't hold any christmas prmotions'. But it's not true. Come to dubai and you would notice roght from the airport how they decorate the place up for christmas more than eid. Although I hv to add that might have to do with promoting tourism...but even across local stores and malls we have promotions for all seasons and festivals.

Anonymous said...

Way to go sister! Now go write that letter to management asking for clarification ;-)
Leigh Ann

iamstacey said...

Just when it seems we make two steps forward, it's another step back. I can't even imagine the disappointment and heartache.

PandaBear said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PandaBear said...

lol I loved Paula Abdul too ;P I think it was her hair. I really wanted her hair when I was like 11 or 12, and I tried everything, including a ghastly perm, with great failure. I really take offense that Whole Foods did this - seriously, if in our society (which is supposed to be free, open to all religions, etc.) a store like Whole Foods would do this because there was a 'complaint' is beyond me. I mean, if Americans (who by and large may or may not be religious) have to suffer through Easter, and Christmas - which by the way in my opinion have absolutely nothing at all to do with a religious holiday and have everything to do with marketing - then I want to see the Hanukkah items displayed, I want to see strings of lights in Target for Diwali, and yes, I want to see halal foods in Whole Foods (among other stores) during Ramadan. I mean, Halloween is not even a religious holiday and look at all the crud that gets put out for that. Shesh.

Aisha said...

Ym, thanks for your comment and for the unique perspective on this blog! I didn't know!

Thanks Leigh Ann, and yes, I should get on that for sure.

Stacey, its disappointing to say the least. . . thanks for empathising.

Panda, I had a head of curls and wanted nothing more than to have stick straight hair. I brushed out the curls so instead had a frizzy fro-like confection going on, LOL :( Thanks for your perspective on this Panda. . . I think the dollar speaks in this day and age- and since those holidays you mentioned ar ebig money makers they stick with them- I wonder if given a chance to higlight Diwali, Eid, etc if maybe thye'd realize sales could go up for these things too? Who knows.

PandaBear said...

I have in between hair - not curly, not straight. Jut wavy and poufey. No amount of curling or flat ironing can make my hair do anything other than poof. I have learned to embrace it now though, and people often ask me how I get my hair to have "body" he he. Um, wash it?!? You are correct about the holidays though, its all about $$$. Which is why I think I kind of have a bad taste for the holidays, because they fuel consumerism, and I wish people would just not buy into all the hype. I am glad you pointed this out to me though, Whole Foods is going on my do not shop list. Looks like the only place I will be able to go soon that doesn't offend me is the farmer's market!

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