Posted by: kaegw | October 30, 2008

Food Choices

Why does one person choose Wal-Mart and another Whole Foods?

Why does one person choose an artisan producer and another a factory style producer?


Recently I have had interesting discussions with friends about Slow Food.  I have been working to start a Slow Food Convivium in West Virginia, the first in our state.  In light of that, I have been trying to enroll people in the mission of Slow Food. 


Slow Food is an international organization whose mission is to educate people about food, to promote food biodiversity, and tradition and conviviality at the table.  Slow Food supports school gardens, community gardens, and small farmers.  Several large gatherings are hosted each year as well, from Italy to San Francisco!  For a complete education about Slow Food, check out their website.


In the US, Slow Food has unfortunately garnered a reputation for being “elitist” in the pejorative sense of the word.  How very unfortunate.  But how has that reputation come to pass?   And what does it have to do with Wal-Mart and Whole Foods Stores?


Well, it seems that the people who feel that Slow Food is elitist are the same ones who support Wal-Mart and abhor Whole Foods.  I know these people on both sides of the argument are intelligent and thoughtful people who have made a conscious decision of value.


Why do some folks go one way, and others, another?  Some of the arguments for Wal-Mart and factory foods are: inexpensive, so the disadvantaged people can eat: single parent families and others on limited budgets really have to work hard to survive, and these foods are the only option.  Convenience; all the variety at the huge store in one place.


What is bad about Whole Foods and artisan foods?  Expensive. Known by some as “Whole Paycheck Foods”.  Possibly some economic pressures against small businesses in the Whole Foods neighborhoods.  Practices large business techniques, such as accepting deliveries only during certain hours, and formal periodic product reviews of their product line in detached ways.  And artisan produced foods are expensive.  What in the world makes these foods so expensive and out of reach of so many?


On the flip side, why are some folks anti Wal-Mart?  Heinous labor relations.  Economic bullying against communities and neighbors.  High costs to community infrastructure.  Predatory procurement practices.  Ugly, ugly buildings.  Local community support in name alone. 


And, why support small, artisan producers?  For every dollar spent with a local business, you get four times the return to the local community than if you spend that dollar at a giant out of town store like Whole Foods or Wal-Mart.  (Though a study needs to be done to see the relationship of profits going out of town versus real dollars being spent by the big store on local products.)  Small local producers are your neighbors and they hire your neighbors if not some of your own family.  You know where your food is coming from.  You have a complaint?  Just call your neighbor and complain!  You need to know the ingredients or how a food was produced? Just call your neighbor.


I am a small producer.  I would like everyone to feel that there is something that I can offer them.  But the fact is, nothing I make is mass produced, and a lot of the ingredients that I purchase are made by small producers.  Thus, my costs are significantly higher, thus I have to charge more.  Does that make me and my products worth any less?  Should the people who can afford my products feel guilty or feel that they should eat only mass produced foods?  Of course not.  But small producers should not be made wrong because less privileged people can’t afford their products.


Folks of means should support the local artisans and the organic foods to support those endeavors because the more consumers there are for artisan foods, the more people will be drawn to that line of work and eventually the price will come down.  Look at the drop in price of organic foods already!  Thanks in large part to Wal-Mart and Whole Foods.


Back to Slow Food.  What in the world is wrong with a group of people trying to educate a world about the pleasures of food?  The nutritive values of techno- raised foods vs. small farmed foods?  The traditions of food and food cultures?  Saving the biodiversity of food stocks?  Sustainability of our food system so that we have a quality food source available to all of us?  Of celebration of food and it’s life giving dependability.


We have had many discussions about that word, elitist, and all the meanings associated with it.  But let’s say that it represents exclusion.  Then, who is slow Food excluding? 

¾    We are supporting very basic farmers through the Presidia project.  We are excluding the giant monoculture corporate farmers. 

¾    We are supporting school education with mini grants.  We are excluding the soda companies and giant food producers that are selling unhealthy foods to the school systems. 

¾    We are supporting breed and plant diversity through the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity.  We are excluding the huge seed producers who are patenting seeds for their own profit and are genetically modifying plants without adequate testing. 

¾    We are supporting taste education through taste workshops, farm and kitchen visits, and school gardens.  We are not supporting the producers of industrial foods who generate tons of food that has been produced for traveling huge distances and are standardizing tastes. 

¾    We are supporting food traditions by protecting those that are at risk of extinction through RAFT, a Collaboration between 7 of our country’s most prominent education, conservation, and food organizations.  We are excluding the fast food and factory food producers.


Is this all wrong?  Is this not to be supported?  Is Wal-Mart the way to go to the exclusion of artisan producers and Whole Foods?  Of course all the answers are correct and right.  We all make choices that resonate with our core values.  But I know who I support and would like to work with. 


Don’t you?



  1. Wall Mart is NOT inexpensive!!! It is tricky!
    How has it helped lower the prices on orgNic food?
    It doesn’t have an organic anything!
    And if people are concerned aout elitism, wall mart is the last place they should be shopping. They not only have been taken to court for discrimination against women, African Americans and Jews, they use slave labor around the world and sell dangerous, out of date and poor quality food to the ‘ poor’.

    In truth truly poor people know better about food quality than to buy the dreadful factory food there, AND can NOT afford the elitist’s ‘join the peeps’ playground called Wal Mart.
    If by poor, the real elitists (those who are pretending not to be, wow many people are in that rich kid club! “we’re so rich we have to pretend not to be”!)
    mean, lower income, they need to look around the world where people shop in their neighborhood stores cause they don’t have cars to drive to wall mart and because they can’t after afford to eat crap. Food is grown and supplemented by walking to the market And carrying home their real food like farro and couscous and spices and rose petals and goat cheese and pignolas and oh I feel so bad that they can’t shop at wally world and pay high prices for packaging and white men’s executive salaries and advertising and yes all that paving over farmland that used to supply cheap good food to the neighborhood!
    Give me a break! Wall mart is probably the single largest cause of sub standard living in the world!

  2. food at walmart is not cheap, it is tricky. it is low quality at standard prices. meanwhile it is one of themost elite organizations, discriminating against women, african americans and fair work/fair pay/
    people who are truly ‘poor’ can’t afford to shop there. they don’t have cars and can’t afford all that wasteful and expensive and un-ecological packaging, their massive advertising cost and high prices for low quality foods. they walk to their local store and buy things like faro and couscous, spices and rose blossoms and sheep’s cheese, things you could never find at walmart which groans under processed, packaged toxic ‘luxury’ foods.

    the walmart machine exploits the poor building massive farming industry displacing the farmers of the world, creating worldwide famine, they are as elitist as you can get and care as much about the poor as hitler cared about the jews.

    those who can afford to buy from local farmers but side with the ‘people’ by shopping at walmart, belong to an ultra elite group of wealthy people posing as one of the peeps, a very ill-informed elitist club. give me a break!

  3. So many issues and I like your thoughtful approach to the whole tamale. There is great change afoot in our world because of global access.

    Yes we have to choose, but let’s stay with the issue of choice.

    The Story of the WinWin and Lose Lose Persons

    My time is valuable, I choose Not to stand in the Walmart lines. Plenty of people do not seem bothered. I loathe their big/cheap food. Some people love it.

    However, though we have choice, we also must realize that some of the costs are shifted to community costs.

    Walmart gives out money to its stock holders but I am paying for the state welfare of its workers that it does not pay. Their health needs when they arrive at the hospital to give birth without insurance, their food stamps and heat because Wal Mart pays only minimum wage and they cannot live on their full time pay.
    This all comes from my property taxes to WalMart’s benefit but I have no money to buy Walmart stock as well as pay the property taxes. But my rich neighbor does. He is therefore The George Bush Win Win person. The Walmart employee is The Lose Lose person.There’s the real difference. And guess what food The Win Win person is eating tonight? Whole Paycheck, but of course. PS I am the Win/ Lose Person

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