The Plague-Ground – In our Whole Foods, the poppies blow….

Only a few countries use poppies to remember their servicemen and women killed in conflict. The Royal British Legion started this tradition 1921 and today Canada, Australia and New Zealand and parts of the United States continue it.

This Wednesday is Remembrance Day in Canada when, at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, we pay tribute to the 65,000 Canadians who died wearing a Canadian uniform in all our wars.

But those ceremonies this year will be virtual. Parades and wreath-laying have been cancelled, including in Toronto, although the National War Memorial in Ottawa will host a drastically diminished ceremony with a maximum of 100 people.

Also much diminished will be the sight of veterans selling poppies on our downtown streets – and with that, the flood of dollars from their purchase dwindling to a trickle into the coffers of the Royal Canadian Legion whose future is dire without those funds.

We can still buy poppies at convenience and other stores, and this year I urge you to buy one for each side of your beating heart – the one that says “thank you” for making the ultimate sacrifice, and the other that says “please” keep this kind of tradition alive. As Gustav Mahler said: “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”

But you can also buy your poppies at www.mypoppy.ca. Even better, you can personalize them. My friend, Robin Lecky, who flagged this idea, dedicated his to his father-in-law, Bill Boivin, who served in Europe in WWII. Margaret Atwood is dedicating hers to Brigadier General T.G. Gibson, her late husband Graeme’s father who fought in Italy. Mine are dedicated to my father who fought in the Pacific in WWII and to my brother Jim who fought in the Korean War.

So, just make a donation in support of our veterans and their families, fill in the details, and you’ll get an email to claim your poppy. You can then follow the prompts to post your poppy to your social media platforms where you can add personal stories and photos.

There are two things that make Canada different from every other country around poppies and Remembrance Day.

First, the whole idea came from the poem, In Flanders Fields, which was written by John McRae, a Canadian doctor and poet from Guelph who served in the trenches in World War I. The opening line — “In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow” – is known the world over and gave rise to poppies becoming the world’s most recognised symbol for soldiers who’ve died in conflict.

Second, last Friday Whole Foods Canada became the first company anywhere on earth to ban the wearing of poppies.

Here’s how it began, as reported by the CBC: “U.S.-based Whole Foods Market says poppies aren’t allowed under its recently updated uniform policy, which affects employees at its 14 locations across Canada.”

“But the company won’t say why.”

“An employee of the Whole Foods in Ottawa says she was told by a supervisor that wearing the poppy would be seen as ‘supporting a cause.’”

“I was basically told … if they allowed this one particular cause, then it would open up the door so that they would have to allow or consider allowing other causes,” said the employee.

“I was in shock actually. I was appalled. I couldn’t believe it.”

Within a day, Doug Ford said he’d introduce legislation that prohibits companies from telling staff they can’t wear a poppy. Hours later, every political leader in Ottawa piled on, calling Whole Foods’ decision “stupid,” “shameful,” and “ridiculous.” By Saturday, Whole Foods had reversed itself saying, “Our intention was never to single out the poppy or to suggest a lack of support for Remembrance Day.”

But Whole Foods’ real problem is its failure to single out poppy-wearing being any different from a political cause.

Remembering the 65,000 Canadians who died on our behalf is not a political cause. Neither is wearing “Canada” masks next July 1st or whenever we win our next Olympic Gold Medal.

Patriotism isn’t a cause. Remembering the dead isn’t a cause.

If Whole Foods, which is now owned by Amazon, wants to understand the difference, I suggest they make a stonking donation to the Royal Canadian Legion so that we’ll remember who really deserves our remembrance on Wednesday.

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16 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – In our Whole Foods, the poppies blow….”

  1. Jennifer M Puncher

    Bob, a question – is this a generational pov? I’m emotionally committed to remembering November 11th, it is a powerful & humbling lesson of my youth, comparable to yours & others of our age. Do your grandchildren feel the same way? I’m beginning to doubt this, their experiences are so different & they’ve, fortunately, been sheltered from the personal horrors of war to a very large extent. It saddens me greatly that this poignant & bloody tribute to the millions who died so we might continue to live & enjoy our freedoms is fading into oblivion.

    1. “Stonking” is a word I fell across in The Economist and thought: “What’s this?!”
      And isn’t it perfect?

  2. Thanks, Bob, for a graceful and necessary response to Whole Foods myopic and breathtakingly insensitive actions.

  3. Brilliant Bob

    And we should show our disgust at Whole Foods (and Amazon) in some tangible manner.

    My own blog today salutes my 100 year old uncle who served as a doctor in the front lines in North Africa and Italy and was wounded in action at Monte Casino. Among the very few surviving WW2 veterans, he is the last of our heroes.

    At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly with this, Bob.

    However, where was the outrage when they created this rule (really to stop their employees from wearing clothing in support of Black Lives Matter?) Anti-racism isn’t, well *shouldn’t* be a cause. Remembering the dead Black people killed by police isn’t a cause. This is like the “cancel culture” post you wrote a while back. It’s fine to cancel *some* culture, just only the ones that make white people uncomfortable.

  5. Bob, thank you for the referral to the mypoppy.ca site. I have dedicated a poppy (on behalf of my mother) to my step-father, Guillaume Geoffrion. Upon completing the Bar exams, he immediately volunteered to serve overseas in 1942. He was posted with the Canadian 4th Regiment of medium artillery division at Juno Beach, landing in Normandy, at Courseulles-sur-Mer and advanced through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany in 1944-45.
    I do miss seeing our Veterans selling poppies…

    1. Beth — Indeed, our fathers and step-dads lived and died in a very different world.
      Thanks for checking in on this.

    2. Jennifer — I’m with you. I don’t think our kids and certainly our grandkids have any understanding of the mortal peril our parents’ generation faced.
      Thanks for checking in

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