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The Walmart warning

(article, Culinate staff)

Just before the new year, Stacy Mitchell posted a new version of the Walmart exposé on Grist. Sure, Walmart is a mega-store that's threatening to take over America's entire grocery system and make cheap, crummy food the norm everywhere. But Mitchell's emphasis on the quality of the food is unusual, in that she charges Walmart with negligence:

bq. Aubretia Edick has worked at a Walmart store in upstate New York for 11 years, but she won't buy fresh food there. Bagged salads, she claims, are often past their sell-by dates and, in the summer, fruit is sometimes kept on shelves until it rots. 

Walmart's recent push to promote its efforts to "buy local," Mitchell asserts, is actually just a cost-saving measure by the company:

bq. The change has more to do with rising diesel prices than a shift in favor of small farms. It's a sign that Walmart's Achilles heel — the fossil-fuel intensity of its far-flung distribution system — might be catching up with it. According to the Wall Street Journal, trucking produce like jalapeños across the country from California or Mexico has become so expensive that the retailer is now seeking growers within 450 miles of its distribution centers.

And the frequently heard argument that "food deserts" simply lack supermarkets, a problem that Walmart can solve? Not so fast, says Mitchell; studies show that the arrival of a new Walmart store actually increases local poverty, food-stamp usage, and obesity:

bq. The bottom line for poor families is that processed food is cheaper than fresh vegetables — and that's especially true if you shop at Walmart. The retailer beats its competitors on prices for packaged foods, but not produce.

The cure-none, instead of the cure-all.