Thursday, January 20, 2011

Walmart: Where the Goose is Cooked, and Fat is Fried

Just as Walmart-courtesy of the fronting of FOTUS-is posturing how it will be the repository of all that is healthy and good for you to eat, comes news that the retail giant may not be the best Pied Piper for healthy eating. As NPR is reporting: "If your New Years resolution is to lose weight, you better hope a Walmart Supercenter doesn’t open up around the corner. A recent study found that the more Walmart Supercenters the company opens, the heavier the people living nearby become. Researchers at the University of North Carolina and Rhodes College say the reasons for this are two-fold: the low cost of food at Walmart and the quality of the food sold there."

Oops! So, let's get this straight. Walmart has been operating in and around low income neighborhoods for years without having any beneficial effect on the eating habits of its customers-and may in fact have the opposite impact-but now it wants to join with the First Lady in pretending that it will morph into a low cost version of Whole Foods? Can anyone who's not a major stockholder of the company believe this tripe?

Apparently, according to the Politicker, one person can-and you couldn't get a better example of crony capitalism if you tried: "Michelle Obama has made combating childhood obesity a signature part of her agenda while at the White House. She's planted a vegetable garden, taken on soda pop, and now she has teamed up with that most red-state of retailers, Walmart, as the big bad big box launches a new program of carrying healthier food. "When 140 million people a week are shopping at Walmart, then day by day and meal by meal all these small changes can start to make a big difference for our children's health..."

Sure, and the Walmonster is going to raise the price of all the junk food as well in order to make the good stuff more attractive? We don't think so-and the company's track record really suggests the opposite, as the North Carolina study underscores: "Here’s what researcher Charles Courtemanche, an assistant professor of economics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, had to say on the findings:
“I think the most obvious story is that Walmart lowers the price of foods and a lot of the foods it has big price advantages on are the processed, inner-aisle types of food that aren’t that good for you.”
Women, low-income families and people living in less densely populated areas are those most at risk of weight gain after a Walmart Supercenter moves into the neighborhood..."

And those most at risk for loss are the small businesses in the neighborhoods that Walmart invades-as a press release from Walmart FreeNYC points out: "New York’s green grocers said they’re working hard to provide high quality fruits and vegetables in every corner of the city, but they don’t stand a chance against Walmart.  Studies have shown that Walmart pushes out small businesses and the workers they employ when it opens new stores. “More than 1,200 green grocers offer fresh, affordable produce to New York’s low-income communities,” said Sung Soo Kim, President of the Korean-American Small Business Service Center of New York. “If Walmart moves in, they’ll all be squeezed out.”

So Walmart-as well as some of the large drug chains as well-knows a good scam when it sees one. And if food deserts can be exploited to push its way into urban markets, why not use the convenient cover? But the First Lady should know better-and concentrate her efforts on educating poorer Americans to eat in a healthier manner. No single retailer should be given the White House's Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval-especially one that is so damaging to the country's workers and small businesses.