Hours before a handful of protesters picketed outside Ward 4 Walmart developer Dick Knapp's house, the supercompany received a stamp of approval from the highest hand in the land: Michelle Obama, in her new role as the nation's healthy food guru. She appeared at THEARC in Congress Heights yesterday for the launch of Walmart's nationwide initiative to reduce sugar and sodium in their house brand foods, as well as eliminate the cost premium for healthier options, like whole grains.
The announcement is the result of a year of discussions with the White House, and administration officials stood solidly behind it.
“We’re not just aligning ourselves with one company; we’re aligning ourselves with people who are stepping up as leaders to take this country to a healthier place,” White House chef Sam Kass told the New York Times.
Of course, there seemed to be not a whiff of recognition of how conflicted D.C. residents have been over the impending presence of Walmart in their own city. Despite the undoubtedly welcome addition of affordable, healthy food, the influence of a Walmart on the local business community is more ambiguous, the labor track record more spotty. In this regard, Walmart is like China: In front of cameras, you have to be polite and celebrate successes, while pressuring them behind closed doors on thornier issues (though in this regard, Barack beat out Michelle this week, with a public rap on China's human rights record). Notably, however, the White House isn't going big with the publicity on this one–no photos from the event have shown up on Whitehouse.gov, and there's no mention of the Walmart partnership on Michelle's Let's Move initiative website.
Still, at least one District foodie was sorely disillousioned by Michelle's decision. "Wal-Mart using #ShockDoctrine to enter DC market," tweeted Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal, who leads Think Local First D.C. "Their PR machine is amazing – Michelle Obama!? What next Jesus!?"
Photo from Walmart's Facebook page.