The Food World's Hobby Lobby: Eden Organics

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered one of their most controversial decisions in recent history. The case was Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, and the decision brought into question the role government plays in women's rights, and what "religious freedom" actually means.

In short -- and there's plenty of good reading out there regarding the ramifications of the decision -- the case was brought about because Hobby Lobby, a craft supplies chain store, didn't want to provide female employees with certain forms of legal contraception, something that seemed to go against the Affordable Care Act. Instead, the staunchly religious company (the CEO is a devout Christian, the store is closed on Sundays, Christian hymns are piped in through store speakers) felt they should be exempt. And the court agreed.

But while the Supreme Court tried to limit the impact of its decision by writing it as narrowly as possible, there's a large group of other companies that have already filed essentially the same lawsuit. Among them is an organic food company that a lot of us support.

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Eden Foods is a Michigan-based company that professes to be "the oldest natural and organic food company in North America." For years, the CEO and lone stockholder, Michael Potter, negotiated and specified what health coverage the company's provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, offered to its employees. His process made sure that a handful of "lifestyle drugs" were not included in the coverage, things like smoking cessation drugs and, in a surprising lack of sexism, Viagra. Also unavailable? Contraception.

But after passage of the Affordable Care Act, Blue Cross told Potter he could no longer keep contraception coverage from his employees. On March 20th, 2013, he filed a lawsuit. The case made it all the way up to the U.S. Court of Appeals, who ruled last October that Eden needs to suck it up and pay for contraception:

[I]n accordance with the law of the circuit announced in [previously-decided case] Autocam, we hold that Eden Foods, a secular, for-profit corporation, cannot establish that it can exercise religion, and that Potter cannot establish his standing to challenge obligations placed only upon the corporation, not upon him as an individual.

But that was before the Supreme Court chimed in.

Since their landmark decision, the highest court in the country has asked the Court of Appeals to go ahead and rethink their case one more time. Odds are, they'll be overturning their decision shortly, meaning Eden will be allowed to place contraception back on their list of "lifestyle drugs."

So, then, just what is Eden Foods?

It was founded in 1969 as a co-op in Ann Arbor, Michigan that specialized in macrobiotics, whole grains, and locally-grown vegetables. That co-op blossomed into a large natural grocery store, which subsequently expanded into a $55 million a year food company that dominates the industry. Walk into any Whole Foods or independent natural grocery store and you'll see Eden items lining the shelves.

According to the company's About page, the Eden's ethos hasn't diverged much from the early days. They're still focused on tracking their environmental impact, maintaining relationships with independent growers, and making sure to keep GMOs out of their food. In short, they stand for all of the "right" things when it comes to food. But when it comes to their personal politics? That's another story.

In an interview with Salon last year, Potter went into why he doesn't want to offer contraception to his employees:

Because I'm a man, number one and it's really none of my business what women do.

The entire interview is full of misguided and asinine statements like this. It's not exactly what you'd expect from the head of a company that seems to be chock-full of environmentally-minded hippies. Which is all to say: If you're in the habit of buying items with the Eden logo, consider who that money's going to before you make the purchase.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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