Into the Belly of the Beast

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.

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About poorlocavore

Welcome to one family's journey towards a smaller food-mile footprint on a small food budget. How do our choices affect the environment, and what influences our choices? Read on and find out what I'm learning.
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4 Responses to Into the Belly of the Beast

  1. A recent post bandied about the idea of raising chickens, I would assume for the eggs. You included a great story that I’ll call “an egg grows in Brooklyn.” Here are my thoughts on that.

    While the idea of raising chickens may be appealing, I question the economic value. Initially, you must prepare a shelter and fencing, and a watering and feeding device. Then you must buy whatever food they eat on a regular basis. This sounds like a pretty large layout of cash. If you were to consider eating one of these, who would do the ugly deed, and how would your boys react to eating one of their pets? They will think of them as pets, for sure. Not a good idea, and I have some childhood experiences related to this.

    My main point is one of economics. You stated in another post that you are able to buy locally grown eggs at a phenominally low price. I would stick to that. It is so much easier to boy a box of eggs than to care for chickens.

    Perhaps you were not considering this venture, but I thought I would lay out my thoughts anyway.

    • poorlocavore says:

      Those are all excellent points. I’m a bit leery of the idea myself. We did see some chickens at the Backyard Harvest site who fed off of food waste and of course produced fertilizer, but I doubt that we could make it a self-sustaining operation on our little lot. It would be more of a hobby/learning experience, if it ever gets that far.

  2. Sam Young says:

    Long ago shunned WalMart because of the long lines at the cash register even tho they have a zillion unmanned cash register stalls. Also thought we would be better served by those grocery stores with an in-house butcher shop and bakery and a more complete fruit and veggie section. Maybe I need to reconsider this concept since so much is now ready-packaged anyway. Look forward to your posting on this matter.

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