UPDATE: View the original, unedited internal email from Whole Foods.
Under pressure from right-wing bloggers who blindly associate Ramadan and Muslims with terrorism and burqas, Whole Foods has sent an email to its stores across the United States in which it specifically tells stores not to promote Ramadan this year.
Just last week, Whole Foods began its promotion of Saffron Road's line of halal products throughout the holiday, which ends on August 29, via writer Yvonne Maffei's blog, My Halal Kitchen. That promotion was waylaid by what seems like a very small amount of criticism, according to an internal email that the Houston Press obtained recently.
"It is probably best that we don't specifically call out or 'promote' Ramadan," reads a portion of that email. "We should not highlight Ramadan in signage in our stores as that could be considered 'Celebrating or promoting' Ramadan."
This is a significant departure from years past, when Whole Foods has promoted its halal items during Ramadan with small signs that displayed a crescent moon, the symbol of Islam. It's also a striking difference from the way that the famously tolerant grocery chain promotes other holidays, including signage and in-store promotions for Passover, Easter and Christmas.
"We recently introduced a line of frozen products in Grocery that are Halal certified (meet Muslim dietary laws) called Saffron Road," continues the email. "With the introduction of this line company wide, and the beginning of Ramadan last week, we posted a product giveaway on the Whole Story blog (on July 31) to generate awareness and interest in the products. Some people have misinterpreted the blog post to mean we are celebrating or promoting Ramadan in our stores. The misinterpretation has generated some negative feedback from a small segment of vocal and angry consumers and bloggers."
This language represents a very different side of Whole Foods than the one it showed to the media when it released this statement on its halal products and Ramadan:
We're always looking for ways to expand our product mix and provide a wide variety of high-quality natural and organic foods for our diverse customer base. We celebrate the many food choices we offer our shoppers throughout the year that satisfy a variety of lifestyles and dietary preferences. Many of our shoppers requested that we carry more halal offerings to meet their needs and we listened. We recently launched frozen entrees from Saffron Road and we are highlighting these new products that are not just halal certified, but that also meet our high quality standards. Just like the other ethnic and special diet foods we carry, we're excited to also offer halal products with this line of quality frozen entrees.
Saffron Road's halal items are still for sale in Whole Foods. Yet partners at the stores are directed to tell customers: "Whole Foods Market is not promoting Ramadan, but rather featuring the great halal offerings our shoppers can find in our stores during this special time."
Despite a statement from the Anti-Defamation League that Whole Foods and its Ramadan promotion aren't vaguely anti-Semitic, the association between a holiday that represents a time of patience, humility and charity for Muslims across the world and Jihadist terrorism is apparently so strong with a small, vocal minority that Whole Foods has capitulated to these people -- who surely can't represent the chain's larger demographic -- and buried its former Ramadan promotions as if they were a dirty secret.
For now, it looks like the embargo will remain in place according to that internal email: "We do need to hold off, however, on displaying any Ramadan signs in our stores at this time."
Whole Foods left the following comment, which is similar to what the company released on its Twitter account:
Kate here from Whole Foods. To set the record straight, Whole Foods Market is NOT cancelling our current halal promotion, which is centered around the timeframe of Ramadan. We invite shoppers seeking out not just halal certified products, but products that also meet our high quality standards to try Saffron Road and other regional offerings in our stores.
We never sent a communication from our headquarters requesting stores take down signs at all. We have 12 different operating regions and your reacted by sending out directions to promote Halal and not specifically Ramadan after some online negative comments and after viewing signage made by one individual at a store that didn't point to these products.
We're excited to be offering high quality halal products for our shoppers and we stand behind them and our promotion of them, just like we do with other seasonal and holiday products.
To that, the Houston Press would like to add the following lines, also from the original internal email, located in a section called "Team Member Q&A - Halal product feature during Ramadan":
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Is Whole Food Market hosting a campaign to celebrate Ramadan?
No. Whole Foods Market is not promoting Ramadan.
You can view the original, unedited internal email from Whole Foods on our site.