Wednesday, January 26, 2011


I don't mean to draw a parallel to the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran a few decades ago, but I can't help looking around for Ollie North's fingerprints on a recent arrangement between my beloved First Lady's campaign to improve the health of our nation's children and one of the most notoriously exploitative corporations ever. She may think she can dance with the devil in the pale incandescent light for some kind of greater good, but I just don't trust 'em....

When founder Sam Walton opened the first Walmart store in 1962, it was with the belief that he could help people stretch their dollars further. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. He was a businessman who dreamed of helping his fellow Americans get what they needed and not going broke in the process. Sure, I can see why this might seem to align with the work that Mrs. Obama is doing to make affordable, healthy food more widely available, but....

Okay, maybe the company has done some good things, like demanding that manufacturers use less packaging. This was a measure put in place to cut costs, mind you, not because of any environmental concern, but it did cut down on millions of tons of waste that would've ended up in landfills. And the measure did, in fact, cut down on cost and the savings were passed on to consumers. (It also cut down on packaging at non-Walmarts, as competitors struggled to keep up with consumer expectations for cost and waste.) There are probably other positive changes that the chain brought about, but I never managed to make it more than 50 pages into The Walmart Effect. What can I say, it started to get a bit redundant. (Like my lecture about wearing bike helmets. But still: wear a helmet!)

Considering the disproportionate percentage of the market that it controls, the sheer volume of stuff that it moves, and all of the locations it maintains, Walmart has been a major game-changer for a few years now, selling bajillions of dollars worth of (often unnecessary) stuff to people across the country (and via affiliates abroad -- like the "Bodega" grocery chain that I used to unwittingly support during my time in Mexico, though the yellow smiley face signs should've tipped me off). There is potential for good, but I just don't see Walmart executives doing ANYTHING simply out of the goodness of their hearts. (Do they even have hearts? The treatment of employees and cutthroat pricing schemes would suggest otherwise.) A number of months ago, I mentioned the superstore's decision to begin carrying organic food items. Well, that seemed to be a step in the right direction, even if the motive was profit or PR. Considering the purchasing power of this corporate giant, the supply required for even a small amount of organic produce or dairy in each store had the potential to support a large number of organic producers across the country, thereby making organics more available to consumers and creating a steady, paying market for producers. And Industrial Organics were born.

I'm sure Mrs. Obama is trying to focus on Walmart's potential to get more (somewhat) healthy food to more places, perhaps including the five stores the company is hoping to open in the District in coming months. Because it seems that "D.C. residents can't access some resources that suburban residents take for granted." Such as...? That must-have 46" flat screen TV? Adequate parking? A yard? A voting member of Congress? Oh, like more pesticide-laden, under-priced bell peppers imported from a country that most Americans probably can't identify on a world map. Thanks, Walmart.

[Note to readers: because I strive to maintain a G-rated blog that former students may peruse, I am refraining from unleashing a torrent of expletives here.]

While Mrs. Obama points to Walmart's potential as a major food supplier to bring healthier, cheaper, more clearly labeled food products to their expansive empire of stores in poorer parts of the country, I can only just barely resist the temptation to point out Walmart's propensity for preying on the selfsame poor they claim to be helping with their "everyday low prices." It makes my skin crawl. If there were a possibility of a reverse endorsement, I would urge the First Lady to make one immediately.

1 comment:

  1. Why can't she work with an actual grocery store chain like Kroger or Safeway? I think most cities have one or the other. Not that big corporate grocery chains are angels either, but they're nothing compared to the Walmart behemoth. This is wrong on so many levels...


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