by Marion Nestle
Oct 15 2010

Eating Liberally: What’s up with Walmart?

Every now and then I answer questions from Eating Liberally’s Kerry Trueman (kat).  Today’s is about Walmart’s sustainability initiatives.

Let’s Ask Marion Nestle: Is Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Strategy For Real?

Submitted by KAT on Fri, 10/15/2010 – 12:20pm.

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s Kerry Trueman corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Pet Food Politics, What to Eat and Food Politics:)

KT: Why do you think Wal-Mart has decided to throw its colossal weight behind sustainable agriculture, both domestically and globally, in such a seemingly significant way? Is it a strategic pr move, a better-for-the-bottom-line calculus, or a bit of both? Is it too good to be true?

Dr. Nestle: I, of course, am a skeptic. Of course Wal-Mart wants to get into the business of sustainably and locally grown food. Wal-Mart is the largest grocery chain in the world, the 800-pound gorilla in the industry. It can demand whatever it wants from its suppliers, and at the lowest possible cost.

With these new initiatives, Wal-Mart suppliers will have to figure out ways to produce foods sustainably–without increasing the cost to Wal-Mart. So this move costs Wal-Mart nothing. It gains plenty. This move should recruit supporters of sustainable and locally grown food and induce them to overlook the company’s retrogressive labor practices.

Will these initiatives help farmers? Maybe, but only if Wal-Mart pays them decently for what they produce. As for Wal-Mart employees? Ditto. But I want to wait and see how it all plays out before making a final judgment.

This is also posted on Huffington Post.

And the New York Times has a story on it.

  • Cathy Richards

    Well said Marion.

  • Sherrie Meyer

    Can’t Walmart get credit for doing anything right? We never went to Walmart, had no need to. We were living a “comfortable” life as employees of large non-profit organizations and could shop anywhere we wanted to. I guess, according to your standards, we shopped responsibly. Then, I had to stop working due to chronic health problems but we were still ok until 9 months ago when my husband was laid off and we lost our health insurance. Walmart’s 90 day RX for $10 program literally saved our livess as it allowed us to continue to take our life sustaining drugs. Their store brand diabetic supplies allowed me to continue to monitor my diabetes. We cut our weekly food expenses in half by shopping there and could still eat healthy foods.

    As the director of a transtional housing program for homeless families, I found that Walmart was more willing to give my residents a chance at employment than other employers that only wanted people with stellar employment histories. They were also one of the few employers in our area to offer insurance benefits to part time employees.

    There are thousands of people in this country that can only afford to shop at Walmart. Until you can offer them a politically correct place to shop at the same savings, give Walmart a break.

  • Subvert

    Wal-Mart’s vision of sustainability refers to the sustainability of its ever-increasing profits. The fact that it’s getting onboard with the trend of ‘green’, ‘local’, etc is no surprise. This is just word play and story spinning on things that are already happening in their US supply chain. The bigger question should be how they will spin their large supply of products coming from Asia and India, and I will include food in many processed forms, as sustainable practices.

    The whole ‘local’ food thing is such a wash when abused by big greedy companies. For example, you purchase a jar of pickles made in your town from Costco, Kroger, Wal-Mart, or whoever, but the cucumbers, spices, additives, industrial ingredients, etc come from all over the world depending on season (we get a lot of cucumbers from India). The fact that the plant employs a few dozen people is a at least a saving grace. But I guarantee, if Wal-Mart cold buy these for a few cents less from another country, they’d be all over it.

    Maybe they can source some local produce…hmmm? Aren’t they already doing that (selling Local California fruit in California, or local Idaho potatoes in Idaho)? Or maybe some Brazilian beef that was packed in a ‘local’ US facility, or maybe a local seafood company that resides in the US, but ships its local Alaskan seafood to China or Vietnam to be clean, breaded, par-fried to be then shipped back to sit in the frozen food aisle at your ‘local’ Wal-Mart.

    Not saying I have the answers here, but I sure as heck don’t buy that Wal-Mart gives a damn about anything other than increasing profits. You shouldn’t expect much more from a company that employs a group of legal staff at corporate called ‘Internal Investigations’ which exists to dig up dirt on employees so they can react to any claims from employees against the company – worker’s comp, claims of employee abuse…at that point that employee becomes a pesky, expensive nuisance, and needs to be discredited some way or another. Very scary… This is not a company that is changing the world, unless to enslave more people in a desperate need state because any industry or ‘local’ opportunities to make a living in this country have gone away, forcing them to eat out of the hand that happily slaps them.

    I don’t agree we should ever give companies like Wal-Mart “a break”!

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  • Mike

    There was no Wal-Mart when my grandparents grew up. My grandfather proudly served in WWII while my grandmother planted a victory garden and raised a family. They both went on to live long and prosperous lives, they lived in a small town in a small home. They provided for their family and gave back to their community, through church fairs, cooking, canning and sewing. They didn’t need to rely on a big soulless corporation. Give Wal-Mart a break? No thanks.

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