Long criticized for its employee health care practices and in-store fast food offerings, could Walmart be the America's answer to improving people's diets? That's the suggestion from a recent NPR story, which posits that Walmart's distribution network and purchasing power could be the key to changing the way Americans eat.
Before we even consider whether there is demand for locally grown fruits and vegetables, the problem is essentially one of supply. According to NPR, 75 percent of food production is currently handled by four percent of farms because of the industrialization of agriculture and subsidies for farmers.
That means that even if the Department of Agriculture looks to
support farmer's markets, the possibility of meeting a widescale
demand for local produce isn't feasible. But Sallie James, an
agricultural trade policy analyst with the Cato Institute, argues
that Walmart could help fill the gap:
"You allowAt the end of the day it would be difficult for
Walmart to come into urban areas and provide cheaper fresh produce to
people," she says. "The reality is they have a very good distribution
network. They can get fresh produce into rural and exurban areas very
Walmart to suddenly stand for something different than a fat guy angry
that his chicken nuggets aren't ready (as show in this video on The Daily Fork). But Walmart is trying. This summer it instituted an electronic indexing system designed to measure the environmental impact of the products it sells.
the president of Stonyfield Farms (85 percent owned by Groupe Danone), argues in Food Inc.
mega-retailers will respond to consumer demand, saying that a million-dollar order from Walmart for his organic yogurt and
milk products is effectively changing the market.
But what if the demand
isn't there yet? Is it up to Walmart to help
create the market for local produce? Walmart has shown that it's willing to change the way it does business, but it's hard to believe the company would take on such a public issue without first hearing that's what the public wanted.
[Image via Flickr: robert s. donovan]