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On Canned Beans, Craft Supplies, and Reproductive Rights

Should we care about the politics behind our favorite products?

I’ve thought a lot about this lately, in the wake of surprising and disappointing news about one of my (formerly) favorite food companies. A Salon.com article revealed that Eden Foods  – the seemingly progressive organic food purveyor that has loudly opposed GMOs, and eliminated bisphenol a (BPA) from its can linings long before most people knew what it was – is also quietly suing the government to avoid paying for birth control for its employees.

As Salon reported, employees are covered by Blue cross/Blue Shield and, until recently, Eden was able to exclude coverage of what the insurance company terms “lifestyle drugs” like birth control. Under Obama’s Affordable Care Act, it can no longer do that. So on March 20, 2013, CEO Michael Potter filed a lawsuit against the government, joining 31 for-profit lawsuits alleging that the government is trampling on their “religious freedoms” by requiring they cover birth control, and demanding an exemption. (Craft store Hobby Lobby is also among the plaintiffs).

In its filing, Eden Foods says the company believes that birth control measures “almost always involve immoral and unnatural practices.” The complaint also says that “Plaintiffs believe that Plan B and ‘ella’ can cause the death of the embryo, which is a person.”

Potter has since backed off from the religious freedom argument, explaining his company’s stance more in terms of keeping Big Government out of his business: “I’ve got more interest in good quality long underwear than I have in birth control pills,” he later told Salon. “I don’t care if the federal government is telling me to buy my employees Jack Daniel’s or birth control. What gives them the right to tell me that I have to do that?”

Not surprisingly, the suit and his bizarre, inconsistent remarks have prompted a backlash among consumers, who have pelted the company Facebook Page with allegations of “misogyny” and threats of boycotts. In response to this suit and others like it, Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards said in a statement: “The idea that your employer could refuse to cover a prescription medication because they disagree with one of its uses — that’s unacceptable.”

So what am I, a long-time Eden Foods fan to do? It’s a tough call.

In this Internet age, when it’s easier than ever to find out what kind of corporate citizens we are buying from, I try hard to show my support with my dollar. I buy Dr. Bronner’s soap, not only because it smells really good, but also because its CEO David Bronner treats his employees fairly and generously puts his money where his mouth is – supporting initiatives to legalize hemp and promote fair trade. I drink Fat Tire Beer, not only because, well, I love beer, but also because New Belgium Brewery is doing more than most companies to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and green its supply chain.

When it comes to Eden, the decision is undoubtedly much stickier. But as a woman who adamantly supports reproductive freedom, I can’t stomach supporting a company that would go to such lengths to deny its employees birth control – even if its products are organic and BPA-free.

From now on, I’m buying my black beans elsewhere.

Lisa Marshall is a freelance health and medical science writer in Lyons, Colo. Connect at www.lisaannmarshall.com.

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