Letter: Where is coverage of local union effort?

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I have a question for Mountain Xpress and then, without waiting for an answer, I’m going to give my own thoughts on the matter, as is typical to the op-ed form. My question: Where is the piece on vegan vittles producer No Evil Foods’ union busting?

Sure, Motherboard, Vice, The Appeal and other outlets have reported on the saga, but there’s something to be said for the press in close proximity failing to weigh in on such an issue, even in the most skeletal fashion, being that it is, very much, local news. Meat and food justice are clearly on the table for Mountain Xpress, as are union issues; the lack of coverage of this occurrence seems irresponsible and out of touch with the mission of “balanced reporting.”

Mountain Xpress has reported on No Evil Foods a dozen times, covering everything from the company’s launch to its involvement in various culinary events and its impact in overall bolstering the reputation of plant-based meat nationwide. These articles, as well as those released by vegan imprints, craft a positive picture, as does its own social media presence and website.

The latter highlights partnerships with WNC nonprofits UpSkill WNC and Bounty & Soul, but what interests me more is the banner that appears at the top: “Why No Evil Foods isn’t backing down during COVID-19.” Clicking this will take you to a page of its site where they provide the kind of information one would expect, all proclaiming the business’s integrity and ideals. The word “union” appears on this page, right beneath a picture of the company’s founders. It is used as follows: “We see a union between bringing people closer to the origins of their food and addressing issues like food insecurity and economic justice.” And a worthy union that would be! But I fail to see how the behaviors described in the aforementioned publications would be conducive to that? To summarize, No Evil Food’s co-founder dissuaded unionization by claiming that the right of workers to organize within the Axis, No Evil Foods’ ill- (maybe, aptly) named production facility, would so impede its operation that they would be unable to save lives.

Moving onto the former, social media, what draws my attention is its Instagram, which purports the business to be “compromise-free” in its bio. They make no mention of the union debacle, instead highlighting the owners’ appreciation of punk music, specifically that of Black punk bands as a nod to the current moment of racial reckoning, and featuring a rainbow flag-wielding chicken named Comrade Cluck (they also carry a product called El Zapatista) in a post commemorating Pride. It’s worth noting that the No Evil Foods Twitter account is in conversation with its critics, though anyone who uses the two platforms knows Twitter to be a more socially niche and less commercially concerned platform than Instagram. No Evil Foods posts on Instagram daily, and its feed is extremely appealing, a mix of food photography, spotlights on workers and expertly formatted social justice -related graphics.

Their engagement is spot-on as well, sharing consumer’s recipes to their story and giving measured responses to the occasional follower who asks they “not make things political,” as seen in the comments of the aforementioned Comrade Cluck post. On Instagram, a search for #noevilfoods will turn up this extended hashtag, #noevilfoodsjustevilpeople, which has only been used by No Evil Foods itself on a post from 2016. (Impressive that they managed to co-opt a line that could be perfectly used against them ahead of time. Note that #noevilfoodsunion turns up no results, at least on Instagram.) Other hashtags used in tandem for this post include #punkrockhomesteading (which alone could spawn another op-ed), #election2016, #revolution and, most tellingly, #getbyanywayyoucan.

The ensuing interaction in the comments of this post is human, much less scripted than recent observable exchanges and probably indicative of the small scale No Evil Foods operated at in those days, making references to the band Minor Threat and drinking beer. Very cool, very Asheville. But that one hashtag sticks with me more than anything.

Get by — any way you can.

(Avowed carnivores might be tempted to retort, what if that necessitates eating animals?)

Moving on from what I’ve seen, I’d like to get into what I think, which, more and more in public discourse, seems to need no basis in reality, so bear with me if I’m extemporizing a bit too much in my assumptions about the lack of coverage. I think Mountain Xpress has left this stone, this seitan brick, unturned because what’s underneath is simply too detrimental to the glorious, progressive, compassionate Asheville that uncalloused liberals like to imagine. (For the record, I’m an uncalloused liberal, though I have my share of espresso machine burns.) For a plucky little operation that acquired venture capital backing to be decried by workers as toxic — emotionally, at least, in reference to the allegations of gaslighting and the audio clips released by Vice, though there are also complaints about the inability to socially distance in its plants — and for one that promotes its enterprise to be harm-reducing at that, would be devastating.

It confirms that we are guilty of mistaking virtue signaling for actual values and advertising these falsehoods to the rest of the world. It would also undermine any suggested strength of WNC’s nontourism-related economy, even more devastating considering the toll of the pandemic on travel. And that would be evil, wouldn’t it?

— Nora Walsh-Battle
Mills River

Editor’s note: Thank you for highlighting this dispute and the national coverage it has received. Xpress’ only reported story featuring No Evil Foods (avl.mx/7nt) was published in February 2015. The company’s products, along with those of another local manufacturer, were mentioned in a 2017 story on the science of meat substitutes (avl.mx/4c3). Other mentions of NEF refer to the inclusion of the company’s products in local food events or were press releases posted on the News Bulletins section of our website. Our capacity to cover labor issues is limited. Xpress has no stake in supporting the company’s messaging or management.

Xpress also contacted No Evil Foods, and we received the following response from Sadrah Schadel and Mike Woliansky, the company’s co-founders: “No Evil Foods is a small, young business that began at an Asheville farmer’s market just six years ago. As a family-run business, we foster a great place to work, with a positive culture and generous pay and benefits.

“Already a living wage employer, we recently increased indefinitely our line pay to an average of $17 an hour. We also cover 100% of employee health care premiums, prioritize paid time off, sick leave and expanded family leave, provide an Employee Assistance Program for support through unexpected life challenges and ensure flexibility for those who are working parents.

“Because we listen to our team, respond to their concerns and provide generous benefits, in February, our employees decided a union (commonly referred to as a ‘meat packers’ union) was not the right choice for our vegan company.

In a free, fair election, our employees declined the union by close to a 70% margin. Our team declined the union because they trust us, believe in our progressive, family culture, our living wage standard, our excellent benefits and our commitment to our mission — to build community and to provide consumers with quality plant-based meats to improve their health, preserve the environment and eliminate cruelty to animals.

“To learn more about us and our mission, please visit [avl.mx/7nr], and our culture, please visit [avl.mx/7ns].”



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