Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My Munchable Soapbox: The Walmart Effect

Walmart. I'm pretty sure you all know my views on that behemoth of a corporation. And while not shopping, or even setting foot, in the store makes me as an individual feel some small satisfaction, the clout that one entity has is a bit overwhelming. That is why when a couple of articles came out last week about small-scale farms and Walmart, I knew it couldn't be good news.

The National Public Radio article, Farmers Aren't Cashing in With Walmart, argues that the company's commitments to source "locally" actually means very little. Local is defined as anything produced within a State, and so could theoretically come from quite a distance in some of the larger States. Moreover, nothing indicates that this move helps small-scale farmers, who have to meet certain standards to sell and face pressures to keep prices low - I mean, seriously, Walmart is the discount chain - rather than necessarily accounting for the full costs of growing and distributing products. 

A major challenge in sourcing from small farms is the logistical nightmare of ensuring consistent quality of products, compliance with stringent (and often quite silly in my book) 'safety' measures, and then actually getting the food from farm to store. This is not much of an issue for a farmer selling at a local farmers market or small grocery, but when you are talking about such a large aggregator as Walmart, things get a bit dicey. In the end, it seems that only the big guy wins out. An article on Grist raised similar issues, and took perhaps a stronger stance in questioning Walmart's actual benefit, if any, to small-scale farming. 

To cap it all off, what I would say is one of my biggest points of contention with the Walmarts of the world is that they propagate unrealistic expectations from those purchasing food. Farms, particularly small ones, can't dish out just anything, any time of year, in a state of pure perfection, at ungodly low prices. And yet that is what we as consumers have grown to expect. Walmart, you may be screwing over the farmers, who are being cheated out of hard-earned income. But really and truly, you are screwing over the entire food system, where one day in the not-so-distant future the land will simply fail to deliver. And then, my friends, you and I will be the ones to pay for big business not giving proper care to the people who grow our food and the natural resources from which it is produced.

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