March 9, 2010

Walmart and Small Farms... Does Not Compute

A tip of the ol' Intertubes hat to yumpittsburgh for pointing me to an article in The Atlantic suggesting that Walmart could actually help to support small farms.

In the grocery section of the Raynham [Walmart] supercenter, 45 minutes south of Boston, I had trouble believing I was in a Walmart. The very reasonable-looking produce, most of it loose and nicely organized, was in black plastic bins (as in British supermarkets, where the look is common; the idea is to make the colors pop). The first thing I saw, McIntosh apples, came from the same local orchard whose apples I’d just seen in the same bags at Whole Foods. The bunched beets were from Muranaka Farm, whose beets I often buy at other markets—but these looked much fresher. The service people I could find (it wasn’t hard) were unfailingly enthusiastic, though I did wonder whether they got let out at night.

It's an interesting read. A little uneven. It asks the question of whether Walmart can help to save the family farm, but then evolves into a cook-off using produce from either Walmart or Whole Foods, which I'm not sure has anything to do with whether Walmart can indeed -- pretty much incidentally, as a matter of business, not out of some altruistic desire -- save the family farm.

The writer, Corby Kummer, also enlists his "contrarian friend" James McWilliams, a professor of history at a Texas college who is fond of writing op-ed columns for the New York Times and other publications that are often critical of the local food movement, but in that build-up-a-strawman or omit-important-details sort of way.

In the hyperlinked column above, for example, Mr. McWilliams failed to note that the study about pathogens in free-range pork that was the linchpin of his column was paid for by the National Pork Board -- that is, a nonprofit front for the for-profit factory pork industry. So, for arguments sake, let's say the study was accurate and could be reproduced by other researchers. I'll take the somewhat increased risk of eating pork from smaller, sustainable pig farmers. First, the taste difference -- that is, a far superior taste -- is significant. And in doing so I'm also not contributing to the overwhelming problems of antibiotic resistance and mass pollution caused by factory pig farms. In the latter case, some of those pesky details that Mr. McWilliams always seems to leave out of his writings.

As for the Atlantic article, again, something interesting to read, even if, IMO, the writer isn't really sure what he's trying to say.

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