Food for Thought: Can Walmart save the day? Walton’s original Walton’s Five and Dime, now a Wal-Mart Visitor’s Center, Bentonville, Arkansas. Photo by Bobak Ha’Eri and released via Wikimedia Commons in 2006. One of the distinctions held by the city of Detroit, says Michigan native and journalist Tracie McMillan in The American Way of Eating, is that it’s the Number 1 urban food desert. It’s not the only urban food desert, but it holds the unofficial title of the top one in the nation.

The last chain supermarket in Detroit, Farmer Jack, closed shop in 2007. While there are grocery stores, there aren’t enough. What Detroit lacks in supermarkets it makes up in convenience stories and liquor stores. You can buy food there, but not much fresh food. The problem with fresh food, of course, is that it doesn’t last long. It spoils quickly. Could America’s and the world’s top grocer—Walmart—save the day?

As of 2011, McMillan writes, there wasn’t a Walmart within the city limits of Detroit. That’s still true today, according to a search I did on Google Earth. A number of Walmarts encircle the city, and city residents who can commute to them will do so to buy food, including fresh produce.

McMillan worked at in produce operations at Walmart as part of her undercover study of the way Americans eat. That section of her book includes the following:

 “I learn that produce is a living commodity rapidly approaching its demise, and the produce section is nothing less than an expansive life-support system. There can be no slacking off over here, because 70 to 80 percent of purchases in this section are made on impulse—and ‘Mom,’ Wal-Mart’s target shopper, does not impulsively buy rotten lettuce.”

Her job entailed making the produce look fresh longer, including culling and crisping. Culling means sorting through produce to find and toss the wrinkled mushrooms or the rotting leaves. Crisping is more elaborate. It involves cutting off the wilted ends and placing the vegetable in lukewarm water to rehydrate them. The cells absorb the water and the leaves become crisp. A quick trip to the cooler cements the deal.             Crisping never occurred to me as a possibility.

What do you make of the practice of crisping?

Is rehydrated produce better than no produce at all?

Can Wal-Mart save the day in Detroit and other food deserts?

Please, leave a Comment below.

Originally published at, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.

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