WalMart Organic and Food Insecurity

I haven’t had a lot of time to blog lately, but a couple of stories have popped up recently that caught my attention and I just had to say something about them.

The first one involved Wal Mart partnering with Wild Oats Marketplace to offer affordable organic food to carry in Wal Mart stores.  Here is a link to the press release. With the promise of offering consumers more healthy choices and blah blah blah… Bullcrap.  The quote in the release tells you exactly what this is.

“We know our customers are interested in purchasing organic products and, traditionally, those customers have had to pay more,” said Jack Sinclair, executive vice president of grocery at Walmart U.S. “We are changing that and creating a new price position for organic groceries that increases access. This is part of our ongoing effort to use our scale to deliver quality, affordable groceries to our customers.” 

Cheap organic food.. Give Wal Mart a chance to cash in on a trend (10 years too late) and further an attempt to put places like Whole Foods and Trader Joes out of business.  Looking into Wild Oats at the bottom of the page, they are essentially a holding company that owns the brand name, and they are “relaunching” at Wal Mart.  I’m almost willing to bet that mean for all intents and purposes Wal Mart will own the brand and make it one of their exclusives.

I don’t like this at all.  First off, looking at Wild Oat’s product line, while they may be “organic” they certainly don’t look particularly healthy.  Canned vegetables? Canned sauces and condiments? Potato chips and snacks? Everything loaded with salt and probably a lot of fat too.  Second, to be able to produce organic vegetables at that price point will involve a massive commercial farm, and not in the US.  Large scale organic farming is no better for the environment than conventional farming.  These fruits and vegetables will be grown in Chile on 10,000 acres of what USED to be rainforest.  Lastly I just don’t trust Wal Mart to have anyone’s interests in mind.  True confession, I used to love Wal Mart, I used to exclusively shop there, I used to own stock in the company.  As their stores got bigger, dirtier, more crowded and less staffed I started shopping there less and less.  Shortly before I moved out here I sold my stock and no longer have a stake in the company.  Now I won’t go within 100 yards of a Wal Mart, which works out well since there’s not 5 of them here in Portland like other places.  There is one on the NE edge of town right by the interstate and there is one down in Clackamas.  That’s it.  Lisa has told me people here have resisted Wal Mart and with good reason.  Plus with Fred Meyer and Trader Joes in town we don’t need a Wal Mart.  This is simply a move to pressure other companies, both individual food manufacturers and other grocery stores, and how long will it be before Wal Mart is pressuring the USDA to change the requirements for Organic labeling? This stinks bad and I don’t like it.

The second story was posted on Facebook by a friend of mine and it involved high school students who were posting twitter pictures of pitiful school lunches and mocking Michelle Obama for destroying the lunches and for the schools for “starving” them.  First, Mrs Obama has been a vocal champion of healthier food for school kids, but she doesn’t make the decisions about the programs.  She has not control over what is going on.  Second, a little deeper digging and it turns out what was pictured was not what the kids had ONLY been served.  They were throwing half of it away, and what were they throwing out? The fruits and vegetables! So in reality what you have going on is kids having tantrums and hissyfits and WASTING FOOD! What a bunch of brats.  They certainly aren’t helping anything with the image of modern kids as spoiled, entitled brats.  This article from a conservative blog which is attempting to shame Mrs Obama actually has some pretty telling quotes in it.

The new standards led to kids throwing out their fruits and vegetables”  They are voluntarily not eating what is offered them.  That is not “starving” them.

The standards forced some schools to stop serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and led middle school and high school students to opt for vending machines or buying food off campus to avoid the lunch line…” Once again, the kids are making choices to eat junk.

What these kids need is a lesson in food insecurity.  For those who may not be familiar with the term, food insecurity is not just going hungry, but literally not knowing when and where you will get your next meal.  People in Asia, India and elsewhere may have access to a pound of rice but it might have to last them 2-3 days, or 2-3 weeks depending on what they can get access too.  Plenty of places in the world don’t even have access to clean water, much less soda and candy bars.  These kids are not starving, they aren’t even remotely close to starving.  Their parents ought to be ashamed of them.  They think they are making a “political statement” but all they are doing is being idiotic and making themselves look incredibly stupid and foolish.

Portland Food Scene

Portland is a food lover’s haven.  Whether you are looking for something healthy like grilled fish and veggies, or something decadent like poutine (french fries with cheese curds and gravy), Portland has you covered.  Any sort of special dietary needs, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, dairy free, kosher, halal, nut allergies etc and Portland has you covered.  Any kind of ethnicity you can think of, to the standard Greek, Chinese, Mexican, to some that I have never seen before like Peruvian and Lebanese and ironically enough even “Southern” and Cajun/Creole.  I’ve yet to try the “Soul Food”/”Southern” to see how it stacks up to the real thing.   Here is just a slight taste of some of the good eats I’ve tried in the two weeks I’ve been here.

Food Carts:

There are food carts/food trucks EVERYWHERE in Portland serving everything from Crepes to Cajun.  I’ve been to three so far.  The first two were in the same place off of 12th Avenue.  We couldn’t decide what we wanted so we got some different stuff to try.  First from a cart called Potato Champion we got an order of Poutine which I’ve always wanted to try. It was really good, but the gravy was a little thin, I would have been perfectly happy with just the fries and cheese curds.  The fries were some of the best I’ve ever had.  Then, from a cart called Pyro Pizza we got a wood fired four cheese pizza with a paper thin crust.  It was amazing, and totally worth the 20 minutes we had to wait for it (we were eating our fries anyway).  The third cart we ate at was in Downtown at the Saturday Market and it was called A Taste of Poland, and that’s exactly what I got.  They offered several different sampler platters and the one I got came with pirogis, potato pancakes, a kielbasa link, and chicken meatballs.  My only complaint was they forgot to put the applesauce on my potato pancakes but they were good with the sour cream that came with it.  It was amazing!

Burgerville:

Burgerville is a fast food burger chain here in the Northwest, most of their locations are centered around Portland.  What makes them different from your typical chain is that they source everything locally.  They use local grown beef for their burgers, Tillamook cheese and local veggies.  They offer seasonal specials based on what’s in season, which right now is strawberries.  They also offer some special items such as a turkey burger, a veggie burger, and a gluten free bun is available.  They also compost and recycle most if not all of their waste.  (Commercial curbside composting is available in many places in Portland alongside trash and recycling which is something I had never seen before).

McMenamins:

McMenamins is another chain, if you can call them that, of casual restaurant/bar locations here in Portland.  The reason I hesitate to call them a chain is, while they have many locations, they are all different and have their own flair.  They’ve taken over several old theaters, one that plays movies where you can eat dinner while you watch the movie, and one that hosts live music concerts.  They’ve turned several old buildings (including a former school) into hotels that they run along with their pubs.  In true Portland fashion, they also have several breweries and they brew their own beers.  The different locations will stock different beers as well as rotating seasonals so it certainly behooves you to visit as many of the locations as you can.  So far Lisa and I have been to two different ones.  One in Clackamas off Sunnyside road, which is a standard strip mall restaurant location, and then the one in Oregon City which we’ve been to multiple times.  I don’t know what the Oregon City location used to be, but the porcelain in the men’s room is dated 1919 (which is a copyright date and may not be when it was actually made, but it’s still old!).

Coffee:

If you love coffee, Portland is the place to be.  Sure they have chains like Starbucks and Seattle’s Best, but who needs those?  There are HUNDREDS of independent coffee shops around town.  There is quite literally one on every corner.  Portlanders, like those in her sister city of Seattle, love their coffee and are damn serious about it.  I’m honestly surprised the mega chains like Starbucks stay in business but I guess enough people go there to keep them afloat.  Lisa loves coffee and so we’ve already stopped at 3 or 4 different spots while we were out and about.  I’m not a huge coffee drinker, usually just a cup in the morning, but I’ve always dressed my coffee up with cream and sugar since (like beer and other things) the bitterness of coffee takes some getting used to.  Since I’ve been here there’s been several occasions where I’ve drunk my coffee black since getting actual fresh coffee that was roasted 3 days ago and ground that morning is such a HUGE difference to coffee that has sat in a grocery store shelf for 6 months.  The coffee is mild and even slightly sweet, with almost no bitterness at all.  Also, if you are in a hurry (as most people are) dotting the roads everywhere (even out in tiny Canby) are drive through espresso stands.  There’s one in the parking lot of pretty much every grocery store and strip mall and some just on a pull off on the side of the road.  I used to make fun of the people who would pay 4 to 5 bucks for a coffee drink, but I have to admit, every once in a while I have to get a mocha because they are just SO good.  Now I get what the fuss is about.  And the mocha’s here, even with the chocolate you can still taste the coffee, unlike the “warm chocolate milk” mocha I got at EPCOT, or as Lisa would say “Around here we call that hot chocolate.”  A lot of the local shops carry either Stumptown Roasters coffee or Portland Roasters coffee, both of which are very good, and sometimes you stumble into a shop (like we did at the Water Avenue Coffee Co.) that roasts their own in house!

Grocery Store Produce:

I haven’t done a whole lot of grocery shopping yet but I’ve noticed a few things in the produce aisle that has caught my attention.  Lisa and I were discussing some of the things and it makes sense, but it’s still shocking to see the major differences.  Bananas here are about twice as expensive as in NC (still only 64 cents a pound, but I’m used to 35-40 cents a pound), but offsetting that, the apples are WAY cheaper.  The “plain” varieties like red delicious, granny smith, etc are 99 cents a pound, and fancy varieties like Fuji and Gala are $1.49-$1.99 a pound.  Lisa got some organic Fuji apples for something like $2.49 a pound which is cheaper than I’ve paid for non-organic apples back in NC.  I’ve never seen apples for under 2 dollars a pound much less under a dollar a pound! Considering most of the apples come from Washington state, this makes perfect sense.  I’ll probably never have to worry about running into apples from Chile around here! Strawberries here are also way cheaper.  The 8oz packs are about two dollars, which would have run 4-5 dollars at home unless they were on special.  The strawberries come mostly from California, so this also makes sense as being close.  The Williamette valley is home to berry central, so they have a huge variety of berries grown locally including raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and local cultivars of Boysenberries and Marion berries which only grow around here.

Beer:

Of course, it wouldn’t be Beervana without beer right? There are so many micro/small brewers around here it will make your head spin.  There’s quite a few brewpubs where you can only get the beer on tap at the place it’s made, there’s also a few that are big enough to ship nationwide (Rogue Ales and Full Sail to name two) but are still independently owned.  So far I’ve tried beer from Full Sail (which I got back in NC), Portland Brewing Company (Brown ale and McTarnahan’s amber), McMenamins who make their own I’ve tried several off, had a taster tray at Rogue Ales which included a hefewiezen, brown ale, amber ale and nitro stout.  Lisa, Lexie and I went to a place called Roscoe’s which had a very cool set up.  They had 16 beers on tap, but they only had one keg of each so once it was gone it was gone, and they tapped a new one, so the beer selection is constantly rotating. The happy hour food is great and dirt cheap.  The beer I got there was a belgian Dubbel and I recognized the brewers name, but now I can’t remember it.  Next up on the list of places I want to try are the Hopworks Urban Brewery which makes organic beer (and from what I hear amazing food), Sasquatch Brewing company just because it’s cool and several others.

So there you have it.. come visit Portland and Eat, Drink and Be Merry!!

Trader Joes

We finally got a Trader Joe’s in Winston Salem.  I’ve been wanting to go there for a while after hearing great things about it, but the closest one was in Charlotte.

I’ve written on this blog before about Organic and Whole Foods and the debate about whether they are “better” or “healthier” etc, but one thing that is not debatable is they are more expensive.  Anything with Organic/Natural/etc on the label carries a heavy premium.

Trader Joe’s is a lot like Aldi’s in that a lot of their products are private label, and they only carry a limited amount of name brand stuff.   Because of that their stuff is cheaper.  Whether or not the organic is “better” I don’t mind buying it if it’s the same price or cheaper.

I was killing time before a company dinner in the same shopping center, so I didn’t have a whole lot of time, but I glanced around at a couple of things stood out to me, one was frozen organic sweet corn (frozen corn has become my veggie of choice) for 1.99 a bag.  Which is similar in price to the Lowes Food brand I’ve been buying.  Some of the produce prices looked good as well, like a 2 pound bag of apples for 2.99.  1.50$ a pound is great for apples of any description, much less organic honeycrisps. The bananas were priced individually, and I’d have to do some math to see what kind of deal 19 cents each is… but I guess if they weight about a half pound each, then 38 cents a pound is about on par with other stores.  The organic bananas were slightly higher, maybe 24 cents each, but still cheap (as bananas always are).

I ended up buying a couple things to take home.  I got a box of TJ’s brand “golden crackers” which have no artificial colors or preservatives.. and surprisingly are cheaper than Ritz.  I got a small hunk of cheese to go with those crackers, which wasn’t too bad, pretty normal cheese price, 4.49 a pound.  I also go two bottles of Charles Shaw wine, the famous “two-buck Chuck”, (which now costs 2.99, but still a steal).  I learned on the website the Trader Joe’s labeled wines (they have more than just Chuck) are wines from large scale wineries who either have extra, or a contract falls through or other things happen and they need to offload some wine (or juice) without having their name on it, so this is actually GOOD wine, but since it’s “no-name”.. it’s cheap.  It’s not just “cheap wine”.  I look forward to trying them.

Hopefully I’ll get to explore more when I go back.  I may get turned on a little bit more to this wholesome stuff if I don’t have to go bankrupt on it.

  • About Me

    I am a recent graduate in Food Science (NC State, 2009) and I work for a major food manufacturing company. I love food, but I can no longer eat anything that crosses my path. About 24 months ago I begin a serious struggle to get my obesity under control and reduce my chances of developing Type II diabetes. Since September of '09 I have lost 50 pounds and I still have a long ways to go. I've started eating better and exercising more, including taking up running.