Sign of the Times

A friend shared this photo with me yesterday.

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The photo is fuzzy, but the sign reads “Virginia Grown. Proudly supporting Virginia’s farmers.”

As the local food movement increases in popularity, and as people are increasingly trying to make better food choices for themselves and their families, this kind of thing is becoming more common.

So is Walmart now offering locally-grown food rather than cheap industrial food shipped in from around the world?

My friend scoured the store in search of the Virginia-grown food and found NOTHING, other than a few sad looking herb plants. No Virginia produce, no Virginia meat. Nothing.

It seems the sign is just an attempt to mislead customers into thinking that when they shop at Walmart (now the world’s number one seller of food) they are supporting local farms. To be fair, the sign says “look for this sign to find locally grown items.” But will customers understand “this sign” to mean “THIS sign” (the large sign prominently displayed at the store entrance)? Will they shop with a vague sense that the store is selling Virginia-raised food (even though it isn’t)?

Years ago I blogged about being in a Walmart in Florida and seeing a huge stack of cartons of blueberries, beneath a sign that read “USA.” Not “product of the USA” or “grown in the USA.” Just “USA.” The fine print on the cartons revealed that the blueberries were all from Costa Rica.

Of course, corporations like Walmart aren’t interested in promoting resilient local food economies. They aren’t interested in providing locally-grown, delicious, nutrient-dense food to shoppers. They’re only interested in maximizing profit. Ideally Walmart would like to see everyone in the world completely dependent upon it for food. That means capturing “market share.” There is a market these days for locally-grown food. One way to capture that market is to actually sell locally-grown food. But a more profitable way is to continue to sell cheap industrial food, while misleading customers into thinking they’re getting locally-grown food. And of course customers who don’t want to give up their supercheap one-stop food shopping, can pretend they’re helping support local farms, rather than helping destroy them, by not carefully looking at labels and by letting signs like this one assuage their consciences.

Maybe I’m wrong about what is going on here. Maybe Walmart had lots of Virginia food on the shelves when it put up the sign, and it sold out. Maybe. But I highly doubt it.

But as frustrating as things like this can be, I see them as evidence of what my friend calls a coming paradigm shift. Walmart (and many other similar places) is trying to give the impression that it “proudly supports Virginia’s farmers” because it can see the writing on the wall.

The demand for good food isn’t going away.

We’re winning.