Conflict In The Garden Of Eden Foods

Pam Linn

Well, it’s happened again. A company I trust has angered a cohort of women’s health advocates and I’m being asked to choose between the opposing positions. How can I do that? 

Eden Foods, which I support because of its stand for organic, nutritious foods and packaging, sued the federal government for relief from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement of insurance coverage for contraception. An appeals court ruled that as a for-profit company, Eden Foods couldn’t exercise religion. 

However, when the Supremes upheld Hobby Lobby’s similar (though limited) objection, the court vacated the former decision, referring the case back to the 6th District for further consideration. 

My favorite grocery store, the Bozeman Food Co-op, is considering removing Eden products from their shelves after board members heard about the controversy involving Eden founder Michael Potter, a devout Catholic, who sued for the exemption on religious grounds, has never offered contraception as part of employee benefits until the ACA required him to do so. Eden employs about 125 workers. 

In a Sept. 2010 column, I praised Potter for his 1999 decision to use BPA-free cans even though it would cost him 14 percent more to use the older vegetable resin-based linings. He didn’t publicize the change until consumers became alarmed about health hazards linked to BPA plastics. It was a gutsy stand and I applauded it, limiting my canned bean purchases of some canned foods to Eden brand. Such decisions, based on science and health, deserve support. 

Women’s health and family planning also deserve respect, free from religious pressure to conform to edicts of an earlier age, before over population, particularly in impoverished nations, became an issue. Family planning, I believe, is good for the health of the planet as well as for the women who use it. Ninety percent of American and European Catholic women use birth control at some point and simply disregard the church’s position against it. 

But who said any of us have the right to impose our beliefs on others? The Catholic Church, which pretty much runs all aspects of life in the Philippine Islands, continues to outlaw “artificial” birth control. Church leaders tell poor mothers of 10 or more children that birth control is a sin. What are they to do? The small percentage of wealthy women in that country have access to family planning, while the overwhelming percentage of poor women do not. What kind of sense does that make? 

Perhaps founders and CEOs of “closely held” companies have the right to impose their religious beliefs on their employees, as the Supreme Court suggests. But where will it end? And are the justices (mostly Catholics) imposing their beliefs on the rest of us? And which religions have the right to opt out of any government program? Who sets the criteria? 

While I supported the Affordable Care Act as a way to provide health care coverage to more people, I would have preferred a single-payer system or Medicare for all. The system was already in place and was working to curtail the rise of healthcare costs. This business of employer-provided healthcare is an anachronism from the 1940s when the government imposed salary caps nationwide. The only way for companies to attract top workers was to offer benefits in lieu of higher pay. Since that is no longer an issue, maybe it’s time to do away with employer-provided healthcare altogether. That might allow workers to change jobs without fear of losing their family’s health insurance. It might also take these issues of fairness out of the courts and even level the playing field for businesses. But I’m not holding my breath. 

Meanwhile, I have to decide which business to support; the Bozeman Food Co-op, which, until now, sells virtually everything I care to buy, or Eden Foods, one of the few producers that uses BPA-free cans. Do I back the business whose ethos I prefer or the advocates for women’s health issues as provided for in the Affordable Care Act? 

It is a puzzlement.