27 January 2011

So Perhaps Walmart is Not the Devil

I come from Small Town, New England, and therefore it is in my blood to hate all sports teams from New York (First and foremost the Yankees), Massachusetts drivers (mass-holes), and of course Walmart (the face of the big box stores) for putting the local mom-and-pop shops out of business. [According to my roommate, this is because I am a huge yuppie]

Reading the news this week, I couldn’t help but to feel some of that anger ebbing away. Michelle Obama announced her endorsement of the Walmart corporation. This followed the company’s declaration to sell and promote healthy food not only in their own brand products, but in their suppliers as well. Along with targeting schools, this endorsement is a part of the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity and diseases like early-on-set diabetes. Walmart introduced its initiative to offer more fruit and vegetable option and reduce the levels sodium and sugar in their processed foods. Some vendors are calling for nutrition labels on the front of packaging.

This news brought me back to my first viewing of Food, Inc, specifically the scene that illustrated Walmart’s sale of Stonyfield Yogurt products. I naturally love Stonyfield Yogurt, a company based out of my native New Hampshire. Like many I was a bit shocked to hear they were, as we say, selling out to corporate America.

However, if it is that good, why shouldn’t it be readily available to all? Must it maintain the local sales to keep up with the local feel? Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, another once-small manufacturer hailing from Vermont, didn’t seem to think so either. Rather than lose their hometown appeal, they “sold out” to the benefit of their sales and popularity. So the question remains: What is so wrong about bringing good healthy food mainstream, even if it is through (gasp) Walmart?

On the negative side, Walmart has and continues to conduct their business with questionable morals. Whether we are talking about the small-business take-over, or the lack of equal opportunities, benefits and fair wages for their non-unionized employees, there is something to be said about Walmart’s size and affordability. Walmart is everywhere. While yuppies like myself refuse to shop at such monstrosities, the rest of America doesn’t seem to mind. And to make a fair point, they have good reason. Because of the size of the giant, it has the capability to offer products at a lower price, granting a greater access for all. So if Walmart can offer healthier food to more people, especially those who struggle to find that mythical affordable food, it is hard to argue that this is a negative change.


For more on this topic check out:

Neuman, William. “Food Makers Devise Own Label Plan.” The New York Times.

Smith, Aaron. “Wal-mart promises to sell healthy food.” CNN.

Wilgoren, Debbi and Ylan Q Mui. “With praise from Michelle Obama, Wal-mart announces healthy food campaign.” The Washington Post.

24 January 2011

Soup's on.

There is something great about coming home to a warm place and a great meal waiting for you.

No matter how bad my day happened to be —and this one starting with the inability of D.C. to clean up the icy roads — it can still take a turn for the better with a great homecoming.

When I walked into my apartment building last night, with spicy aromas wafting through the hallways to greet me, I crossed my fingers that those delicious smells were coming from my apartment. Sure enough, my roommate was in the kitchen stirring a pot of soup that made my mouth water. Luckily, my roommate is a great sharer — which brings us back to the importance of sharing.

Coming home to a cooked meal is perfectly timeless. I remember my grandmother telling me that the best way for a wife to win points with her husband is to cook up a small pan of onions right before he gets home. It fills the house with delicious savory smells and creates the illusion that someone has been working in the kitchen all day. While this may be a sexist, antiquated 1950s housewife trick, it does make sense.

In fact my dad used this trick to tempt my sister and me out of the solitude of our bedrooms and sullen moods. I remember being somewhat disappointed, however, when I would sneak into the kitchen, looking for a hint of what was for dinner, only to find a measly pan of onions. Regardless, it achieved the initial desired response of startling the senses, awakening the taste buds, and boosting the mood.

I suppose it just goes to show that those small things can brighten the day and can be as simple as frying an ordinary vegetable to achieve an extraordinary response, coming home to a glass of wine waiting for you, or just knowing that someone put in the effort for you to dine in style. While I realize that some of us don’t have time to whip up something up to greet our friends — and I often include myself in that category — taking the extra step once in a while is only the small effort of turning on a burner and washing one extra pan. The effort will not go unnoticed.

P.S. I’m now eating the delicious soup my roommate made and as I exclaim over the paired spices with the perfectly cooked potato, my day has officially taken a turn for the better.

18 January 2011

Consumer Responsibility

Disclaimer: I am well aware this article perhaps will come off wide-eyed and optimistic, but we have to start somewhere. Please leave your jaded view at the door and proceed lightly.

I have been told more than once in the past month that I shouldn’t shop at certain stores, or spend my money at some restaurants because of that corporation’s funding. First it was when Target Corporation, financially backed an outwardly anti-gay politician. Now Chick-fil-A is sponsoring an event to take place in February. This event, The Art of Marriage Conference, hosted by the Pennsylvania Family Institute is followed by the tag line “getting to the heart of God’s design.” You can imagine that God’s design, according to this group—and apparently Chick-fil-A—is limited to heterosexual love only.

So where do these corporations come off spending all their money on these politically sensitive issues? And where does that leave us, as the consumers?

Everyone has their agenda, and the owners of these large multinational corporations are no exception to this rule, they simply have more power (money) to push their agenda further than the average person who ultimately gives them their money. Corporate donations are nothing new and as politics follows the money, the corporations gain that monetary power on the political or social scene.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, (I suppose it depends what side you are on and where the money is going) they can spend their money wherever they want. This IS America. And like any 5 year old will tell you, “It’s a free country.” (Oh, hang on a minute: I guess “Gods design” in this case, means we can only love someone of the opposite sex…okay, great, just checking… Thanks Chick-fil-A for the memo) But, as I was saying, if you have money, it’s a free (er) country, and we can spend the money where we choose.

Ah, now we are getting somewhere. We too, as consumers, can spend the money where we choose! That means if we don’t agree with where that money will eventually end up, then we should not spend our money there. If we don’t agree with the principles or values or what have you, then that company doesn’t need to get a dime from our pockets.

That leads us to the hard part. How do we know if we agree or not with the company? How do we know where the funding ends up? Well, Research! (There’s a great thing called the Internet…) I should also note that, yes, I am aware that some arms reach further than others and own brands that are not the obvious. (Did you know that Chipotle, the local, fresh, “healthy”, burrito joint was owned by McDonalds, the greasy, fattening, fast food, giant chain of the world?) But, on the bright side, as I stated before this IS America, and guess what? We have LOTS of options.

Some freedoms we can still hold onto, if only by our fingertips, we can choose to not shop at Target. We can choose to go to the local chicken joint a bit further down the road, rather than the convenient Chick-fil-A if we don’t agree with the preaching Pennsylvania group. Or in fact, we could forget chicken altogether and go for a veggie burger. My point is, using the information we know, as consumers we can have the last say (or first input, depending on how you look at it) in these matters. We can decide if we want to financially support the end cause of these multi-nationals. Please keep that in mind. We lose our position to complain if we continue to support. We maintain the ability to choose. Choose wisely.

10 January 2011

New Years Resolutions: Why not to do them.

I guess this would be a follow-up to my earlier rant about the post holiday syndrome of cleansing out all the alcohol and food that has been consumed in the past few weeks… so bear with me.

New Years Resolutions usually begin from day one, sometimes a little bit after midnight when the sick starts to come, but often they begin at whatever time you wake up on New Years day: “I am never drinking that much again”. A statement that will probably last until Friday, when you unwind after the first week back or if you are like me, it won’t last until the first Monday. Off to a great start.

These proclamations continue as we all start to list off those things we know we should be doing but don’t always follow through: I will work out every day. I will smoke less. I will save more money. I will sleep around less. And on and on… and how long will those last? Most likely the same amount of time as it takes to get that drink made.

Why do we think that simply waking up one morning, we will suddenly have the will power or the will, for that matter, to change our learned behaviors, our routines, our releases, whatever!? It’s just another day, international hangover day, for that matter…hope you all celebrated accordingly with extra sleep and extra greasy chow. Mmm.

As food is always on my mind… I often hear the Resolutions of “I will start that diet.” Really? Will you? Maybe for a week…maybe for a month even. But before you know it, it’s New Years Eve again and we are claiming the same resolution as last year, thinking this time it will be different. Guess what? It probably won’t.

I don’t see New Years as a time to flip my day upside down. I see it as a time when we can reflect on the past year, hope for the future and keep going. I have better luck with the decisions I make on any given Tuesday than I do with those I make on New Years, simply for the sake of being New Years.

Take the diet example. I see New Years as an excuse to continue my holiday binge. The first week back at work is a perfectly good reason to go for the prolonged happy hour. It’s rough getting back in the game! And all that chocolate left from Christmas? Well, if it doesn’t get eaten now—It is bound to be wasted (and you know how I feel about wasting food, now!) Better to eat it now than later anyways, before the skimpy clothes really come back into style. ;)

Please, skip the diet. Skip the false pretense that the start to this month is any different than the start of any other. Keep those resolutions reasonable, and remember they are really just food for thought, not a law to live-by!

Happy New Year!