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The Devil Wears Walmart

I’m balancing  6 packs of Ramen noodles and 4 cans of tuna on a pack of toilet paper when I see a bin for $1 CHERRY CHAPSTICK. I make a beeline towards the bin and that’s when my tower of deals comes crashing to the ground. I stoop to pick up the packages of shattered noodles and dented tin cans while trying to avoid getting hit by the oncoming traffic of  bright blue, SUV sized plastic carts.

This should be embarrassing.

But it’s not. Because I’m at Walmart, and everybody here is IN IT FOR THE DEALS. They understand my urgency and my great need for things on the cheap. Nobody here cares about the environment or knows about the word ‘sustainability.’ But wait. I’m here too. A year ago, with my new degree in sustainability and graduate school bills just waiting in the wings, I said I would NEVER shop at Walmart again. But that’s when I wasn’t poor. Before you judge, maybe I should explain…I shouldn’t be here, but I am.

I refuse to shop at Whole Foods. OK, I also can’t afford it. The size of things at Costco scares me, and I choose minimalism, so I’d feel suffocated with 20,000 packs of contact solution. I live within biking distance to a few different grocery stores, including the behemoth of Walmart. I don’t want to go there, ever. I mean, have you ever seen the ‘people of Walmart’ blog? (Intentionally NOT linking to them). Eww. Not me, no way. But I was in a financial pinch, like $20 for groceries for the week pinch. So where else could I go?

There are a million reasons to not shop at Walmart. Their attention to ‘sustainability’ is atrocious, they do not treat workers, local businesses or their vendors with respect. I won’t repeat the details, you can find them everywhere. In fact, here’s 10 Reasons Walmart Fails at Sustainability from my friends at Care2. But is anybody really doing better to reach the working poor and create healthy alternatives? Where could I go and buy $20 worth of non-produce groceries and still have money left over for chapstick? If you care and want to make shopping decisions based on sustainability, you shouldn’t be shopping at stores at all. Doing so while boycotting certain other stores is like dressing in drag and eating Chik-fil-A.

I’m walking around the aisles of Walmart looking at who else shops here. Of course there are the extremely obese people in electric chairs and others who belong in the fashion hall of fame. There are also families of all colors, young couples, the elderly. People like me who either can’t afford to shop somewhere else or just want to save money. It’s a problem. I don’t want to shop here, I shouldn’t. Hopefully, I won’t have to forever. But here I am.

And most likely, in some form, so are you.

Want to shop better? Here’s how:

Visit The Sustainable Table Shopping Guide

PS: Are you not judging me for shopping at Walmart but still confused as to why I eat Ramen noodles? Because they’re delicious. But that’s a whole other blog post in itself.


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One Comment

  1. Bianca Bianca

    Good to see you writing. I read your last post too, which obviously I relate to.
    In regards to this one, though, I have no judgement. There are indeed many poor families facing this question daily and there is no fault in surviving. However, this article seems to mirror the alienation that our society fosters as opposed to the wealth, flexibility, and care that community/collectivism can provide. I don’t have much time, but I’ll elaborate a little…

    People are creating community supported kitchens. These spaces are kitchens that a community owns together and shares responsibility for cooking. So for people with busy lives (in many cases, the working poor), it works out well – you may only need to cook for your family (and others) once a week and your other meals would be provided for you.

    I belong to the Park Slope Food Co-op (PSFC). With 16,000 members, it’s the biggest in the country. The Co-op movement is growing and they can be found in many large cities. At the PSFC, Everyone who shops there is a member. If you are a member, you are an owner, and you a worker too. Everyone works for 2.5 hours a month. Because their are very few paid staff at this grocery store (admin staff in office), labor costs are incredibly low. Therefore, the mark-up is only 21% above wholesale, as opposed to most supermarkets, which usually fluctuate between 41% – 52%. Therefore the prices are low. Organic stuff is is the same cost as conventional at most supermarkets and the conventional stuff is just way cheap. Also, stock moves incredibly fast. When refrigerated meat doesn’t sell within 2 days, they throw it in the freezer and sell it at rock-bottom prices. I recently bought an organic, free-rage, locally-sourced 3.25 lb London Broil (steak) for – I kid you not – $3.18. Walmart can’t beat that, but walmart can’t also beat the democracy that exists within the workplace of the coop. Everyone who shops there, owns it, and therefore can participate in decision-making about it.

    People also participate in community gardens. This familiar project is much more labor intensive way that those described above, but it builds community. And community is help. It’s people you can come to rely on when your crops are yielding enough or when you need childcare. And community is never created in a shopping mall or a walmart.

    So, ultimately, I find nothing I can say to your or anyone’s shopping at a walmart. It’s totally understandable to have to do that every once in a while. But, maybe it’s time for us all to rethink not WHO we get our food from, but HOW? Maybe what will ultimately build a sustainable society is how we engage in the communities around us, how we create alternative forms of care, sharing, and decision-making, support, and solidarity.

    Thanks for writing and making me think and write!

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