Posted by Christopher Reeks on July 23, 2011
Michelle Obama Fights ‘Food Deserts’…With Walmart
You might expect an initiative to increase access to fresh food in poor communities to be welcome. But Michelle Obamas new plan to bring more supermarkets to so-called ‘food deserts’ is raising controversy. Its not what she’s doing thats raising issues, but who she’s doing it with: Walmart.
In conjunction with the First Lady’s efforts, Walmart will open stores in 275-300 new locations over the next five years in food deserts across the U.S., the Washington Post reports. It’s part of a larger fresh-foods effort on the company’s behalf that also includes doubling sales of local produce in its stores by the end of 2015 .
Whatever you think about the grocery giant , there are people in many parts of this country for whom Walmart is one of few available options for fresh produce and other unpackaged foods. Writes Fast Company columnist Ariel Schwartz:
Would small, locally owned groceries be better for food deserts than Walmart? Possibly—they help foster community and probably pay a bit more than Walmart’s notroiously low wages. But here’s the thing: These mom-and-pop groceries aren’t showing up fast enough in food deserts, if at all.
At least Walmart is providing fresh food options to communities who might not otherwise have them, she concludes, and I’m prone to agree. People like to argue about things like this as if everything isn’t connected, but its going to take all sorts of efforts to change the food culture in this country. Opening Walmart stores in supermarket-deficient communities isn’t the solution, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be part of it.
It’s not just Walmart that’s part of Obama’s initiative: Walgreens, Supervalue, and regional supermarkets Brown’s Super Stores and Calhoun Foods are also in on the efforts. Calhoun is based in Alabama and Tennessee, two states where obesity levels are among the highest.
There are other strategies for improving people’s access to fresh fruits and vegetables than planting chain stores all about: encouraging people to grow their own food, bringing farmer’s markets and the like to as many communities as possible.. You might find these efforts preferable to more Walmarts—but not everyone is going to grow their own food, and farmer’s markets can be sporadic or more expensive. To realistically improve health and nutrition via food access in this country, there’s room for CSAs and Sams Club.