Having saturated the rural landscape, shuttering local stores in small town America along the way, now, in the wake of stagnant sales and increased competition, Walmart desperately needs to expand into urban markets.

And what better urban market than one full of eight million people? While the big box retailer is eager to enter the Big Apple, challenges loom large. Given the negative reputation Walmart has earned for being hostile to workers among other problems, many New Yorkers are skeptical, to put it mildly.

To counter the opposition, Walmart is positioning itself as the solution to urban food deserts – areas where finding real food is next to impossible. But as Anna Lappé has eloquently argued, the big box chain isn’t the answer: “Let’s be clear, expanding into so-called food deserts is an expansion strategy for Walmart. It’s not a charitable move.” Read more

Detroit recently made headlines for its notoriously poor supply of fresh produce to urban dwellers, though this city ranks among at least a half dozen others that have had to tackle the emergence of ‘food deserts,’ or neighborhoods with little or no supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. Earlier this summer the USDA released its report on the health consequences of food deserts, Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food – Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences, which reviewed the evidence for expanding the supply of fresh produce in communities where fast food and corner store snacks are the norm. They found a clear relationship between the local food supply and the food choices that consumers make. Many health advocates believe that food deserts have contributed to the obesity epidemic, the rise in individuals with diabetes, and many other health problems associated with a nutritionally deficient diet.

In response to these issues, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America has recommended that public health programs make access to “full service grocery stores” in communities (urban and rural) that have long relied on fast food or convenience stores for their food supply. They cite Detroit as an example of just how bad it can get (5 grocery stores in 139 square miles). The assumption is that large grocery chains must penetrate these markets in order to provide a constant supply of fresh fruits and vegetables to the community, so that citizens have the ability to choose healthier foods. Read more

When I travel, I do the normal tourist things: I visit the most unusual museum I can find; I sample the local delicacies like fried ant thoraxes and cow stomach soup; I buy items of clothing in the vain hope that they will help blue-eyed red-haired me fit in. Then I visit the grocery stores. Read more