On the Wal-Mart watch: Slate.com wondered "Is Whole Foods Wholesome," in a March 17 posting by The New Yorker's Field Maloney which found a left-wing use for Wal-Mart's constant evolution and innovation to capitalize on market trends and expand revenue. Maloney argued that if not for Wal-Mart's entry into selling organic groceries, "poor" Americans will be doomed by obesity-inducing non-organic, highly-processed foods while "rich" Americans might well shop at boutique organic outlets like Whole Foods.
The organic-food movement is in danger of exacerbating the growing gap between rich and poor in this country by contributing to a two-tiered national food supply, with healthy food for the rich. Could Wal-Mart's populist strategy prove to be more "sustainable" than Whole Foods? Stranger things have happened.
And here I thought Wal-Mart was good for nothing but keeping prices low, giving millions of people worldwide steady jobs, donating millions in Hurricane Katrina relief, being a solid return on investment for shareholders, and leading a highly competitive national retail industry.
Maloney first pointed to some inconsistencies and quandaries a good liberal might find himself facing with Whole Foods produce:
Let's say you live in New York City and want to buy a pound of tomatoes in season. Say you can choose between conventionally grown New Jersey tomatoes or organic ones grown in Chile. Of course, the New Jersey tomatoes will be cheaper. They will also almost certainly be fresher, having traveled a fraction of the distance. But which is the more eco-conscious choice? In terms of energy savings, there's no contest: Just think of the fossil fuels expended getting those organic tomatoes from Chile. Which brings us to the question: Setting aside freshness, price, and energy conservation, should a New Yorker just instinctively choose organic, even if the produce comes from Chile?