White Resentment on the Night Shift at Walmart

New York Times Sunday Review • Dec. 18, 2016

Seven years ago, I joined the night shift at a Walmart in rural Michigan. For $8.10 an hour, I spent four or five nights a week filling shelves with the flour and sugar and marshmallow fluff that residents of the local county, which in 2008 voted for Barack Obama, needed to get through the holidays. Four years ago, the county went with President Obama a second time, though by a thinner margin. But this past November, the county, like the state, turned red.

Continue reading “White Resentment on the Night Shift at Walmart”

Why Wal-Mart And Other Retail Chains May Not Fix The Food Deserts

“The Salt,” National Public Radio • Oct. 13, 2015

Earlier this month, Wal-Mart trumpeted that it had beaten a goal it set five years ago: to open at least 275 stores in food deserts by 2016. That targeted expansion into “neighborhoods without access to fresh affordable groceries” came as part of the retailer’s “healthier food initiative,” lauded by — and launched with — First Lady Michelle Obama in 2011. Wal-Marts have been popping up in lower-income urban areas where grocery stores are scarce ever since.

But new research suggests that plugging food access holes with big box stores may not lead to healthier habits. According to a study just published online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Americans’ junk food calories increasingly come from big box stores rather than traditional grocers. Continue reading “Why Wal-Mart And Other Retail Chains May Not Fix The Food Deserts”

BONUS: How Whole Foods really prices its food

It’s easy to gloss over the details in all the hubbub over the feature I just published with Slate and the Food and Environment Reporting Network, “Can Whole Foods Really Chance the Way Poor People Eat?” But I would encourage anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of food reporting to pay attention to the data set we amassed for the piece.

What’s the big deal with the data?

Comparing food prices between stores is phenomenally difficult to do well. Brand names, sale prices, different sized packaging…all of it gets very confusing, very quickly. The USDA does track food prices, but only at the bulk level—for a pound of green peas, for example. But most of us don’t buy just a pound of shelled green peas. We buy Green Giant, or we buy Cascadian Farmr, or we buy White Rose, with all the presumed differences between them affecting price. There simply isn’t anywhere that researchers can go, let alone consumers, to see a coherent comparison with name brands. Until now. Continue reading “BONUS: How Whole Foods really prices its food”

Wal-Mart and Organic Food

“The Craig Fahle Show” WDET • April 18, 2014

Author of New York Times’ bestseller, “The American Way of Eating,” Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism and Oakland County native Tracie McMillan joins Laura and Travis to discuss an article she recently wrote for The Guardian that debunks stereotypes about who wants and who’s buying organic food. She breaks down the article and talks about Wal-Mart’s role in bringing organic food to the masses. Continue reading “Wal-Mart and Organic Food”

Organic food: it’s not just for yuppies anymore

The Guardian • Apr. 14, 2014

A man who applies pesticides to Iowa fields for $14 hour might not seem a likely organic enthusiast. But when I met Jim Dreier last fall, and he mentioned the backyard patch he and his wife had planted with vegetables in the spring, he told me he didn’t use any pesticides. When I asked him why, Dreier surprised me: “I don’t want to eat that shit,” he said. When I went grocery shopping with his wife, Christina, she surprised me, too, by picking out a bag of organic grapes even though she was paying with Snap – food stamps – for exactly the same reason.

Continue reading “Organic food: it’s not just for yuppies anymore”

Letter: Walmart: How cheap is cheap?

Wicked Local Watertown • May 19, 2012

You have likely heard many arguments against a Wal-Mart moving into Watertown – its effect on traffic, crime, property values and the flavor of our neighborhoods. And perhaps you’ve read about how Wal-Mart won’t really net Watertown much revenue – far less than originally imagined – and may even cost us money in the long run by boarding up local businesses and making our town less inviting for new investors and homeowners. Continue reading “Letter: Walmart: How cheap is cheap?”

Walmart pulls out of Somerville and Watertown sites

Wicked Local Watertown • May 19, 2012

WATERTOWN – Walmart is suspending its push to build a superstore in Watertown and its plans to build a grocery store at the old Circuit City site at Assembly Square in Somerville.

“One of the primary deciding factors on any given site – whether it’s in an urban, suburban or rural market – is that it makes sense from a business perspective and contributes to our bottom line,” Walmart spokesman Steven Restivo said in an interview Friday. “In the case of the Somerville and Watertown sites, we made a business decision that the projected cost of investment would exceed our expected return.” Continue reading “Walmart pulls out of Somerville and Watertown sites”

Damning piece on Walmart bribery scandal in Mexico from @NYTimes http://ow.ly/arkym

It is rare to obtain this much evidence, of corruption this deep. Best snippets here, but read the full — utterly damning — piece from David Barstow:

he former executive described how Wal-Mart de Mexico had orchestrated a campaign of bribery to win market dominance. In its rush to build stores, he said, the company had paid bribes to obtain permits in virtually every corner of the country.


Wal-Mart dispatched investigators to Mexico City, and within days they unearthed evidence of widespread bribery. They found a paper trail of hundreds of suspect payments totaling more than $24 million.


Primary responsibility for the investigation was then given to the general counsel of Wal-Mart de Mexico — a remarkable choice since the same general counsel was alleged to have authorized bribes.

The general counsel promptly exonerated his fellow Wal-Mart de Mexico executives.

having a blast talking with @BrianLehrerTV @talkradiolive @CJADONair and more!

I’ve had a lot of fun the last few days doing different radio and TV appearances, so just a formal shout out here to:

  • Michael Finney, who does a consumer affairs show here in San Francisco for KGO 810 had me on over St. Patty’s Day to talk about The American Way of Eating
  • Kim Fraser, a radio host in Montreal, chatted with me about The American Way of Eating for her listeners on CJAD 800 Sunday, March 18
  • Karel on San Francisco AM 880, who offered up a few conspiracy theories that hadn’t occurred to me about our food during our talk on Sunday March 18
  • This afternoon I taped a segment with Brian Lehrer for his great show on CUNY TV, talking about The American Way of Eating and Walmart’s move toward NYC. The show airs on channel 75 at various times throughout the week;
  • I also had a delightful conversation with the hosts at AM 1140 KSOO in Sioux Falls, South Dakota this afternoon for their local show, Viewpoint University. It marked the first time anyone has changed the subtitle to reflect the deepest-fried traditions in Midwestern cuisine, and I found it entirely charming. Hosts Ruth and Rick were wonderful to talk to, and I gotta say: Rick Knobe appears to be a man after my own heart. He said something (paraphrasing here) like: You know what I would like? If, instead of the National Enquirer and 2-for-$1 giant candy bars, they sold little cups of grapes to munch on for 25 cents. Wouldn’t that be great? To which I say: Yes it would!