All of Walmart’s healthy food initiatives make great soundbites. For example, it’s about time the store cut back on the levels of sugar, sodium, and trans fat in its products. The company also intends to reduce the cost of healthy foods, label them more clearly, and make them more accessible for people living in low-income food deserts such as Logan Heights.
But as Marion Nestle points out, the nutritional improvements only apply to processed foods, and Walmart’s new labels are based on the company’s own nutrition criteria, which aren’t much stricter than the good-for-you guidelines written by Pepsi and Kraft. In addition, Nestle writes,
“The idea that Walmart is going to do its own front-of-package label to identify those products is particularly annoying. They are doing this just when the Institute of Medicine and FDA are trying to establish research-based criteria for front-of-package labels. So here is one more company trying to preempt FDA regulations.”
Food quality aside, can we really trust Walmart to reform American lifestyles and promote healthy communities, given the company’s infamous reputation for exploiting workers and crushing local businesses? Just last month, the Miami New Times published a story exposing the not-so-responsible sourcing of Walmart’s “Love, Earth” jewelry line. Is there any reason to believe that their food sourcing will be any more virtuous?
And what will the consolidation of our food supply mean for small farmers, including the 6,000 in San Diego? In order to make fruits and vegetables more affordable, Walmart buys in mega-bulk, meaning that single-crop yield (not diversification) is the name of the game.
I desperately want to believe that we can improve food accessibility and incentivize local production without relying on the business interests of Walmart — or even Whole Foods, for that matter. But are farmers’ markets, CSA boxes, and community gardens sufficient to feed every neighborhood in San Diego? In America? I’m still not sure.