Friday, January 21, 2011

“Attention Wal-Mart shoppers!”

June 4, 2084. It’s an ordinarily hot summer day in Beijing – 52 degree Celsius.

 art by Kristen, Mediatinker

The streets are crowded with the usual: electric cars, peddle-powered motorbikes, and pedestrians desperately fighting the chaos. The tourist groups from Mali had gathered at the bridges of Tiananmen Square earlier to take some photos. They are now scattered throughout the Square buying novelty kites and candy-covered fruits from the locals, awaiting for their bus to fight its way through the city traffic to pick them up for the day. At lunch, they had been served with a packaged meal, “Inspected by the Chinese Food Security and Safety Bureau,” with the approval for distribution from Wal-Mart, the official processing and distribution company in China. Their lunch had consisted of soy-flavored organic chicken breast, individually packaged bearing the Wal-Mart brand, and Wal-Mart certified hydroponically grown rice and vegetables, tucked away in a “Solar-Mate” box design to heat the meal from the natural micro-radiations received from the sun.

Suddenly, one of the visitors fell over in the midst of the crowd. Immediately, a circle of space gave its way around him. He had been throwing up near the trashcan a few steps away, it appears he had made a few steps away and fell unconscious.

The CCTV news reported that night and state this is just yet another tragedy associated with the recent outbreaks of a verity of epidemics throughout the CAFOs that supplies Wal-Mart’s healthier and greener brand. All of this is because of concentrated operation and elimination of biodiversity. . .

                                                      “Attention Wal-Mart shoppers!”

In five years, you can expect to eat healthier according to the Wal-Mart standards.

Our brain picks up the scent of good news by a range of identifiers. Things like “eating healthier” and “Ms. Obama” usually signal, at least to me, something good and positive in the media that is inundated with junk or downers these days. When I saw the New York Time’s article, “Wal-Mart Shifts Strategy To Promote Health Food,” I was excited. I had read some facebook comments about the article, and that is how I ended up here, writing about it as sort of a social urge to give back to the conversation.

The facts are simple enough. Wal-Mart had been contemplating the idea of this “healthier” market demand when the First Lady called. I would guess they hadn’t acted earlier because they were crunching numbers to see if they can justify the venture in terms of economics. Regardless of their motives, Wal-Mart had arrived at a sensible plan to make changes in its operation. The changes include reducing sodium content of their products by 25%, eliminating industrial trans fats and added sugar. There were some indication of other plans but none were specific according to the New York Times.

Some readers had criticized Wal-Mart’s lack of aggression in this campaign. It’s a long time coming project but it should be on a much wider scale, I agreed. But I thought it is at least a right step in the right direction. My experiences tell me that Wal-Mart may be right about its slow-and-steady strategy, necessary to make solid and meaningful changes rather than being a quick fix knee-jerk reaction.

“The changes will be introduced slowly, over a period of five years, to give the company time to overcome technical hurdles and to give consumers time to adjust to foods’ new taste, Mr. Dach said. “It doesn’t do you any good to have healthy food if people don’t eat it.”

Quoted from the New York Time Article, and I find this reasonable enough. We need a few years to be weaned off our addiction to processed food. Even if we are still eating CAFO-beef some years down the road, I would be happy to know that we are at least eating more vegetables. I am also pretty stoked that Wal-Mart is addressing a food-justice issue:

[T]he problem of “food deserts” — a dearth of grocery stores selling fresh produce in rural and underserved urban areas like Anacostia. . .
A range of studies has shown that low-income people, especially those who receive food stamps, face special dietary challenges because eating healthy costs more and healthier food is harder to get in their neighborhoods. James D. Weill, president of Food Research and Action Center, an organization that has discussed the problem with Wal-Mart, said the company  recognized “how much hunger and food insecurity there is in the country.”

Wal-Mart proposed to address this problem by building more stores in low-income areas and increase charitable contributions for nutrition programs. I find this intention honorable. Please allow me to digress: Recently, an Aldi store opened in my neighborhood. I have never been to an Aldi before, Lauren was ecstatic about showing me what it is. I soon realized that it’s public image associates with low-income, since it stocks mostly cheap discounted and off-brand items. But I find the store extremely well managed and purposeful. The store shopping carts requires a Quarter for deposit, through an ingenious mechanism, to accommodate your shopping experience. At the end of your shopping, you simply return the cart to its rightful place and get your Quarter back. The place also does not have employees to help bag, but instead has a bench area for shoppers to put their groceries in their own “green” bags – the store does not offer plastic or paper! I’ve also found broccoli that is packaged right here in Indianapolis, but I can’t tell if it is grown here.

This got me thinking, if Wal-Mart can perform on this efficient level, and get into the low-income areas, it could potentially help equalize a lot of things in our society. Since food is a basic building block of our lives, its equal access will offer us some other tangible ways of achieving equality. Wal-Mart can also help popularize the kind of sustainable and efficient business practices Aldi has employed. 

All hopes aside, I recognize that Wal-Mart has to do this the right way. Its honorable intentions means nothing if it does not follow a sustainable philosophy, and start buying its produce and livestock from local vendors. It must also bare a large responsibility in facilitating legislation that will allow local farmers the same degree of support and regulation as their CAFO counterparts, and hold CAFOs to the higher health standards and biodiversity. As a small business owner, I understand the value and necessity of the marketplace. I believe that a corporation as influential as Wal-Mart can do a whole lot of our social progress. But it is a fine line to walk on the path of philanthropy and profit, and it’s also a fine line between 1984 and 2084. I submit to you Exhibit A, (imagine if you will):

“In addition to proposing to lower prices on healthy foods, Wal-Mart is planning to develop criteria, and ultimately a seal, that will go on truly healthier foods, as measured by their sodium, fat and sugar content.”

 Wal-Mart Shifts Strategy To Promote Health Food


  1. I hadn't heard that Walmart was planning to implement a healthier eating structure. That's great news!

    They don't have an Aldi's near me, but my parents go to one on a regular basis. I knew they were for low income folk, but didn't realize they were so green oriented. Good for them!

  2. I agree with the fact that smaller farmers could work along side Wal-Mart and benefit from their push in legislation. Wal-Mart has the money that it will take to change the way our food system is set up, and so why not use this to the advantage of the little guy. We can all work together to repair the damage that has been done to the food system and build a strong relationship between the local farmers, grocery stores and consumers.