Is It Getting Harder to Hate Walmart?

[No recipe today. Click away if you don’t want to read about where our food comes from.]

Small business owners and residents of small towns know how Walmart has wiped out thousands of family-owned businesses. Main Street closes up when they can’t compete with the constant discounts, and eventually there’s only one store in town. What they do to their suppliers hasn’t been any prettier.

But Walmart does listen to their customers, and what they’ve been hearing lately is that people want locally-grown food. So they have started carrying it. The March issue of the Atlantic tells how this “experimental” heritage produce program accounts for about 4 to 6 percent of Walmart’s produce sales. This is already more than other grocery store chains spend on produce, but Walmart won’t even consider it a “viable” program until it reaches 20 percent.

This is a good thing, right? Walmart can singlehandedly drive a change that has thwarted activists, farmers, politicians and regulatory agencies. Local food is better for our health, better for the environment, better for the country. It’s a good thing. Except … Walmart is doing it because it’s better for business.

When the only source for locally-grown food is Walmart, you might want to shop there to support the local farmers. But the reason why there are no other local sources is because industry has spent decades systematically eliminating the local food supply and distribution network. Is supporting the third-largest corporation in the world (behind Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil) really the best way to support diversity?

I can’t decide how I feel about this one. I want to support the return of local farming, but Walmart has been destroying local retail. How can I support the one without supporting the other?

What do you think?