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Walmart wants to build a dozen new stores in San Diego over the next five years in the name of public health, and as of Tuesday night, the City Council is on board. So is Michelle Obama.

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.

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I scored a work-exchange job at the Hillcrest Farmers’ Market last fall, and I was hauling home bags of Escondido-grown heirloom tomatoes every Sunday until December. Meanwhile, I was eating strawberries from the same farm, passion fruit from Vista, avocados from San Marcos, and rose apples, pomegranates, and pineapple guavas from my backyard. To top it all off, I greeted 2011 with a New Year’s watermelon from Temecula.

It was hysterical, really. Did nature forget? How was it that I could eat so well without straying 60 miles from my house? And in December!

My point is that if you have even the most nonchalant interest in incorporating more local food into your diet, San Diego is just about the easiest damn place to do it. With over 6,000 farms in the county and farmers’ markets every single day of the week, there’s really no reason to buy your apples from Chile. We have one of the longest growing seasons in the world, and most markets are open year-round. Plus, with sun in January, why wouldn’t you want to get on your bike and go meet the people who grow your food? There are lots of flowers and excellent people-watching opportunities, too.

The goal of this blog is to get you — the frugal, yet adventurous, eater — to join me in embracing the local bounty that San Diego has to offer. I will do my best to keep you up-to-date on the fruits and vegetables available each week, and also share some recipes that will help you make the most of these seasonal delights.

I hope you will follow me from soil to market to kitchen. And remember, a little dirt won’t kill you. ¡Buen provecho!

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