This week the New York Times reported that Wal-Mart is about to get into organic food in a big way. At first glance this seemed like real progress. It conjured up visions of Alice Waters giving out samples of Frog Hollow peaches at Wal-Marts all over the country.
But a more careful examination of the story reveals a different scenario. As Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Assocation put it, "This model of one size fits all and lowest prices possible doesn't work in organic. Their (Wal-Mart) business model is going to wreck organic the way it's wrecking retail stores, driving out all competitors."
An editorial today in the Times got it exactly right. On one hand it's a positive step that Wal-Mart is going to sell organic food at ten per cent above the cost of conventional food. But do organic Doritos and organic Coke really represent any real progress in terms of what food most Americans consume? I don't think so. Michael Pollen's brilliant piece on this subject in the Times Magazine a few years ago should be required reading for anyone interested in the food we eat.
Don't think for a moment that Wal-Mart is going to be buying from the same local organic growers that supply your local chefs and restaurants with organic peaches and tomatoes. In fact, one aspect of Whole Foods I really resent is that they shout organic and local, but when you look closely (in NY at least) you find that local food gets really short shrift at WF. Only when companies like Whole Foods and Wal-Mart get serious about selling locally grown and sourced food as possible will real progress be made. Local food grown by responsible farmers trumps organic lettuce trucked 3,000 miles from where it's come out of the earth. Every time.