Covering Washington politics. From our vantage point. One day a time.

Monday, August 22, 2011

First Lady Has Food Retailers On Her Side. One Retailer, However, Not So Welcomed.

It's More Complicated Than Just Bringing Healthy Food To Communities

Last month the First Lady included more retailers in her arsenal to help families afford, and have access to, healthier food.

Several retailers, along with Walmart, made commitments to lower their food prices, improve food quality, and add more fruits and vegetables to their retail chains in support of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! model designed to rid childhood obesity within a generation.
The First Lady is continuing her initiative to ensure that families have access to nutritious foods -- from birth to adulthood.

“The commitments we’re announcing have the potential to be a game-changer for kids and communities all across this country,” said the First Lady. “We can give people all the information and advice in the world about healthy eating and exercise, but if parents can’t buy the food they need to prepare those meals because their only options for groceries are the gas station or the local minimart, then all that is just talk”.

Mrs. Obama has been leading a nationwide effort to combat childhood obesity so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight. The Let’s Move! Campaign is a comprehensive, collaborative, and community-oriented initiative that has sought to engage every sector of society to tackle head-on the many different factors that lead to childhood obesity. Collaborating with local grocery store chains will help ensure that parents will have a fresh food retailer right in their community.

It is her inclusion of Walmart that has some up in arms, providing a divisive reaction throughout the city.

President of the Metropolitan Council of the AFL-CIO, Josh Williams, doesn’t think the Walmart brand fits into the equation.

Williams says that while The First Lady’s efforts to provide communities access to healthy foods ”is commendable”, Williams said his concern is that Walmart, the nation’s largest retail chain, should be excluded because, “They are the largest contributor to poverty”.

Walmart has been criticized for not paying sustainable wages, providing adequate healthcare and employee pensions. A report says the company’s CEO makes “more in a day than employees make all year”. 

The company was also in the news for not promoting its minority and female employees to upper level management positions, and for its treatment of minority customers. The movie made about Walmart titled The High Cost of Low Price, mostly about the company’s policies and practices speaks to these issues directly.

But not all Walmart employees share those sentiments.

One Walmart employee we spoke to (who wanted to remain anonymous) said that Walmart pays her enough to take care of her family.

"I'm the only one working in a family of five, and my (Walmart) paycheck helps me feed my family and pay the bills".

The company has plans to open stores in the Southeast quadrant of the District of Columbia in Wards 4, 5, 6, and 7. Southeast D.C. has the highest concentration of African American residents in the city, many below the poverty line.

Community organizations like Respect DC believe 'retail without respect is a bad bargain for DC'.

"We are working to educate community members about Walmart’s checkered track record of paying poverty-level wages1, forcing competitors to close, causing a net loss of jobs2, breaking its promises, and multiple lawsuits alleging that the company discriminates against female employees and engages in wage theft, including the the largest sex discrimination class action in U.S history3", states the organization's website.

Leslie Dach, executive vice president of corporate affairs at Walmart said on the opening, “By opening stores where customers need them most, Walmart will help build healthier families and stronger communities. We believe every single person should have access to an abundant selection of fresh fruits and vegetables at an affordable price. First Lady Michelle Obama is helping millions of Americans lead healthier lives, and Walmart is proud to partner with her in this work. The First Lady’s leadership on products, prices and access to healthier food has helped sharpen our focus on bringing affordable groceries to underserved urban and rural areas.”

Walmart has committed to opening or expanding 275 to 300 stores across the country.

Other stores committed to joining the First Lady’s efforts include SUPERVALU (committing to building 250 new stores), Walgreens (committing to expanding their food offering to include whole fruits and vegetables, and other healthy options in approximately 1,000 stores), California FreshWorks Fund ( the company secured $200 million to promote healthy food retailing in California), Brown’s SuperStore (committing to building one new supermarket in Philadelphia and expanding one existing store in Chelthenham, PA), Calhouns Grocery (committing to build 10 new stores in Alabama and Tennessee), and Klein’s Family Markets (committed to opening one new store in Baltimore, MD).

The White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President identified access to healthy, affordable food as key to solving childhood obesity.

Distractions aside, the First Lady's anti-obesity initative has far reaching affects, even into the religious realm.  Seventh Day Adventist have adopted September 25, 2011 as Let's Move! Day, encouraging every conference, church, school, university and health care organization in the North American Division to form Adventists InStep for Life teams to coordinate activities that inspire healthy eating and physical activity and further awareness of childhood obesity in their community.

Learn more at

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