Monday, January 24, 2011

Around The Culinary World

Good evening everyone! Welcome to another week of cooking adventures at Out Of The Culinary. As usual, Monday has found a way to creep back into our lives - just when you think you've rid yourself of that horrid day - BAM - it comes back like foghorn blasting awake into a new work week. With the start of said new work week, comes a fresh batch of stories and happenings in the culinary world. That's what we like to call a classic trade off - yes, it's Monday once again. HOWEVER, on the positive side, your favorite amateur chefs have compiled the best stories from the culinary world and are ready to inform, enlighten and entertain you for a few minutes this evening. It almost makes that whole 'back to work' thing worth it doesn't it?

This week wasn't too exciting for culinary news, however, there was one very large announcement that could shape a lot of the culinary world in the future. Of course, I'm referring to Wal-Mart's big announcement last week regarding their new focus on healthy foods and lifestyles. Partnering with First Lady Michelle Obama's healthy lifestyle campaign, Wal-Mart announced that they were going to begin reducing sodium and sugar in a majority of their grocery products by up to 25%. They also planned to build more stores in low income areas that do not have access to a multitude of grocery stores and they want to create their own healthy food packaging, that will allow consumers to easily distinguish between foods that are those that are not. On top of all of this, Wal-Mart also announced that they were going to increase their supply of fresh (mostly local) produce and lower the price on said items. Essentially, this announcement looked like a big shift in direction for the nation's largest grocery outlet. Read all about this announcement HERE.

Initially, I was surprised by the move for Wal-Mart, after all they pride themselves at being a loss leader and junk food is the easiest loss leader in the market - but it did make some sense to me after a little thought. Wal-Mart is clearly positioning itself for the future. The modern consumer is beginning to demand healthy food options and more transparent products. Companies are making the switch to being more up front with what goes into their food, and consumers are beginning to demand that their produce not only be more affordable, but also locally grown, Wal-Mart is making the move early. By lowering their produce price (becoming a loss leader) and making their healthy products a prominent feature of their grocery stores, Wal-Mart is hoping to catch the curve at the beginning and start dominating the grocery market as the culinary revolution begins. From a corporate perspective it's a great idea. From a consumer perspective, it's a great move. Transparency, better food choices and lower cost? What's not to like?


Well apparently there is a lot to 'not like'.


A few short days after Wal-Mart's announcement, stories and opinion pieces began to pour in about why Wal-Mart's grand claims may not be as grand as they make them out to be. Anna Lappe has an editorial featured on the Huffington Post that breaks down Wal-Mart's claims and points out some of the fallacies. Among the issues that are brought up include Wal-Mart's assertion that reducing sodium by 25% in all products will make them healthy. The author argues essentially that some cans of soup need sodium reduced by 50% to 75% before they can be marketed as healthy - so 25% is certainly not going to be enough. The issue of moving into urban markets is also brought up - and a valid point is raised regarding Wal-Mart's notoriously bad effect on local economies. It's an interesting counter point to all of the PR hype that Wal-Mart was pushing - and well worth a read for those interested.

A day later, Elizabeth McVay Greene posted an editorial, also featured on the Huffinton Post that attacked the other portion of Wal-Mart's promise - to become a loss leader on local produce. In short, the author points out that the reason local farmers are able / willing to grow certain kinds of produce is because people are willing to pay an intrinsic value for the product. (Fresh corn is worth more to a consumer). By forcing farmers to take less and less for fresh produce, we could be lowering the cost in the short term, only to drive the producers from the market in the long term. The article further evaluates the economic impact of Wal-Mart's foray into the market - it's another great counter point to the story from earlier in the week. Check out the full story HERE.

In the end, I believe the rest of us are sitting off to the side not quite sure what to make of any of this. I applaud any retailer that is going to make the effort to become a more healthy and responsible seller. I think moves like the ones Wal-Mart is making is a good thing in the long term for the culinary world and the end consumer. However, I think it's important to keep in mind that retailers (and Wal Mart especially) are very good at PR and spin. We have to be sure to back up their claims and check into what they are saying. Just because they are making products 'healthier' doesn't mean they are necessarily 'healthy' there is a distinction and it is up to the consumer to be aware of the difference. Yes, Wal Mart is a retail bully who uses its massive capital to push and pull the market to its will. However, the important thing to remember in all of this is that producers and retailers are making these moves because they are feeling the pressure from the consumer. It's hard to believe, but the consumer does have the power in this arrangement. With enough pressure from the general public, every retailer, even Wal-Mart will have to listen and conform to public demand. In short, it's a good sign, but don't let your guard down - the healthy food 'fight' is far from over.

Finally this week - in a non Wal-Mart related story, did you know apples can kill you? (Technically, it's the apple seeds that can kill you but the fact remains that the doctor recommended apple has the potential to strike you down). In fact there are a whole bunch of foods that are normally good for you - but when eaten or prepared incorrectly become deadly machines of human destruction. It's sort of a humorous read - due to the items that are on the list (I don't think the Namibian Bullfrog is on anyone's grocery list -but maybe tuna is...), but still worth a browse. Check out what foods you need to keep your eye on HERE.

Bullfrogs? Isle 5

That's all we have for you in this week's Around The Culinary World (I told you there wasn't a whole lot of interesting news stories this week). We're lining up a full week of cooking on the blog - I'll be getting us started tomorrow evening and rolling into Wednesday with two 100% new dishes for the blog. Maggie will finish off cooking for the week with a dish for Thursday. As always, it's sure to be fun and entertaining. Be sure to stop back on Tuesday for the delicious or disaster outcome - until then,


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