Wal-Mart and Communities of Color

Flickr: Mike Licht,

While the Washington Times probes whether it’s a conflict of interest for Council member Yvette Alexander’s advisers to work as paid consultants for Wal-Mart, over at Colorlines, Juell Stewart examines Michelle Obama’s endorsement of the company.

In January, the first lady joined Wal-Mart executives in southeast D.C.—a traditionally black neighborhood in which the controversial chain recently announced plans to open stores—to announce the company’s effort to make its pre-packaged foods healthier and more affordable than less healthy options by 2015. Obama called it a “huge victory” that left her feeling “more hopeful than ever before.”…

Other critics say that by teaming up with corporate giants like Wal-Mart, the first lady risks undermining activism on other issues, like fair labor practices in communities of color that are increasingly dependent upon service sector jobs.

Cheap food isn’t always nutritious. Could Walmart make healthy food more affordable?

The “huge victory” Obama championed in the Wal-Mart announcement is creating viable choices for informed consumers. She and others have argued that communities can only win if there is cost parity between healthy food and the high-calorie snacks that contribute to obesity. “If you have a dollar menu item and a healthier salad that costs three times as much, it’s not a choice for people living on a limited income,” says Antronette K. Yancey, co-director of the UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity.

Walmart: Bringing Groceries to a Desert Near You

Flickr: Ratterrell

Bananas at Walmart.

Over at the City Paper, Lydia DePillis tallies another hash mark for the pro-Walmart contingent:

Count another one who thinks Walmart won’t be all bad: Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning. At a D.C. Building Industry Association event at the National Press Club last night, she pointed out that the city still has food deserts, and that the super-retailer was going into several of them with smaller-format stores that will sell a lot of food. “I’m getting a lot of pushback, a lot of brouhaha, about these stores,” she said. “But you know, they’re bringing groceries.”

At the same time, Tregoning emphasized the need for national tenants to bend to the needs of the surrounding area. “We expect you to build something that fits,” she said. “We can’t expect a suburban store to work in our neighborhoods.” She also extolled the virtues of local retail, and wants to work with the smaller independent stores to “up their game” so they can compete with the incoming giants.

You are what you eat.

Flickr: M.V. Jantzen

Ted's Bulletin, the Barracks Row restaurant where the shot was captured.

I love it when I learn the story behind a story– or a photograph, in this case. I read this New York Times article a few days ago, and I thought of two things, immediately. One: that picture looks familiar, like it’s from D.C. Two: I pitied the subject in it, who was shown eating chicken-fried steak plus macaroni and cheese. I remember thinking, “That’s probably her ‘splurge’ meal of the week, and they’re making her look really unhealthy in order to prove a point.” Thank you, TBD, for confirming my suspicions:

On Dec. 2 of last year, Elizabeth “Ellie” Bartels went to Ted’s Bulletin to celebrate her birthday. She ordered chicken-fried steak with applesauce and macaroni and cheese on the side. A photographer approached her and asked to take her photo for a “restaurant review,” she says. Bartels’ photo ended up running on a Dec. 7, 2010, Times article about the “many high-end junk-food purveyors that have popped up around Capitol Hill recently.”

(That article inspired one of the Washington Post’s Tim Carman’s better rants.)

Today Bartels’ photo is used under a headline few people dream of their likeness illustrating: “Government’s Dietary Advice: Eat Less.”

“I’m not terribly thrilled,” says Bartels, a government employee who lives in Adams Morgan. “I think it was just a poor choice of a pic to use.”

“It really felt like I was being shamed for having a one-off, indulgence which is something society tends to do with women,” she says.

Bartels is right. Women, minorities, poor people…no one in those groups should be treating themselves to indulgences in public. What will people think?

Tomorrow on Kojo: Organic Food


Organic Onions at Whole Foods. Not to be confused with Organic Funyuns.

For those of you who are passionate about Organic food or examining issues like privilege, access and health– make sure you listen to tomorrow’s edition of The Kojo Nnamdi Show, which will “explore where chains like Walmart and Whole Foods fit into the healthy food movement and how their strategies compare with government efforts”.

The first hour of the show is devoted to “The Walmart Diet”; panelists include WaPo Reporter Lyndsey Layton and Corby Kummer, a Senior editor at The Atlantic.

After writing two posts about how Organic Food is often out of reach for many Americans, I’m looking forward to Kojo’s thoughtful take on the politics of buying pesticide-free food.

If you are outside of the D.C. area or you can’t tune in to hear the discussion live at Noon, look for the “Listen” link here, and enjoy it whenever.

Safeway’s Craig Muckle on Petworth, Walmart and More

Flickr: M.V. Jantzen

The new-ish Safeway at City Vista.

Yesterday, in my “About that Petworth Safeway“-post, I promised that I would speak to someone at Safeway’s corporate offices to confirm and clarify information about their plans for one highly-anticipated renovation. I spoke to Craig Muckle; he’s their Manager of Public Affairs and Government Relations for this region and he was very helpful and informative.

First: DCentric reader Teke Wiggin was correct; Muckle confirms that the Social Safeway in Georgetown is the city’s largest at 71,000 square feet. The next largest location is at Hechinger Mall in Northeast, at 62,000 square feet. That means that the proposed renovation of the Petworth Safeway will put it in third place in terms of size, at 60,000 square feet. My final thought on all of these numbers is this: I don’t really care which neighborhood’s store is bigger, as long as the produce is fresh, the products are priced fairly and the service is good. I don’t shop at the large grocery store that is two blocks away from me because it fails on all three of those counts. If it were half-the size and twice as friendly, I’d be happy to go there, so I think square footage is interesting and useful– up to a point.

While some locals hope that an independent coffee seller like Qualia could be included in the new store design, Muckle confirmed that when it comes to in-store coffee at Safeway, “in the U.S. it’s Starbucks”. I usually don’t drink their coffee (Filter and Baked and Wired, holla!), but I also don’t notice that they are the chain in Safeway (or Target, for that matter); the only time I paid attention to their presence was when I realized that since the Safeway in Georgetown is open 24 hours a day, it would’ve made an odd, yet comforting place to pull all-nighters when I was in school. By the way, Muckle confirmed that the Petworth Safeway’s hours haven’t been established yet.
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A Nice, New Safeway for Petworth (Updated)

UPDATE: One of you kindly informed me that the numbers in this post aren’t accurate. Thanks for that!

Flickr: M.V. Jantzen

Georgetown's renovated, modernized "Social Safeway".

Prince of Petworth has exciting news for the residents of his neighborhood. D.C.’s newest, sleekest Safeway will be built in Petworth, replacing an aging facility which attracts as many complaints as it does shoppers:

Back in May ’10 I wrote a post titled Battle of the Safeways: Haves Vs. Have Nots comparing the new Georgetown/Glover Park Safeway to Petworth’s Safeway on Georgia Ave (3830 Georgia Ave, NW). I am happy to say that, soon, this argument will no longer apply. Petworth is slated to be home to the city’s newest and largest Safeway at 60,000 square feet. While I’m trying not to exaggerate I believe this is the biggest news to hit Petworth/Georgia Ave since the metro station opened. This news is so huge that I have passed out twice since starting to write this and I’m only on the first paragraph. This is, in the parlance of our times, a true gamechanger…

There will be two underground floors of parking removing the current parking lot and curb cuts on Georgia Ave. will be no more. There will be 85 spaces on one floor for shoppers and 135 parking spots on a separate floor for residents. The ground floor will be 60,000 square feet including a full deli, Starbucks and a state of the art pharmacy and will look a lot like the City Vista/Sexy Safeway and the new ultra modern Safeway in SW-Waterfront…

Additionally, the Safeway will increase from 40-50 employees to 150-160.

The entire process should take about 2 and 1/2 – 3 years.

When the extensively renovated “Social Safeway” held its grand opening in Georgetown, people were frustrated at how beautiful and well-stocked (yes, especially with Organic food) it was compared to its siblings in less affluent parts of D.C. Not only does this news address that, it means better options (and more jobs!) for a neighborhood which would welcome them.

“It’s not that we don’t care or understand, it’s that we’re poor.”

Flickr: District 47

Organic, vegan food from a Bento.

Kindly allow me to start this post by thanking you. I am humbled by the letters I am receiving regarding “The Privilege of Prioritizing Organic Food“. Your emails are thoughtful and heartfelt; I am grateful for them, and for the way you have shared my story on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you.

I wrote that post on Thursday and a few of you have left comments, the majority of which were productive and welcome additions to DCentric. One comment, however, stood out. It bothered me enough that I wanted to respond to it, but I kept revising my reply because I am sensitive to the challenges of creating a trusted space for discussing personal or controversial issues (that’s my ultimate goal with this blog), and I don’t want to discourage anyone from sharing their point of view. That is why I’m so glad one of you addressed the questionable comment, instead.

Here’s the comment that I wanted to call out, from “Organic Trade”. After reading it, I wondered if I hadn’t conveyed my point well enough– buying organic may be easier and more affordable than ever, but it’s still beyond the reach of too many people, no matter what their “priorities” are. Also, I don’t understand how choosing organic and thus, more expensive versions of something you buy a lot of is an “easy way to save”:
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The Privilege of Prioritizing Organic Food

Flickr: ehpien

Farmer's Market, Dupont Circle.

Writing about Walmart earlier today reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to discuss on DCentric; I had an eye-opening experience at the beginning of the year, and all I could think about was “Race and class! Race and class!”, as it was happening. Despite my ethnicity, I’m not a huge fan of yoga, but I heard from a trusted friend that a local yogi was known for holding a workshop that helped people go beyond making resolutions. The all-day event included stuff one does on a rectangular mat, nutrition advice, life coaching, art and a vegetarian brunch.

I went and I have to agree, it was restorative and inspiring, so much so that I didn’t even mind twisting my body like a pretzel while trying to remember to breathe. What stands out to me most, however, is the nutrition-focused portion of the programming. While I expected to hear about the virtues of organic produce and embracing healthier diets which had few or no animal products, I did not expect for race and class to collide during the Q + A period, which came right after a recitation of the “dirty dozen”, or the list of produce that is most affected by pesticides.

Since I keep mentioning race, I’ll disclose that I was impressed that a quarter of the attendees were women of color; basically, it was me holding it down for Asian-America plus five African-American women.

One of them raised her hand, tentatively.

“Thank you so much for this information,” she began. “It’s so worrisome…all these chemicals and pesticides in our food. I would like to be healthier by eating organically but…it’s so expensive. Do you have any advice for dealing with that?” She looked hopeful; her hand was poised over her notebook, pen aquiver, ready to jot down wise words which would not come.
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When Walmart Comes to D.C., it will be Healthier

Flickr: Shawn Campbell

Bell peppers, on sale at Walmart, which is committed to making fruits and vegetables more affordable.

Remember how Walmart is planning on opening several stores in the District? Well, due to the considerable influence of our First Lady, who has made nutrition a national priority, those stores will be stocking healthier versions of Walmart’s house-branded foods, as well as more fresh produce:

In interviews previewing the announcement, Wal-Mart and White House officials said the company was also pledging to press its major food suppliers, like Kraft, to follow its example. Wal-Mart does not disclose how much of its sales come from its house brand. But Kraft says about 16 percent of its global sales are through Wal-Mart.

In addition, Wal-Mart will work to eliminate any extra cost to customers for healthy foods made with whole grains, said Leslie Dach, Wal-Mart’s executive vice president for corporate affairs. By lowering prices on fresh fruits and vegetables, Wal-Mart says it will cut into its own profits but hopes to make up for it in sales volume. “This is not about asking the farmers to accept less for their crops,” he said.

I know many D.C. residents are less than thrilled about Walmart’s impending arrival, but increasing access to healthy, affordable foods is one way to look at the “bright side” of such a development.
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There are other issues with this cake, too.

On the fifth day of Christmas, Postbourgie gave to me– a hive-inducing video starring Sandra Lee “making” Kwanzaa cake! If the name sounds familiar, Lee is the Food Network star who adds a dash of this, a dash of crap to finished items from the grocery store (in the video below, she mixes cocoa powder and cinnamon with generic, store-bought frosting). If you care for such trivia, Lee is also dating the big apple’s Governor-elect, Andrew Cuomo. This cake is white on the inside, brown on the outside, filled with apple pie goo and decorated with pumpkin seeds and corn nuts (to represent acorns!). In short, it is awful. Enjoy!