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Up against the Wal

I confess. I have eaten a lot of processed food in my life. While my family tended to crank things…

By Jennifer Giesbrecht , in 2012 Blogs Dinner Conversation , on February 15, 2012 Tags: , , , , ,

Vegetables in the South Edmonton Walmart Supercentre. Image courtesy of Flickr user mjb84 via Creative Commons

I confess. I have eaten a lot of processed food in my life.

While my family tended to crank things up a notch on special occasions, making all sorts of porky, buttery Mennonite goodies, on regular weekdays it would not be uncommon to see bowls of Chef Boyardee ravioli and Kraft Dinner on the table.

In contrast, there is a family that is very dear to me, let’s call them the Sampsons. Both of the parents cook extremely well and put homemade meals on the table each and every night for their three children. They have a library of cookbooks and a well-stocked pantry. They spurn No Name products. They make spaghetti sauce from scratch.

A few years ago, the Sampsons moved from Vancouver to suburban Florida because of a job transfer. After settling in to their new house with a state-of-the-art kitchen, they ventured out to find their new go-to grocery store. And do you know where they ended up? Walmart.

It pains them to tell their Vancouver friends that they now buy their grocery basics from this greenwashed, slave labour-fueled union quasher, but they also try to explain that it’s actually the only place within miles where they can find fresh and reasonably priced meat and produce.

Fifty per cent of Americans now live, like the Sampsons, in suburban neighbourhoods, literal mazes of cul-de-sacs constructed on barren plots of land in the general vicinity of a city. Sprinkled throughout these tangled clusters of houses are vast parking lots, and surrounding these vast parking lots are big-box stores that sell everything a family could need.

The problem is, most of these cavernous cubes of consumption don’t actually sell you cucumbers or coconuts; they sell you merchandise. And the boy from the cul-de-sac around the corner doesn’t know a darn thing about the grape tomatoes that he unloaded off the truck last week, so don’t bother asking if they’re fresh.

Walmart is no different, as we know all too well. But – the company’s supply chain is so efficient and its buying power so far beyond anything that the neighbouring retailers could dream of, that Walmart is the one place that ends up having the freshest lettuce, the best milk and the healthiest-looking pork chops.

It’s easy for us West Coast urbanites to shun Wamlart and its clientele. But if we put ourselves in the shoes of the average North American family for a moment, we would actually see how this “evil corporation” has changed the rules of the grocery game – important knowledge to have if we’re ever going to change them back.