On January 20th, Walmart and Michelle Obama announced they are joining forces to make healthy food more affordable. Walmart pledges to make their food offerings healthier and maintain affordability, and Mrs. Obama is committed to reducing childhood obesity with her "Let's Move" campaign. Not sure about the credibility of this pair, but let's have a go...
Let's start with Walmart. This gargantuan retailer is the nation's largest food retailer in the United States...red flag number one. Walmart also has over 60,000 suppliers and can greatly influence the entire food industry for the better by forcing producers to reduce sodium, remove added sugars from their private label product line. Sounds like a good thing, especially when you add that the foods will likely be repackaged to appear better, healthier, but don't get it twisted. Reducing prices for produce in an attempt to make existing foods healthier would require a tectonic shift in the entire farm subsidy structure.
The way subsidies work is the commodity crop farmers are rewarded for growing mono-culture crops that are the ingredients for processed foods (anything in a box, can or package). There is a lot of money that changes hands, but unfortunately, little if any reaches the farmer who grows apples, carrots and broccoli and rarely gets market rate for his goods. Lest we not forget that for every store Walmart opens, they are eligible to receive tax payer money by way of infrastructure and job training grants, tax abatements and of course, low cost financing.
Next, Mrs. Obama. Don't get me wrong, her efforts to bring awareness to food and health issues are notable, inspiring even. Who doesn't want to create more access to healthy food for underserved communities where heart disease, obesity and diabetes are overwhelmingly present and on the rise? It's common sense to want fair and equal access to healthy food for all people, but what seems curious to me is the reverse sentiment or double speak that is going on here. In 2007, Michelle left TreeHouse's board which is a pretty big supplier linked to the retail giant. Simultaneously her husband was campaigning to become our President and he openly criticized Walmart's employee wage and benefits unions and said he "would not shop there". I have not been following Walmart employee benefits lately, but I would think that not much has really changed...I could be wrong. I am not a Walmart hater. I think they are doing some things especially with regards to raising eco standards for suppliers that are definitely worthy of praise, but either way, red flag number two.
Correct me if I am wrong, but at the end of the day, it appears that Walmart, a globalized mega corporation with suppliers from all over the world, is going to be raking in the sales and continuing to take profits and jobs right out of our neighborhoods and into the hands of the rest of the world (e.g.China) again, and neither Walmart nor Michelle Obama will likely be the one who can shift the way farm subsidies are designed; to support the big commodity farmers. So where does that leave us?
It leaves us with smaller, local, family owned grocery stores being shoved out of business because Walmart has the bank and the braun to shut them down. Even if Walmart opens up a smaller format store in underserved neighborhoods where there is little or no fresh fruit or vegetables (classified as "food deserts") and creates jobs for the 20-30 people it will need to run the store, the money still leaks out of the local community, leaving fewer resources within communities that grossly need and deserve to have economic stability and restructuring as a part of their lives. That is a bigger problem than obesity and farm subsidy combined...and that stinks.