In the latest issue of The Atlantic and on the Atlantic Food Channel, Corby Kummer baits us: “What, me nice to Walmart?” he taunts. Apparently, the mega-chain is getting more of its fresh produce from farms within a day’s drive from its main distribution centers. They’re calling it, sneakily, Heirloom Agriculture, suggesting the rare, tasty produce cited on the fanciest of menus. But, really, the term refers to a return to traditional farming in the most industrialized areas, which is itself a noble effort. Kummer comes out in favor of Walmart’s initiative, but practically begs for criticism: “Lots of people won’t like this, and certainly won’t take kindly to my being kind about Walmart… let open season begin!”
OK, Corby, you asked for it…
How can anyone come out against an entity, no matter how corporate and usurping, that proposes to bring fresh produce to the country’s food deserts? But this is Walmart we’re talking about. The company that brings you cheap housewares and back-to-school clothes and — let’s not forget — potato chips. The very fact that they do so drives mom-and-pop shops out of business. Does the company get to atone for its sins by tapping smaller, more local farms for its produce, as it has already started doing in Illinois? Well, sort of.
We already know that the increasingly low cost of food, encouraged for years by companies like Walmart, is responsible, in part, for the poor health and diet of many Americans. Sure, supporting family farms is admirable. But small local food producers and purveyors wouldn’t be in the shape they’re in now if it weren’t for the aggressive price undercutting of Walmart in the first place.
Many Americans don’t have access to fresh foods at reasonable prices. And offering them that option is a good thing. It’s just a shame that it has come down to Walmart to be our savior. The company has done — and continues to do — so much to not only drive small purveyors out of business but also to peddle cheap packaged foods full of empty calories. Still — sorry to disappoint, Corby — it’s difficult not to agree that this is a positive step for the evil giant, as well as for the unlucky masses it services.