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"Will Walmart make America healthy?" Huh?

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“You won’t recognize the grocery section"
"friends started telling me I needed to look seriously at Walmart’s efforts to sell sustainably raised food."

read more or watch the video
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/a...

  1. The Evil Empire's attempts to get the yuppies shopping there.

    1. No. Even if the products are "healthy" (and no one has proven that "sustainably raised" food is healthier than conventionally raised food, although there are other reasons to buy it) Wal-Mart promotes excessive consumption. Too much cheap food is the problem, not the solution.

      25 Replies
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        <Too much cheap food is the problem, not the solution.>

        Even if it's cheap vegetables and fruits, which don't exactly lend themselves to excessive consumption? The video shows cucumbers for 36 cents a pound and peaches for 94 cents a pound. I understand wanting to avoid Walmart on principle, but people are going to shop there, and they may as well be able to buy something decent.

        Corby Kummer kept saying "prah-duce" for produce in the video. What kind of accent is that?

        1. re: small h

          Cheap veggies are good. But the fact is that Americans spend the lowest percentage of their income on food of any people in the world. Sure there are some very poor people who can't afford food, but for most Americans it's not that they can't afford healthy food, it's that they're prioritizing it too low. For the most part it's not that fresh food is too expensive, it's that for various reasons people are choosing not to buy it, and to instead buy much more expensive processed and packaged foods. People who were going to buy it anyway are just going to have more money left over to buy other crap they don't need at Wal-Mart. I say that as someone who has been strapped for cash and spent very little money the last few months except for fresh foods (meat, produce, bread), because -- amazingly -- I've found I can do very nicely with the stuff I already have.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            So your solution is to force people to spend more for lettuce so they have less money left over for Cool Ranch Doritos? I'm afraid if the lettuce goes up in price, it's the lettuce that gets jettisoned from the shopping cart, not the chips.

            I don't see how demonizing Walmart for this particular thing (when there are so many other things!) is helpful. But maybe I don't quite understand what you think is the better way to go.

            1. re: small h

              I'm just responding to the original question, which was "Will Wal-Mart make America healthy?" While making veggies cheaper at Wal-Mart is a good thing, I don't think it's going to have any effect on the overall consumption patterns of Americans, which is in large part driven by the Wal-Mart ethos that it's the right of every American to buy as much cheap crap as possible.

              I don' t think price is the barrier to people buying produce, I think it's a whole complex of various socio-economic factors that make people choose Cool Ranch Doritos over organic spring mix, which are about the same price per ounce at my local supermarket.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                I can certainly see a downside to a behemoth like Walmart cornering the organic produce market, and crushing smaller farmers, and then abandoning this little experiment if it doesn't prove profitable, leaving us with no smaller farmers. But I do hope that if people have the opportunity to pick up a cheap bunch of grapes under the same roof as the socks and the DVD players (and the Doritos), maybe they'll take it. I also hope I win the lottery, and an Academy Award.

                1. re: small h

                  Geez, did you even read the article? "Crushing smaller farmers"? Wal-Mart has an initiative to bring back more smaller farms, and introduce more local varieties, rather than getting, say, all your tomatoes from California. How, exactly, is working with smaller farms and encouraging them to expand the variety of local products available "crushing" them?

                  I live a mile away from a Wal-Mart in Northern Toronto. I occasionally drop in to buy socks, or kitchen goods. They have a small food section, which I almost never visit because they don't offer produce (it's not a "superstore"). Everything is processed or packaged food, and that doesn't interest me, except for a few canned goods. If they did offer decent produce, I would shop there more often, so I think it's a smart business decision.

                  And I have visited Wal-Mart superstores in the US that do have a full service grocery, and it seemed to me that their carts were filled more with groceries than with other goods. I think I smell someone's bias showing.

                  1. re: FrankD

                    <Geez, did you even read the article?>

                    Yes. Here's a quote from it, with which I agree: "I’m not sure I’m convinced that the world’s largest retailer is set on rebuilding local economies it had a hand in destroying, if not literally, then in effect." I also saw this documentary:

                    http://www.walmartmovie.com/

                    I come by my bias honestly.

                    1. re: small h

                      walmart also has a checkered history of mislabeling, including labeling conventional produce as certified organic.

              2. re: small h

                I haven't heard of any plan to "force" people to buy healthier food, but right now there are dis-incentives to buy healthy food. Gov't subsidies on fresh vegetables, if there are any, do not compare with the subsidies in products like corn. The result is that high fructose corn syrup is an ingredient found in a huge number of products. The political clout of the agribusiness giants make it very difficult to fashion a food policy that stresses public health over these corporate interests. I have nothing against corporations making money, but it would be nice if gov't can incentivise them to make their profits in a more healthf promoting manor.

                Re your comment "no one has proven that "sustainably raised" food is healthier than conventionally raised food, ".
                While there may not be definitive proof that sustainably raised food has a higher nutrient content, I think it is generally accepted that some of the practices of large scale factory farms, in terms of their use of pesticides and antibiotics, have negative effects on health as well as environmental costs that are passes on to the taxpayer to clean up. The issues are complex because agriculture is one of the few areas of production where the US is competitive. It also seems impossible to feed a world population with small scale sustainable farming methods.

                1. re: Rmis32

                  Are you sure you meant to reply to me? 'Cause I didn't say anything about sustainably raised food. Also, I know what you mean about subsidies on corn having negative consequences, but I consider corn a vegetable. So the government IS subsidizing vegetables. Just not the vegetables you think should be subsidized.

                  1. re: Rmis32

                    The substitution of HFCS for sugar occurred because a small group of southern sugar producers persuaded the government to put a tariff barrier against cheap sugar from the Caribbean, Brazil, etc. The resulting rise in the price of sugar - people in the US pay about twice what we pay in Canada - caused major sugar users to look for a substitute, and HFCS fit the bill.

                    And, in case you didn't know, the price of corn has about doubled over the last four years, from $2/bush to nearly $4 today, because of the ridiculous ethanol subsidy, where again, tariffs keep cheap Brazilian ethanol out of the US, US ethanol production gets a subsidy, and a huge windfall gets into the hands of Iowa farmers. Of course, the people who use corn and corn by products have to pay higher prices. So meat and other things become more expensive.

                    So, if you want fewer distortions in food markets, why don't you start by getting the US - which always claims to want "free trade", except when it doesn't - government to tear down the tariff barriers, and reduce prices in many areas? Maybe some corporations asked for those barriers, but you can still vote against them.

                    1. re: FrankD

                      So you're saying you want the same standard of living in Iowa they have in Brazil?

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        Your implication that a restructure of our tariff and subsidy systems with respect to sugar and corn would necessarily lead to mass poverty in Iowa is incorrect.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          That was not an especially insightful reply. I didn't realize, prior to the ethanol subsidy, that Iowa farmers were living in penury. And, since I'm sure you're not aware, the subsidy DOES NOT go to the Iowa farmers; it goes to the ethanol producers, who thanks to the many states that mandate a minimum of E85 gasoline, can barely keep up with demand. But those ethanol makers bid up the price of corn in competition with food users. So, a distorting tariff paid to gas companies showers a windfall on Iowa farmers, while shifting the cost of both the subsidy and increased food prices to the rest of America. Perhaps this seems fair to you, but as with sugar, it seems to me that the rest of America is being forced to pay

                          And, as a knock-on effect, farmers have shifted acres and acres from soybeans to corn, with the twin effects of raising the price of soybeans, which are also used extensively throughout the food chain, and depleting the soil. (Most people know that corn is very hard on soil if grown year after year, while beans restore nitrogen and other nutrients to it.)

                          So, let's add it all up - for the sake of a few ethanol makers and corn farmers, food prices go up across America, taxes (or deficits) go up across America, and the soil requires massive amounts of fertilizer to continue to produce corn year after year. If you believe this is a good plan, you are, of course, entitled to your opinion. I for one think it's incredibly stupid.

                          1. re: FrankD

                            Yes, incredibly stupid.
                            However, when environmental activists insisted on US investment in ethanol, it was stupidly added to the Farm Bill, against the advice of energy and agricultural economists.
                            Ethanol from corn has proved to be a disaster.
                            Are we listening to the wrong people?

                            1. re: MakingSense

                              Those terrible environmentalists! Too bad people like you benefit from the efforts of environmentalists and unions even when you don't support them. Must be nice to be ideologically pure and still have benefits like air and water that are cleaner than they were 40 years ago, despite huge population growth and economic expansion.

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                Please read back to FrankD's comments before jumping to conclusions about my politics. Good stewardship of our resources should not be the slave of politics although it has been increasingly so in recent years.
                                To assume that all things that the "environmentalists" desire are good policy and good economics ignores the unintended consequences of a rush to adopt the next seemingly great idea.

                                It requires almost the same amount of fossil fuel input to produce an equal quantity of ethanol. The downstream impact on the environment and local economies is enormous. There has been a negative effect.
                                The rush to federal subsidy of ethanol production has resulted in the very things that CHs decry in the food world. Environmentalist now protest the very results of their own efforts. The ugly reality of federal subsidies is that they acquire a life of their own once enacted. It is political suicide for a farm state politician to propose ending them.

                                Prudence should dictate that these policies not be enshrined in law on a massive scale for the sake of politics. There is little difference among Big Enviro, Big Business, Big Ag, and Big Labor. They all want what they want and get it through political clout.

                            2. re: FrankD

                              You're right, of course, that for the most part farm subsidies and protectionism benefit big agribusiness. But since you -- and Making Sense -- seem to be rabidly pro-business, I would think you would see this as a good thing!

                              Americans may be paying for these subsidies, but they still pay a smaller proportion of their incomes on food than any nation in the world, so I don't think our farm policies are hurting their pocketbooks (although they are incredibly damaging in other ways).

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                I don't know whereyou get the idea that I'm "rabidly pro-business". I would prefer to think I'm rabidly pro-good sense. I don't have anything against environmentalists per se; if they think ethanol really would solve a problem (a case most definitely not proven), then by all means, let's have ethanol. Brazil makes it at 1/5 the price of the US, so let's import it from there instead of introducing distortions throughout the food business.

                                And your impression that Americans pay a smaller proportion of their incomes on food than any other country is based on your faulty reasoning that food costs do not include the cost of these subsidies which fall on your tax bill. If those are factored in, I doubt Americans (9.8%) pay significantly less than, say, Germans (10%), or even Canada (10.8%).

                                1. re: FrankD

                                  Germans and Canadians (1) don't pay taxes and (2) don't have government subsidies of agriculture? Really? I'm not going to take the time to google it myself, I'd be shocked if they don't subsidize portions of their agricultural industries, although perhaps not the same ones.

                                  Not you perhaps, but anyone who blames environmentalists rather than the agribusiness lobby on ethanol subsidies IMHO has a pro-business bias. Most environmentalists I know (and BTW, environmentalists are not a monolithic group -- just look at California water politics if you don't believe me), aren't particularly pro-ethanol and think corn subsidies do more harm than good.

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    In Canada, we have "marketing boards" which dispense quota to local farmers for things like milk, eggs, etc. The result is we pay more than Americans for milk and eggs, most definitely. Other people suggest that our policy of paying east coast fisherman unemployment for the six months of the year they can't fish constitutes a subsidy. So I don't suggest we're not without sin, by a long shot.

                                    But these are at least fairly transparent, and directly related to the food products. The ethanol and sugar subsidies distort so many other things, in so many areas, in ways that are mostly invisible.

                                    If you need to subsidize Iowa farmers (and you might pause and ask yourself where Iowa's position in the primary calendar is, and whether that might be a factor), do it directly; don't mess up a host of other markets in the process.

                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      Perhaps your circle of "environmentalist" friends don't like the current situation regarding ethanol and the corn subsidies that were enacted under the farm bills to encourage them, but please research the legislative history of those subsidies, as well as the reasons why the US adopted the ethanol programs.
                                      They were well-intentioned, but very premature. The ethanol proponents touted them as "cutting edge" but they were new and unproven. Energy and agricultural economists predicted exactly what is now happening, but the environmentalists blew them off as the "pawns" of the bad guys.
                                      As we all know with many of the truly stupid things that our tax money continues to support in the government, once something is part of the system, it never goes away.

                                      It is easy to be an individual environmentalist without recognizing that you support a Big Enviro movement every bit as powerful as Big Ag or Big Business.

                                    2. re: FrankD

                                      You are aware that there are massive subsidies in the EU similar to the ones in the US and that people for example in Germany also paying them through their tax bills. And yes, Americans pay by far the smallest proportion of their incomes on food in the western world.

                                2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  We own a home in Brazil. You may want to read up on their economy a little more.

                                  https://www.cia.gov/library/publicati...

                          2. re: Ruth Lafler

                            For the first time in human history, poor people (at least in the US) have a higher incidence of obesity than rich people.

                      2. I've been under the weather for a week--doing lots of TV channel checking while waiting for netflix to arrive--and Walmart is doing a saturation coverage of its new commercial touting "savings on the healthy foods you buy" I've seen the same commercial simultaneously play on the main cable channels dozens of times a day, i.e.: HGTV, TVFN, FLN, LMN, all playing the commercial so that no matter where you hop, you land on it during the commercial break. I've never seen such an intense ad campaign. It's promoting saving money, not sustainably raised food, but maybe that commercial will be next week.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: toodie jane

                          It's not only airing on lifestyle networks it's on Family Channel and the like... (and in Canada too)

                        2. BTW, I thought the whole article was badly done. I thought the Wal-Mart vs. Whole Foods premise missed the mark completely, in that I don't think either one is "the answer." I thought a lot of the stuff about Wal-Mart's agriculture program sounded like it was verbatim from their PR department, and there was a serious lack of anything resembling a critical point of view. And finally, I thought that again, the "taste test" at the end of the article was based on faulty premises and the conclusions drawn from it were illogical.

                          1. I have a very different reaction to this article. Let me try to explain.

                            What I hear in this article is that Walmart sees a competitive advantage to apply its strengths to transform its retail food business. At the same time this has the potential to revive and reinvigorate local agricultural economies in ways that locavore food activists have been dreaming of. Their strength, not well covered in the article, is their amazing purchasing power and distribution network. Remember, during Katrina when governments were paralyzed, Walmart found ways to move goods where they were most needed and get places no one thought could be reached. They have an amazing, powerful, flexible, nimble distribution system. What they appear to be doing is using that strength to weaken some of the advantages currently enjoyed by Big Agra. So they have their own profit driven motives for making this play. But should we care? If the goal is to connect local buyers with local producers, isn't something like this just vindication that the goal makes sense?

                            I agree with Ruth that the comparison to WF misses the point. Walmart is not interested in niche, boutique retailers like WF or even TJ's. They are aiming for bigger markets. (I disagree that this is just promoting over consumption. Industrial food is unhealthy, and this is displacing those foods with healthier goods. Hooray!) If they undercut WF and the like, why should I care? And the taste test was absurd.

                            But I come away agreeing with the quote that “It’s getting harder and harder to hate Walmart.”

                            1. I don't think Walmart's interest is in making America healthy, but rather in grabbing a bigger piece of the pie. There are areas of the country where Walmart is the only option for food, having driven all smaller outlets out of business. The idea of locally raised produce is nice, especially in areas where what is available is far from fresh. I have difficulty believing Walmart will be willing to pay a fair price, and those local farmers may still find themselves struggling. It's hard to trust a business that is known for crushing local economies. It would be nice if they were really trying to boost local economies and access to fresh foods. It is hard not to be suspicious of their real motives.

                              26 Replies
                              1. re: maxie

                                Walmart is motivated by self-interest. No suspicions needed. Its a cold, hard fact. And they won't pay local producers lavishly. They don't pay their own employees well. Its not in their DNA.

                                But I still think that their initiative is a vindication of what food activists have been saying. That producing locally makes economic sense. That fresher is better in the eyes of consumers. That Big Agra has achieved its market dominance in part through control of the supply chain. If Walmart wants to challenge that status quo, carpe diem!

                                And if they succeed, rest assured that Costco and Safeway and every other big retailer selling produce will have to react -- WF and TJ too, but not primarly -- and these nascent local wholesale markets will then just get stronger.

                                1. re: BernalKC

                                  I am not a big fan of Wally World by any stretch, but can you name me any corporation that isn't in it for profit? That's pretty much why people go into business - to make money. Wal-Mart is not a non-profit and it's naive to think they would be motivated by altruism. So what?

                                  Yes, I have concerns about how they will treat their suppliers. Based on their past history it's quite a valid concern. However...

                                  There are many, many people who cannot afford to food shop elsewhere. Very simply, it is cheaper to feed your family off the Value Menu than to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Any supplier who makes healthy food available to the masses at an affordable price deserves praise. Tempered by a watchful eye given who we're talking about, but it's simply elitist to decide that low income consumers don't deserve the opportunity to buy fresh foods any legitimate way they can.

                                  1. re: rockycat

                                    Yes, Wal-Mart is a for-profit corporation, which means they will do whatever they think is advantageous at the moment. When it was advantageous to promote Made in America, they did that. When they decided pushing prices as low as possible was more important, they dropped it. Right now, they think sourcing locally is important. What happens to all those farmers who start to depend on Wal-Mart contracts when Wal-Mart decides it isn't advantageous to source locally anymore?

                                    Wal-Mart's business model has been to force out competition and create a monopoly so it has complete control of the supply chain. In parts of the south, they've basically created a sharecropper economy where Wal-Mart is the only place to work and the only place to shop (or the only place where people making Wal-Mart wages can afford to shop).

                                    A farm is not like a hardware store -- you can't just wake up one morning, sign a lease and be open for business in a few months. When a farm goes under, it may be lost forever, especially small farms that are "local" to urban/suburban areas where the land will most likely be sold to developers to build ... a Wal-Mart.

                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      While I agree that small, local farmers are in some jeopardy when they become dependent on Walmart, you have to put this in a larger context. Walmart is reviving (according to the article) local markets that have withered and in some cases disappeared entirely. In the case of organic dairy producers, they stepped in to take advantage of a glut that was driving some producers out of business and threatening an important market for organic goods. In both cases, Walmart is using its muscle to strengthen the markets that these local producers depend on.

                                      Again, in the long run Walmart will do whatever makes money for Walmart. Farmers will be wise to take steps to diversify their markets and take other steps to lessen their dependency on one buyer. There should be plenty of opportunities to expand and diversify since, as I mentioned above, if Walmart is successful, other retailers will enter into the same markets for the same goods. But in the short run, Walmart appears to be using their considerable strengths in ways that benefit the same small, local, organic producers that food activists (and WF, TJ, BB, Rainbow consumers like me) are rooting for. This is somewhat unexpected, but you know what they say about gift horses....

                                      1. re: BernalKC

                                        When I recently read Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma," it stated that not even WF is buying from "small, local" producers. It's not economically feasible for them to do so. Now that book is a few years old and perhaps things have changed.

                                        1. re: BernalKC

                                          um, okay. i could not disagree more. . . when you have the walmart or trader joe's model-- which is to control, regulate and bid/price every aspect of a supply of a certain good, in this case food--from seed to harvest to transport/warehouse/commissary, production to consumer-- pricing out any independent competition-- on a gi-freakin-normous scale--- you've got the "ticketmasters of food" syndrome, if you will. this is not good for *anyone* along the line, and it leads to significant abuses. that is why so many people boycott these companies (and those that model them) and do not want them opening up in their own areas.

                                          i don't agree with the premise of your second paragraph either. i don't buy that if wal-mart is successful(achieves saturation) of a certain geographical area, then other businesses can go in and compete and be successful-- rather, the evidence seems clear that places with healthy competitive diversity can keep walmart out (and the vast majority of these communities prefer to), but once the store moves in, it effectively kills off local business, commerce, innovation, entrepreneurship, etc. and serves to squelch, squash and abort any growth of healthy competitive or innovative commercial or entrepreneurial activity in or around the area walmart controls. is this not well-documented enough?

                                          all walmart is doing is taking the enormously destructive model of its retail stores and applying it to agriculture, in ways that will obviously serve to reduce local farmers' autonomy and make them dependent on walmart for a paycheck, which will decline/disappear as walmart bottom-feeds for the cheapest available supply. meanwhile, independent farms' product quality will of course drop as they try to grow/produce more cheaply, and their offerings become less diverse as they try to hit walmart-scale quotas of common food crops. there will be less growth in community-supported agriculture in these regions and fewer new or growing farmer's markets where consumers can truly get farm-direct fresh foods. local restaurants will lose small-scale farmer suppliers. farmers will not get incentives to try new crops or specialty crops that are not wholesaleable at the going walmart truckload scale, or price. big farms will gain even greater advantage over struggling small family farms. it seems clear to me at least, that where walmart achieves price controls over a whole region's food products, local customers and local farmers will lose out, and over the long haul, we'll see they've lost out big time.

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            You're blurring their retail competition and their supply chain management.

                                            They want to expand their produce retailing business. I guess they would like to dominate it and drive out other supermarkets and food wholesalers like Costco. But I doubt they really expect to do that. None of that directly impacts local food producers, who are not selling through those channels currently. If Walmart succeeds, these local producers win because it will bring other buyers into their markets.

                                            I think your point about Walmarts supply chain management is more on target. If Walmart tries to lock in farmers to restrictive contracts then they are putting their long term interests at risk. But for now, if we can believe the article, they are reviving markets that have been struggling in terms of both price and scale. These are markets that have suffered at the hands of industrial food giants -- the ConAgra, ADM... beheamoths. In that sense Walmart appears to be using their market strength - their nimble distrubution and purchasing power - to weaken BigAgra's domination of the supply chain. To the extent this is true, Walmarts interests are currently aligned with the small producers. For now - at least in the picture painted by this article - its a win, win proposition. Provided Walmart does not attemp to lock up these new markets. In the short run, until this business model is proven, that risk seems secondary to the benefit of the revival of the local farm economies.

                                            1. re: BernalKC

                                              "... its a win, win proposition. Provided Walmart does not attemp to lock up these new markets."

                                              Given Walmart's much documented business model in all other areas of its supply chain, shouldn't we expect this to be exactly what happens with respect to local produce?

                                              I suspect you (and the article, to be fair) may be too quick to give Walmart credit for a revival of locally produced agriculture that is in fact demand-driven. While it is true that Walmart has perhaps responded to this demand quicker and better than, say, Costco has, that doesn't mean it's furthering the cause on its own. I would argue that the local agriculture movement might be taking off faster and definitely more sustainably if Walmart somehow didn't exist.

                                              Given Walmart's history of distorting and destroying various markets, many of us who are interested in local agriculture would rather see small farms not get involved with Walmart at all in hopes of creating a business model that doesn't get crushed when Walmart feels like it. That may not be realistic for small farmers - I don't claim to know local agriculture's path toward optimum economic sustainability. But this doesn't do much to change my opinion of Walmart.

                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                There is no evidence that Wal-Mart "destroyed" markets.
                                                Yes, some small marginal businesses failed because they could not compete, but the entry of Wal-Mart may well have simply accelerated the inevitable.
                                                The end result of a new Wal-Mart has been a net gain in local jobs, increased local tax revenue, lower prices for consumers, and more new local businesses being started near the new Wal-Mart store.
                                                You could even find a lower carbon imprint as people no longer have to make 100-mile round trips to buy underwear, kids' shoes, fishing tackle, housewares, and other consumer goods that local stores had ceased to carry.

                                                1. re: MakingSense

                                                  "There is no evidence that Wal-mart "destroyed" markets."

                                                  If you're willing to accept the trading of US- or locally-manufactured goods as markets, the evidence is beyond ample (not that this is always a bad thing - that's for another topic). Look into bicycles and textiles, just to name 2 industries off the top of my head - you'll find company after company that either collapsed or met Walmart's demands by taking their production abroad. Since locally produced food is the main subject of the article, I think Walmart's effect on local production of other goods is relevant. Locally produced food just doesn't seem to fit their well-established business model. So I'm skeptical.

                                                  On the other hand, who knows? I don't trust Walmart to support the quality of local produce at the expense of keeping prices down, but maybe a temporary marriage would give the locavore movement enough momentum that it wouldn't matter.

                                                  "The end result of a new Wal-Mart has been a net gain in local jobs"

                                                  That sounds real nice until you learn that a new Walmart also causes an increase in local poverty levels and welfare dependence. I doubt those were high-quality jobs.
                                                  http://stlouis.bizjournals.com/stloui...

                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                    I mostly agree with you about Walmart's impact on domestic manufacturing. But I do have to point out that they are not the whole picture. You need to include a larger perspective of US trade and industrial policy. The US, lead by charlatans of the finance sector, has been all too willing to cede manufacturing jobs to our trading partners and liberalize trade at the expense of other factors like the environmental impact or labor conditions. Walmart has just been a most efficient vector of these policies.

                                                    So in that light, I argue that Walmart is not some evil agent of obesity inducing, environment degrading, working class destruction. They are just supremely capable at doing what they do, which is selling at an unimaginable scale at absolute rock bottom prices using an unmatched supply chain that reaches anywhere in the world it wants to reach.

                                                    So, if this beast finds its interests aligned with improving the quality of food sold to a market 100,000,000 times bigger than latindancer, if they find it in their best interest to invigorate local farm production, isn't this just a validation of the ideals and goals of the slow food movement? We can carry on buying at "farmer's" markets (which are, here in SF, a charade that has little to do with direct sales from farms, that that's a different topic), planting heirloom tomatoes, and steadfastly opposing job loss, sprawl, poverty, obesity, reckless global capital or whatever other causes burn within, but the article challenges us to keep and open mind and pay attention to who is -- in this case at least -- working towards a common goal. At a scale that cannot be matched by any other retail player in US markets.

                                                    1. re: BernalKC

                                                      What a terrifically written piece, BernalKC.

                                                      1. re: BernalKC

                                                        No matter what all the loyal, never questioning followers think the 'beast' still sells crappy produce.
                                                        So sorry your Farmers Markets, in SF, aren't reflecting the purpose of what they're designed to do...quite shocking, actually for SF.
                                                        It's, thankfully, a different story here altogether.

                                                        1. re: latindancer

                                                          Again, based on your sample of ONE visit to ONE store, you feel comfortable extrapolating to every Wal-Mart, everywhere.

                                                          If you went to ONE McDonald's and got ONE really awful Big Mac - sloppily put together, missing the cheese, and partially frozen patty - would you also conclude that all Big Macs everywhere are equally terrible? I'm just trying to understand your thought process, because it seems to me that inductive logic is being used to the extreme here.

                                                        2. re: BernalKC

                                                          Good post, BernalKC.

                                                          I'm not gonna suggest that Walmart is evil - just that it does more harm than good to America. And you're right that most of the blame should fall to the government for failing to protect its citizens, not to the enormous corporation for acting like an enormous corporation. Rather than protecting our citizens from corporate abuses, our government has regularly subsidized said corporation with our tax dollars and supported widespread unconstitutional invoking of eminent domain on Walmart's behalf.

                                                          Walmart does, always, what is best for Walmart. If championing high-quality produce is what's best for Walmart, that's what they're gonna do. But is that really what's best for Walmart? And will it continue to be after Walmart uses this type of publicity to improve their image and attract shoppers to their grocery department? I doubt that small, local producers of high-quality goods can withstand the downward pressure Walmart puts on the pricing of EVERY other avenue of its supply chain, at least not while maintaining a high standard of freshness, ripeness, and quality.. Walmart would have to abandon the way they normally do business just for local agriculture for this to be a good marriage. While that is possible with enough consumer demand and vigilance, I don't think it's likely.

                                                          I hope you and the article are right in your optimism though.

                                                        3. re: cowboyardee

                                                          Absolutely true. They are not high-quality jobs. Wal-Mart is notorious for lower wages, less-than-full-time status, limited benefits -- including training, health insurance, sick days, and vacation. The company therefore, at the store level, has a very low average tenure by employee. Plus, the company is also notorious for a "glass ceiling" for women.

                                                          Anybody who thinks Wal-Mart is anything positive for this country or for its specific locale has his/her head in the sand.

                                                  2. re: soupkitten

                                                    Why would anyone who decries the type of centralization that Wal-Mart uses support centralization thru US government regulation?
                                                    Government mandates impose enormous burdens on small businesses and farms.
                                                    The only people who can afford to take advantage of government programs are those who can hire accountants, lawyers, and grant writers.

                                                    1. re: MakingSense

                                                      are you responding to my post? not sure what you mean, exactly wrt government and grant writers. i thought we were talking about walmart-- can you clarify your position or bring it back to topic?

                                            2. re: BernalKC

                                              Wal-Mart's employees are paid as well or better than comparable retail employees. Further, they have programs that encourage the hiring of physically and mentally challenged adults, seniors, military spouses, and others who would otherwise be cut out of the employment market.
                                              They are now an innovator in employee health care coverage. "At a time when other firms are scaling back or eliminating health coverage, Wal-Mart has made a serious dent in the problem of the uninsured. New figures [released in 2009] show that 5.5 percent of its employees now lack health insurance, compared with a nationwide rate of 18 percent." http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/...

                                              Their inventory and supply systems lead the world, and they will be able to use that strength to make wholesome fresh food available to millions at affordable prices.
                                              Others will have to step up their game to compete with Wal-Mart and that will make ot better for everyone.

                                              BTW, nobody "pays local producers lavishly" whether it's food or any other product. Nor does any viable business pay any producer unreasonable prices. Prices are determined by the market, not politics or emotion.
                                              Sometimes it makes more economic sense to purchase non-local products. That practice can make equally fresh food available at better prices.

                                              1. re: MakingSense

                                                Basically because they were sued into providing better health care and benefits. I was a minion for a few months back in the 90s--only game in town and if you can breathe and walk upright they'll hire you--and I still shake my head that I put up with that crap without walking in there with an AK-47. "Highlight" of my Evil Empire career--eleven hours on a register on Thanksgiving weekend. No meal break, no regular breaks, got literally two minutes to make a bathroom run. They did graciously bend the "no food or drink at the register" rule and gave me a small bottle of water. Just one though, they didn't want to look like they were soft. Oh--and I was allowed to come in one hour later the next day in "thanks." There was a massive civil lawsuit in Kentucky over this and I'm currently waiting on my check from it. :D I have not willingly gone into a Wal-Mart since Clinton was president and I plan to keep it that way, I don't care what they offer.

                                            3. re: maxie

                                              "I don't think Walmart's interest is in making America healthy"

                                              The only thing that can 'make America healthy' is the people who inhabit America.
                                              The only Walmart I've ever been in is in a tiny little town in upper New Mexico. Once was enough for me. There wasn't one thing in that market that was remotely fresh other than a bundle of Hatch chilis and they didn't look so hot. i'd rather drive 50 miles to get fresh produce than land myself in one of those places again.

                                              1. re: latindancer

                                                Your example is not typical. I've seen far worse looking stuff in tiny, independent markets that get infrequent deliveries.

                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  Regardless of whether my example is not typical I would never shop for produce at Walmart or anything else for that matter.
                                                  I have two personal reasons for not shopping there

                                                  (1). I just returned from the Farmer's Market in my town. I purchased enough beets, greens, apples, honey, fresh pasta, bread, flowers, oranges and tomatoes. for the upcoming week and many of the items were picked yesterday. The price of the items was below any price I could have paid anywhere at the markets and, of course, my fresher.

                                                  (2). I believe it's important to support local farmers and make sure, with my support, these farmers continue to be able to sell to people just like me who appreciate fresh food items.

                                                  Now, having said that, I understand and appreciate the fact there are people who just can't afford anything other than Walmart in the areas they live. However, if I were one of the those people, I would learn quickly how to grow my own garden so I wouldn't have to purchase the crappy looking produce I saw at the Walmart I shopped at. I've raised my own garden and I don't know how anyone could waste their money on the stuff I saw.
                                                  If what you're saying ts true then, for sure, I'd raise my own garden or find a community garden somewhere.

                                                  1. re: latindancer

                                                    Your experience is indeed personal. A one-time stop at a Wal-Mart doesn't reflect living with one.
                                                    You can go to a farmers' market which might be open only a few hours a week. Many people can't do that. Shift workers or the self-employed may not be able to attend during those hours and have to do their marketing at hours that you could consider odd. Like 10 PM or 7 AM, or on their way home from work.
                                                    In many rural areas, they shop when they're in town rather than making a specific trip at a designated time.

                                                    I've been to Wal-Mart Superstores that had great produce and terrific competitive prices. People shop for the bargains, but they aren't "wasting their money."
                                                    If Wal-Mart responds to consumer demand for local fresh food, what's wrong with that?

                                                    1. re: latindancer

                                                      I have no farmers market nearby until mid-summer. We live in the mountains in cold weather area. Even the farmers markets goods are trucked in over 100 miles. And they're quite expensive by any market standards. I don't usually shop at WalMart because it's 50 miles away one way. But when we are there (Costco, Whole Foods, TJs, etc, ) I will go to WalMart and I've never seen "crappy looking produce." It's frequently better looking than I see in my local Safeway and SaveMart. I think choosing not to shop at WalMart or anywhere else on the planet is anyone's decision based on all sorts of factors. But to call it "crappy" produce is either wrong or snobby. Correct me if I've missed another reason.

                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                        Neither snobby or wrong.
                                                        Growing up I lived in an area where there was one market, one pharmacy and one clothing store. So I know the type of area you're speaking of.
                                                        My mother had a huge garden, fruit trees and whatever else was necessary to feed a large family.
                                                        We were made to work in the garden and harvest whatever deemed necessary depending on the season.
                                                        The Walmart I was in had very crappy produce. I wouldn't have purchased it based on what I saw. I made mention of the fact that I realize people have very few choices where these Walmarts are strategically built...and they are.
                                                        It doesn't, as I've demonstarted from my own personal exerience, limit how people live, however.

                                              2. To quote my dear brother, "I'd rather have a root canal than go into a Wally World." check out Wall-Mart watch on line.

                                                1. I don't think most of the Walmarts in the Boston area sell fresh food, and haven't seen their new TV ads (but I don't have cable). Their history is one of driving production overseas by setting a price they are willing to pay that is too low to allow manufacturers to make any profit if they have to pay American wages and abide by American safety/quality standards.
                                                  If they exert the same control over farmers, the latter will be forced to cut corners. I foresee overuse of chemicals/fertilizers to optimize yield per acre and to make up for the inability to allow soil to recuperate on its own through crop rotation and fallow seasons, not to mention lesser pay and poorer working conditions for migrant farm workers.

                                                  1. Folks, many of the posts in this thread are getting very personal and mean-spirited. Please focus your comments on WalMart, and leave your opinions about your other posters out of it.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: The Chowhound Team

                                                      Good point, and one to be respected. On the other hand, I'm amazed at your forbearance so far in this thread, and applaud you for it.

                                                    2. Folks, this is getting pretty far afield from food, so we're going to lock it now.