Monday, June 18, 2007

Supporting WalMart

I shopped at WalMart today. It was not something I wanted to do. Then again, I do lots of things I don't want to do. I didn't want to eat meat last week but unwittingly consumed sausage in chili that I believed to be vegetarian. But while the chili incident was an accident (one which my stomach was hesitant to forgive), the decision to spend money at WalMart was indeed my own. Though I didn't feel I had much of a choice. You see, I failed the DMV eye exam (the first time I think I've ever failed a test!) - and WalMart proved to be the cheapest option for an eye exam. Unfortunately, my financial situation at the moment required it.

To be honest, I almost drove the 7 miles from my apartment to the big box area one town away. I had a number of excuses, I mean reasons, for considering driving, not least of all is that my tank is now filled with (an admittedly low content of) biodiesel fuel. So at least I'm polluting 5% less. (I plan to get B20 for the next fillup.) But in the end I decided I would voice my opposition to consumption heaven through the blasphemous act of biking. Besides, justifying driving to my appointment so that I could make it back in time for a yoga class didn't hold up against the argument for bipedal means of exercise today and saving yoga for another day.

I didn't see any other cyclists on the road within the shopping complex, and certainly got some strange looks. Not a single bike rack was available at the store, forcing me to lock my bike to a signpost. Ironically, I did see several people purchasing bikes at the store, but obviously those are to be ridden elsewhere, not on store property.

After my eye exam -in which I was told I don't actually *need* glasses to drive (but I'll probably get them anyway just to be cool)- I wandered the gargantuan fluorescent-lit store, originally in search of the organic food products I heard had begun sneaking their way onto WalMart's shelves. While I didn't see any organics in the food section, I did find an interesting (and horrifying) product feigning as maple syrup called "Vermont Maid." In plastic containers similar to those from Aunt Jemima and other syrup products, and with an image of a blond-haired-blue-eyed woman on the front - the "maid" I assume - this product is one more commodity made from nutritionally cheap 'high fructose corn syrup'. Given that the average American consumes about 142.6 pounds per year or a little more than 3/4 of a cup per day of added caloric sweeteners, the last thing people need is one more fake sweetener. Especially in the number one maple syrup producing state! Pure maple syrup at least contains trace minerals (potassium, calcium, magnesium) and does not wreak havoc on blood sugar as high fructose corn syrup does. I particularly took offense to this product's reference to Vermont as it does not contain one drop of real maple syrup and is produced in New Jersey!

So, I did see some organic cotton clothing for sale, reasonably priced, though more expensive than the non-organic counterparts. Of course I understand why organic products are more expensive, but does the average WalMart shopper understand? Does the average WalMart shopper value organic products and wish to pay more for it? My guess is no. I've read that WalMart is closely monitoring sales of 'environmentally conscious' products like organics and compact fluorescent lightbulbs to report on consumer interest in these products. Of course the results will be skewed by the fact that they are only tracking interest in WalMart shoppers. And I believe WalMart shoppers' decisions are, by and large, dictated by price. I thought about putting in my two cents (or twenty dollars, whatever it was) by purchasing eco-friendly products today, and may have actually done it had I found items I would actually use. I do believe it is important to show consumer support for "green" products, though of course consumption will not save the world, even if it is conscientious consumption. We cannot buy ourselves to salvation from a world quickly losing access to cheap natural resources.

Anyway, I wanted to share a bit more info and resources about the evils of WalMart, and encourage everyone to support independent shops over big box chain stores wherever possible.

From an article in the Indypendent: WalMart ships good-paying jobs overseas to countries with lax labor laws (ie. sweatshop labor) while paying poverty wages at home, costs taxpayers billions of dollars to subsidize its workers, fights unions, hurts local businesses and isn't fair to women. And their prices aren't even that low.

According to a 2004 study by the Democratic Staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, federal taxpayers spend an average of $420,750 for each Wal-Mart store, because of the high level of public assistance needed by Wal-Mart workers.

If I never step foot in another behemoth box store it will be too soon - but I concede it may happen again. I hope next time they have bike racks.


Anonymous said...

You say "the evils" of Wal Mart, but look at this:
Are you oppsed to them trying to be "green" and really, didn't Wal Mart start like all of your local little chains, they got sucsessful, should we punish sucess? and if they have the chance to offer more eco friendly "products" to a grup of people who might otherwsie not have any access, is that "evil"? are you a bear?

Anonymous said...

Hi this is Ross's brother Irwin and I just wanted you to know that the eye vision centers in Wall Mart are not owned by them they are leased space so your money did not (directly at least) go to them.

Melissa said...

Thanks for the comments. "Anonymous #1" - I'm sure I'll rant and rave more about the business greening movement but let me say this for now: WalMart is going 'green' because it helps their bottom line. From saving energy through green building practices, to potentially increasing their customer base by appealing to eco-minded shoppers, to generally increasing positive PR, it is to their advantage to go 'green' in at least some ways. I'm not against them offering green products for this reason, but we shouldn't applaud businesses for putting monetary interests ahead of social and humanitarian concerns (ie. WalMart still uses sweatshop labor, doesn't pay its employees fairly, etc).

Irwin, thanks for writing! Glad to hear that the vision center was separate from WalMart so my purchase there did not support the Box directly...

becca said...

aye, wal-mart pretending to care about green issues is what's commonly known as "green washing" - when companies are trying to appeal to a particular demographic, not because they actually care. Success should not be punished, of course not, but if it is at the expense of others/ the environment/ safety etc, then it should definitely be questioned and held accountable...

Heather said...

Hello again. I really really like your blog. I have to admit I step into Walmart way more than I should ("should" being never). When I lived in a small college town with only two grocery stores-Walmart and a local one on the complete opposite side of town, I ended up going to Walmart regularly, but that one did have bike racks...for all the Asian exchange student who didn't have cars...and I rode my bike there everytime. Heh. Now that Wal-mart does have a few Green items like organic sheets...I am tempted to shop there a little more. It's hard for me to decide if buying organic outweighs the impact of giving Walmart my dollars.