Over the past few months of this project, we have established a faairly consistent shopping routine. we make the rounds of three and sometimes a fourth store in our area, none further than 10 miles away. I think we’ve been fairly successful at our main goal of reducing the overall food-mile radius of our grocery shopping while staying within our strict food budget. Meanwhile, the elephant in the room of grocery retailers set a footprint down in our community. While they had a store just across the state line, I don’t think it was a shiny new Super Center, so they went and built one of those in our town, pretty much right across from the Safeway.
Now, we had ceased visiting this company’s stores several years ago, when we first heard about some of their more unsavory business practices. We were a bit worn down by the relentless consumer culture then, too. I was even involved for a time with a grass-roots campaign to stop one of their Super Centers from opening in the town where I then lived. I found forgetting about the company surprisingly easy to do; it was an abstraction, like cricket or dark matter or driving a Mercedes-something I could ponder theoretically, but with little apparent impact on my daily life.
Working on this project has brought the company back onto my radar, so to speak, since it has so much leverage in the global food business. In fact, it has become symbolic of the dark side of globalism: bland uniformity, mediocre quality, and a general race to the bottom, not to mention the destructive impact on wages and working conditions across the world. Yet they obviously deliver what millions of people want: lots of cheap stuff all together in one place. Now that they are making big moves into the food system via their initiatives to provide more local produce, increase the nutritional value of their house brand, and open more supermarkets in underserved urban locations, I believe the time has come to look more closely at this corporation and the implications of its existence and practices.
I actually began this analysis informally in the fall, with this post on the NPR story about the struggles of low-income families to stretch their grocery budget by shopping at the colossus. I may have jumped the gun a bit by publishing this post before a proper introduction to the whole theme, but the thing has come together somewhat by accident. In the tradition of participant analysis, we have decided to do our grocery shopping for one week at the Walmart in town, then report our observations through the lens of our position as budding low-income locavores. I plan to to a cost-value analysis of what we buy there compared to our usual shopping routine, and My Dear Wife is going to write a guest column with some sociological considerations. I’ll try to include some of The Boys’ expert commentary as well. This should be very interesting.