The same conversation keeps coming up wherever I go lately. More and more people are asking me about sustainable living. They want to live wholesome, healthy, organic lifestyles that are good for the Earth, the future, and their communities. Yet, they don’t know where to begin.
If you are looking for a small step to live more sustainably, an easy place to start is to quit going to Wal-Mart. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that Wal-Mart is a picture-perfect example of all that is wrong with America.
Why Wal-Mart is Bad For All of Us
1. It is incredibly hard to resist. You know what I’m talking about—low prices, convenient locations, one-stop shopping, a perfectly designed shopping experience that lures you in again and again.
2. It seems harmless. What can be wrong with saving money? At least we are giving people jobs… Our own neighbors and also people overseas!
3. It seems unavoidable. But I need socks and there is simply no place in town where I can afford to buy socks besides Wal-Mart! (I think things like this all the time.) I don’t have time to make two trips! Wal-Mart has it all.
4. It mortgages our kid’s future for today’s convenience. Yep, we are going to Wal-Mart today because they have the best deal on Froot Loops and frozen television dinners. What we can’t see is the future—a country controlled solely by one huge corporation. The loss of small business and feeling of community. Millions of jobs shipped out of the country in the name of the Bottom Line. Actually, I think we are already seeing the fallout of our Wal-Mart lifestyles; we won’t have to wait for our kids to see it. Do you really want to look back and think, “Wow, I contributed to the success of this manipulative, unethical, giant corporation because I didn’t want to pay 45 cents more for a box of cereal from the store down the street?” YOU HAVE TO PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR VALUES ARE.
5. It is killing our communities. Everyone longs for that Mayberry sort of atmosphere, walking down to the local hardware store. Stores where everyone knows your name. The place where the manager calls you when something comes in stock that you have been looking for. The dream of starting a small business that actually has a chance of succeeding. Everyone wants it, but nobody wants to pay the price.
6. It shields us from the ugly truth. We pick up something with the label “made in China” and don’t think twice about it. I think if we could see the reality—the gross employment conditions, the underage children slaving over our stupid plastic crap, workers literally committing suicide because their lives are so miserable—we would reconsider. We look back at generations who committed slavery with disgust, but I think there is something even more disgusting about our own generation. We choose ignorance over knowledge. We think we are better than a pre-Civil-War plantation owner, but at least he knew how his workers were treated. He fed them and clothed them and put a roof over their head. We don’t even know how the slaves we use are treated. We don’t know their names or where they live, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. (Want to know how many slaves work for you? Visit this great website to calculate your slavery footprint.)
7. It destroys the environment. One of the reasons that Wal-Mart can make so many delightfully cheap pieces of wonderment is because the majority of their production is overseas, where environmental regulations are much more lax. Just because the pollution begins in China doesn’t mean it ends there. The world isn’t flat, the smog won’t just fall off the end before it reaches us. We will pay environmentally for what foreign producers are doing in the name of Cheap Stuff For Those Stupid Americans.
8. It makes us look like lemmings. You know, lemmings? The stupid little rodents who always follow each other no matter what? Even if it means to their death? For heaven’s sake, if there’s one reason to avoid Wal-Mart, it should be because everyone else is going there. FIGHT THE MAN! Be a rebel. Stand up for what’s right.
I know there are a million other reasons not to stop at Wal-Mart. I’m not really an expert on the subject, honestly. I’ve heard they aren’t good to their employees. I’ve heard that they twist the arms of producers until they go flat broke. I really can’t say with any accuracy, but there are some good websites and documentaries on the subject if you want to spend some time googling it.
The Major Issue: Food Security
At the beginning of last year, our First Lady proudly joined forces with Wal-Mart to announce that the retail giant was going to start helping us (yes, those same Stupid Americans referenced earlier) make healthier eating choices. 25% less sodium in our packaged foods by 2015! 10% less sugar! More fruits and vegetables for everyone! What horrified me most was this little snippet:
In addition, fresh fruits and vegetables will be made more affordable “through a variety of sourcing, pricing, and transportation and logistics initiatives that will drive unnecessary costs out of the supply chain,” the company said in a statement.
Now, I am certainly no business expert, but I would imagine that Wal-Mart already has their costs pretty well at a minimum in their supply chain. (How else could they make such huge profits every year?) To think that they are going to try to force the prices of our fruits and veggies even lower disgusts me. I look in people’s carts when I go into Wal-Mart. They are loaded with prepackaged convenience foods—soda, frozen meals, chips, cookies, dog treats. Maybe a DVD or a new sweater and a pack of cigarettes as well. There is no way in hell that these people aren’t buying vegetables because of a financial issue. All this exciting new piece of corporate propaganda is going to do is force whatever small farmers may still be out there out of business.
The more small farmers the chain can force out of business, the more consolidation will take place. Pretty soon, Wal-Mart will be the happy owners of a huge cross-country farm that will probably be planted with nothing but corn. (Wait a minute… isn’t that what we have already?) Our food will be so cheap, they probably won’t even charge us for it. We will just go pick it up (in preselected boxes—why make a selection when it is just 100 different formulations of corn) and the government will pick up the tab. AWESOME! WHERE DO I SIGN UP?
My question is: what if something goes wrong? Wal-Mart forces every last nickel of “unnecessary cost” out of the supply chain. All of our oranges are being boated in from Chile. Our spinach crop from Peru. Our milk from some Central American dairy farm via railroad. It doesn’t get any cheaper than forced labor in other countries, raping the soil of all of its nutrients, ignoring sound and sustainable agricultural practices, convincing people they are too stupid to select their own groceries and sodium content. But what if there is a war? Economic collapse? A horrific disease that spreads so rapidly all imported goods must be destroyed for our safety? What then? Where in the heck will our food come from?
We’ve got to get back to buying locally, folks. To supporting our local farmers. To building communities where we rely on each other rather than The Man, Big Brother, or Uncle Sam (Walton). We need to be able to know if something goes awry that there are vegetables and meat and milk and eggs all nearby. The very first step to this is kicking Wal-Mart to the curb. Go cold turkey; don’t go back. You won’t regret it. I haven’t, and I can assure you that my grocery budget is just as small as yours. Don’t put it off or make excuses. If we all made this one small change, our economic and social landscape would radically change for the better.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Yes or no to Wal-Mart? I’ve only been “clean” about a year now, so I’m not one to judge at all. I understand that there are good things that come with Wal-Mart, including jobs, so please now if you work at Wal-Mart that I am not against you! I just think that we all need to step back and reevaluate our priorities and think of the future.