I just the pickle article. With a great deal of interest, actually, since I like Fast Company, and since I bought a dozen gallon jars of pickles at Wal Mart this winter.
Please allow me to explain why: We needed some large, glass, screw top jars to store flours and other staples in. We decided on a gallon size for uniformity, ease of aquisition, and the fact that it fits 5# of flour almost perfectly. We looked at Gordon's Food Service, at specialtybottle.com, and a few other places, but the cost was just prohibitive. Then, one day at Wal Mart (the only nearby place I can fully use my WIC coupons- other area stores either do not carry what is on the coupons, or have the wrong size, and believe me, I SCOURED every store) I came across glass gallon size jars of whole pickles. They cost $4 per jar. Not Vlasic, the brands were Gedney and Mt. Olive. If we had just wanted to buy the jars, the lowest price we had found was $5 per jar. Not only that, at the time we were on food stamps, so we could pay for the pickles (and jars) with those. It was a no brainer. Yes, we have eaten the pickles. We still have 5 gallons in the basement, and one open gallon in the fridge.
In this article, one of the Vlasic execs was quoted as saying, "They [the customers] would throw the half eaten jar away when it got moldy. It's too big for a family to eat." WHAT? That makes no sense. First of all, pickles don't get moldy- that's why they are pickles! Pickling is a method of preservation. Second, says who? We are a family of two adults, one baby, and a 9 year old who is here part time- a smallish family. We've plowed our way thru our jars at the rate of one per month. But the true irony here is that we normally don't buy pickles- we make our own. We bought these because other factors outside of our control made it the most sensible option for our needs. We were after the jars.
Another quote from the article states that whole pickles aren't really profitable regardless of whose selling them: "Pickle companies make money on 'the cut', slicing cucumbers into spears and hamburger chips." So, since normally don't buy pickles at all, are we hurting American manufacturing, because we make our own? I'm not trying to be snarky here, this is a sincere question.
"Wal Mart told Nabisco to add up what it would spend on the promotion [25-cent newspaper coupon for a large bag of Lifesavers in advance of Halloween]- for the newspaper ads, the coupons, and handling- and then just take that amount off the price instead. 'That isn't neccesarily good for the manufacturer,' Fitzgerald says. 'They need things that draw attention.'"
Okay. While I take Fitzgerald's point, I have a few of my own. I found WM's approach here to more efficient, and frankly, more sensible. Why take all that energy, just drop the price! Also, the paper, the energy to move the mail around- WM's way is more environmentally sound.
Furthermore, as slimy as I feel taking WM's side here, I feel just as gross taking Nabisco's side- seductive advertising to get people to by HFCS and food dye.
I honestly don't see who the good guy is here. It's hard to come down on the side of WM, but it's just as hard to come down on the side of these manufacturers who make non-essential, frivolous items.
In my household, the more strict we get with our food budget, the more we cook scratch, therefore the fewer items we buy. Since we do all our baking from scratch, we only buy staples. Since DH got the pasta attachment for his Kitchen Aid, we don't even buy dry pasta anymore. We grow and can much of our own produce. We just are not big supermarket shoppers, period. We never buy things like frozen pizza, for example. Because of this, we neccesarily go thru a lot of flour, and we use several different kinds. So we don't buy it from a supermarket. We get it thru restaurant suppliers for half of what it costs at any supermarket. Same thing with cocoa and sugar. We order a ton of stuff (toiletries, non perishable food) from Amazon, and we go to the farmer's market 5 months out of the year. Other than WIC, a handful of food items, and the few paper items that we still use (TP, Q-Tips, and cotton pads), WM doesn't have anything we want or need. The stuff I use to make cleaning supplies is cheaper at SuperOne and the $1 store. As far as durable goods go, by WM own admission, they have the lowest price only on the cheapest, lowest end item in each category, so I don't even bother. It wouldn't be hard for me to give up WM altogether, other than using my WIC coupons. I'm just not convinced that my alternatives would be better.
Two more quotes from the article really got me: "But you can't buy anything if you're not employed. We are shopping ourselves out of jobs."
Yes! I get this. I think the REAL problem, when you get down to the nitty gritty, is our consumer culture. Maybe it would mean the death of another huge sector of U.S. manufacturing if we went back to actually producing things for ourselves, but would that neccesarily be bad? Again, this is a sincere question.
"We want clean air, clear water, good living conditions, the best health care in the world- yet we aren't willing to pay for anything manufactured under these restrictions."
Yep. As my friend Ray, a Ford employee, puts it, "Yeah, it's no wonder that China can make cars cheaper. Those guys are willing to sh!t on a board with a hole cut in it. I'm not."
Outsourcing is kind of a conundrum. I want jobs for Americans, yet I don't think that other people aren't deserving of a living, too- if they close all the sweatshops, what do those people do? Starve? Go to work as prostitutes? What?
I know that the good answer is that factories should not pollute and pay/treat their employees well. But how on Earth do we ensure that? I don't think that boycotting WM improves conditions at all.
To me, the silver lining in all of this is the increased cost of gas. I'm willing to take a hit at the pump if it means that it becomes prohibitively expensive to import everything. That's what I'm hoping for, anyway.