Although Walmart has launched a number of CSR initiatives in recent years, the company’s emergence in the sustainable food movement remains largely unwelcomed by foodies. I think a double-take would serve them well. As a recent college graduate in public affairs and economics, I tend to keep pace with the influence of business on global issues. I believe Walmart shows a genuine concern for food-related topics.
The company is truly tackling some pretty salient issues. Walmart recently announced plans to open up to 300 new stores by 2016 in an effort to serve what USDA refers to as “food deserts,” or areas with limited access to affordable, nutritious food. Sound familiar? You’ve probably heard of Growing Power, a community-based urban food organization pioneered by Will Allen. The nonprofit is uniquely positioned to address Milwaukee’s sprawling food desert and has essentially transformed the city into a mecca for urban agriculture.
However, when Walmart recently contributed $1 million in support of Growing Power’s cause, both received some heat. Whether it is merely corporate antipathy towards corporations or grappling with issues of the past, it seems many still consign Walmart to the chopping block. The food blogosphere targeted Walmart as intrusive; its donation an ominous result of ulterior motives to gain a footing in southeastern Wisconsin. For instance, an article from Grist viewed its goodwill as a means to defuse the sort of pushback that arises “in communities when a multinational chain moves in and all but decimates the small businesses in the area.”
But isn’t Walmart’s donation in line with its recent call to eliminate food deserts? Growing Power is easily a capable and fitting protégé to make progress towards that goal. And likewise, Walmart has the resources necessary to fill critical voids in the food distribution system. Plus, after recognizing a growing demand for local and organic foods, Walmart has begun offering locally grown produce in its stores and plans to buy from Growing Power in the future.
The way I see it, Walmart and Growing Power complement each other nicely and were faithful to their core principles when giving and receiving this recent donation. They both deserve a seat at the sustainable food table. These matters are not black and white, and no one should be excluded based on idealistic principles. In fact, I believe such cooperation can permeate counterproductive ideological boundaries and spur true innovation.