Wal-Mart, Devilish or Angelic?

For someone who has always been a reactionary against the establishment in one way or another this is not an easy post to write. My reactionism is something that has been with me for almost as long as I can remember and though it has often to led me to good things it has led me to some foolish behavior. I wish that I had manifested more manners and less reactionism when my proud grandfather still took me from base to base in Hawaii even though I had the audacity to wear not only Birkenstocks but also a psychedelic tie dyed purple peace tee-shirt. Or that I could tell my high school self that supporting your newly sober father did not mean that getting high on LSD was okay even though I had convinced myself that as long as I didn’t come home drunk I was doing the right thing.

On the positive side, my reactionism led me to take self-defense which ultimately led me to Kung Fu where I have met some of the most important people to my life in years. My reactionism to my Romanian stepmother’s terrible cooking was to start making cookbooks out of the gourmet magazines that she was receiving but clearly not reading. My reactionism has led me to continually question tenets that lots of people take for granted not least of which, and certainly most relevant to this blog, are the elements that make our food system. It seems simple, monoculture is bad, diverse crops good. Animals treated well during their life good, CAFO’s bad. Spending my money at vendors that care for the environment good, spending my money at places like Wal-Mart bad. Yet, as our world changes these lines blur and some businesses that seemed once solidly on the bad side of the line may be crossing over if not to the good then at least to the line itself. Wal-Mart is a one such business.

There are a number of things about Wal-Mart that I find disturbing not the least of which is that as the world’s largest retailer, it has sales greater than 2% of U.S. GDP and with 2.1 million employees it is one of the largest employers worldwide. China’s army may be the only institution that has more people on the payroll. I have continued discomfort in the fact that Wal-Mart’s database is second only in capacity to the pentagons. What information are they collecting exactly?

Yet, in an interesting development Wal-Mart has decided to support local and sustainable ingredients in their stores and though this obviously cashes in on the growing movement of consumers demanding better sourced foods, the results of their actions may be huge, especially if it all turns out to be more than lip service. Regardless of the profit driven motives, there is no single retailer that can aid changes in policy more than Wal-mart. There is no denying that Wal-Mart can bring local/sustainable farming and shopping further into the mainstream and that if they do other retailers are likely to follow.

Here is a clip of Wal-Mart discussing it’s goals for bring more local produce to its stores.

The clip in its self might not be as relevant if they didn’t already have an established history of setting sustainability goals from increasing reliance on renewable energy and reducing packaging waste and meeting them. Stephanie Clifford’s article from the New York Times does a great job of fully fleshing this out. Here is a clip of Wal-Mart discussing their role in sustainability and some actual changes they made, not limited to daylight harvesting and I have to say it’s not just the turn of phrase that is impressive.

I’m too young to be a hippy and too old to be part of the new local/sustainable/organic avant-garde movement and perhaps too wizened to believe that any real long-term solution to our current world climate, food and fuel crisis will come from grass root movements alone to be able to be just a reactionary any more. I’d like to think that I’m not selling out, I’d like to think that I’m seeing the changes for what they really are, a lot of good with a dose of the devil. I’d like to think that if I had it to do all over again when my proud grandfather took me from base to base I’d have not only the respect for him but for all those that serve to wear just a black tee-shirt and jeans with some motorcycle boots. I’d like to think.


2 Comments to “Wal-Mart, Devilish or Angelic?”

  1. Excellent post…I have not seen the article in NY Times but will read it.
    I doubt I would ever be a fan of Wal-Mart or ever spend a dime there…but I do agree that regardless of their motives, this will have a far reaching impact towards the goal.
    Brilliant piece!

  2. You are the best. Isn’t it funny how time goes on your views of things change. Maybe it just get too hard to have such militant views and you see that grey is a color too.

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