A few weeks ago I saw a t.v. commercial in which a shopper specifically compared prices between Wal-Mart grocery items and the same items from a local Mid-Atlantic grocery chain, one that I happen to patronize with great fidelity. The chain, which has Acme Market stores all over the place, pays its workers good wages and gives them health benefits. The Wal-Mart ad mentioned Acme by name and showed the price comparisons on screen.
What I wanted to do after that was go to Wal-Mart and photograph its disgusting grocery aisles, which I have only traversed two or three times, in every case with great dismay that anyone would purchase such suspicious-looking foodstuffs.
In the news today is a story about a woman who found a live snake in a bag of potatoes she bought at Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart says it will refund her money on the sack of potatoes if she has the receipt.
Now, I'm not saying I totally buy this story hook, line, and reptile. It's rather convenient that this lady had the right kind of container to put the snake in. If I found a snake in my potato bag (which I wouldn't, because I get my potatoes at Acme Markets), I wouldn't be able to catch or contain it. But the fact that my local news radio is running with this story says a whole lot about Wal-Mart groceries.
It's been several years now since my mother-in-law suddenly found her apartment infested with giant black ants. These ants arrived suddenly and were like nothing any of us had ever seen before. They weren't the teeny tiny little pismires typical to Mid-Atlantic kitchens. They were more than a quarter inch long. And fearless.
Finally my mother-in-law found the source of the ants. They were living in the bottom of a box of Wal-Mart brand breakfast cereal. When she threw out the cereal, the ants disappeared.
And then she continued to shop at Wal-Mart, because the prices are so low!
I'm not here to tell you how to spend your grocery dollar. I'm here to tell you how I spend mine. I pay more for my groceries than I would if I bought them at Wal-Mart. But here's what I'm paying for: ant-free cereal, snake-free potatoes, fresh local produce, and health care for workers. The local Acme Market is very small -- smaller than those super-pharmacies that are popping up everywhere. You can do as you like, but for me, smaller is better. If I want to take a hike, I'll go to the mountains. If I want a quart of milk, I want it in three minutes, from pickup to purchase.
One last anecdote, and I'll close with another shout-out to Acme Markets.
One night I was in a hurry. I went to the Acme and grabbed a bunch of things, including enough filet mignon to feed self, Mr. J, Heir and Spare. When I got home, I discovered that I had left the bag with the filet mignon in the cart in the parking lot.
I drove back to Acme, and I asked at customer service whether or not anyone had turned in a bag of filet mignon. Yeah, right. Of course not! Whoever found that puppy in the parking lot sort of hit the lottery!
But you know what the on-duty manager at the Acme told me? She said, "Go on back and pick out what you lost. Just take it." Maybe she recognized me, but I don't know. I didn't recognize her. How did she know I was telling the truth? She didn't. I could have been a cunning filet mignon thief. I also could have taken twice as much as I bought and lost.
Okay, compare that to Wal-Mart demanding to see the receipt for a bag of potatoes that had a snake in it before they would refund the price of the potatoes!
Acme Markets, this commercial is for you. In this world, we get what we pay for. I'm not rich, but I want good food and happy staff. And no snakes with my potatoes.