Ottawa
3 min

Speaking out against Produce Depot

Retailer's website linked to anti-gay propaganda

TOUGH TO SWALLOW: Customers find more than they bargained for on Produce Depot's website. Credit: Rob Thomas

Produce Depot, a local fruit and vegetable company, has basketfuls of customers boycotting their two local retail outlets.



Produce Depot’s redesigned website offers a link to the American group Focus on the Family, which encourages discrimination against gays and lesbians. The link has raised concerns, both within the GLBT community and beyond it.



Alain Lanoix first noticed the link.Lanoix is gay but isn’t politically active.He describes himself as a “quiet man” but the link and the content it presented made Lanoix angry enough to speak out. His concerns are simple.



“I think it’s wrong for a retailer, of something that has nothing to do with lifestyle,to offer a free tribute to an organization that’s devoted to the hatred of gays and lesbians,” he explains.



Lanoix sent an e-mail to Produce Depot explaining his outrage, telling them that he wouldn’t shop there any longer and letting them know that he would contact gay and lesbian media. A letter to Capital Xtra, published in the last issue, followed. Lanoix has yet to hear from Produce Depot.



Produce Depot owners Danny Docksteader, Roger Stewart and David Barstead run two Ottawa locations. Their website jokes that there is more to life than fruits and veggies – “like other types of food.”



The Focus on the Family link appears among various health, association and nutrition links including links to the Produce Marketing Association and the Canada Food Guide. A statement describes the link as “a focus on traditional family values and ideas on how to nurture yourself.”



Dany Docksteader would not comment when contacted by Capital Xtra but admitted there had been complaints. Dave Barstead, who is responsible for the site, said he didn’t have time to answer questions.



The words “traditional family values” first attracted Lanoix’s attention. The Focus on the Family page includes several documents concerning homosexuality including one called “Homosexuality Again?” This advice column by a person identified as Professor Theophilus explains why homosexuality is a sin. Key points include the idea that gay and lesbian sex causes harm, that there is no such thing as ambiguous gender and that “two men do not complement each other, and neither do two women.”



Lanoix isn’t the only person to be outraged by the link. Michael McKeown read Lanoix’s letter but didn’t make the connection with the fruit and vegetable market near his work for several days. When he made the connection he checked the website and was shocked by the link and its content.



McKeown composed his own e-mail of complaint to Produce Depot, but also sent a copies to at least 15 of his friends. Since then, he has heard back from his friends and at least 10 other people (some of them straight) to whom the message had been forwarded expressing their own shock.



“We’ve heard all this before, whether it’s ‘love the sinner but don’t love the sin’ or that sort of stuff… but all this stuff about ‘how can a parent prevent their child from becoming a homosexual,’ you want to just be sick,” says McKeown.



McKeown hasn’t heard from Produce Depot but says, in fairness, that he wouldn’t expect a response so soon. What is interesting for him is the response he has received from not only his friends and colleagues, but from others whom the friends and colleagues have contacted. McKeown explains that he has really seen the domino effect that one e-mail message can have.



“I had one person tell me, ‘Oh, I’m going to let my mom know, she always shops there,'” McKeown laughs. Then he received an e-mail from this person’s mother explaining her outrage.



At least six people in McKeown’s office, near the Carling Produce Depot store, have made it clear they will not be shopping there.



“If family.org had a section on nutrition or something that somehow related,” McKeown wonders aloud, “but there seems to be no relevance at all to this little grocery store and… I just don’t understand.”



Like Lanoix, McKeown doesn’t see himself as an activist, but says that when you come across this type of thing you want to share it. He would not only like to see the link removed from the website. “That’s easy to do,” he explains. He would like to see the store condemn the stance that Focus on the Family takes on these matters.



Dr Stephen Maguire is Director of the Certificate in Organizational Values and Ethics at Carleton University and studies and teaches business ethics. He points out that Produce Depot’s link raises serious concerns. Companies do have a social responsibility, he says, and points out that some have spoken out on issues at considerable risk to their business. In this case, however, Produce Depot is being reactive instead of active.



“They’re still ‘speaking out’ but reacting against civil rights, which have been and are being more broadly accepted by western democracies,” he explains.



“They are linking themselves to organizations that encourage discrimination. Anything is an ethical issue if it harms an individual or a group. Clearly we have a group here that is being harmed if people are encouraging a view that denies them civil rights.”



* Produce Depot’s website is producedepot.ca.