Walmart vs. Whole Foods: This Is How Weird Our Food Has Become

While I don’t agree with him on everything, author and foodie Michael Pollan has some great advice about how to eat correctly as a human.

1. ”Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”

2. ”Don’t eat anything incapable of rotting.”

Whether you’re vegetarian or Paleo (or something in between) this is stellar advice: eat real food. Sadly, our current food system is set up to deliver the exact opposite. Today we consume a massive amount of food-like substances, all heavily packaged and preserved, capable of sitting on shelves for months or even years without signs of decay.

Nowhere does the weirdness of our “food” become more obvious than a simple comparison of Walmart versus Whole Foods. In a recent article, Slate writer Ben Blatt compared the ingredients of 19,900 food products from Walmart’s vast inventory to the Whole Foods’ “Unacceptable Ingredients for Food” list. For context, the average supermarket contains around 42,000 items, and most Walmart’s likely mirror that–give or take a few thousand.

What Blatt found was astounding, but not altogether shocking if you’re a conscious food consumer. Ingredients considered “unacceptable” by Whole Foods run rampant in Walmart, mostly due to the fact that the latter stocks a massive amount of processed foods.

“Of the soft drinks sold at Walmart, approximately 97 percent contain ingredients that Whole Foods considers “unacceptable.” High fructose corn syrup and the preservative sodium benzoate, both on Whole Foods’ banned list, are in the majority of Walmart’s soft drinks,” Blatt reports.

And perhaps even more startling.

More than 36 percent of drinks that Walmart labels as water also have ingredients that disqualify them from Whole Foods shelves. While standard Aquafina and Aquafina FlavorSplash Lemon Water have similar packaging and might even be sold on the same shelf, the latter contains four ingredients (sucralose, calcium disodium EDTA, acesulfame potassium, and potassium sorbate) that would prohibit its sale at Whole Foods.”

That’s right folks, in our highly processed world, even water has been made unhealthy for you.

Blatt also found that 51 percent of sandwich breads, 33 percent of all juice, 31 percent of all bacon and sausages, 30 percent of the milk, and 24 percent of the fish sold at Walmart contains ingredients that would get the same products banned at Whole Foods.

Now, I’m not trying to be a Whole Foods fanboy here. Like most of America, I can only afford to shop there on very special occasions. The point is attempting to eat according to Pollan’s advice (which, again, is just to eat real food) eliminates the vast majority of what we’re passing off as food in this country, and around the world.

Despite the fact that farmers’ markets are experiencing a renaissance, most of the world can’t, won’t or simply doesn’t shop this way. Most people shop at Walmart, which means most people are eating “food” instead of food. Rather than waxing poetic about the virtues of organic, or the wisdom of veganism, what the average person needs is education.

Moms need to know that water should be the only ingredient in water. Fathers need to know that candy shouldn’t include a laundry list of unpronounceable chemicals. And kids needs to know that real food doesn’t come in a box. Only then will we create demand for real food, and only then will places like Walmart consider carrying it.

Image via Thinkstock

189 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven29 days ago

thanks for the article.

MJ J.
Past Member 1 years ago

It is getting scary. I have a couple of more rules, "If you don't know what the ingredients ARE even when told, and/or can't pronounce them, don't put it in your mouth" is one. I prefer the farmer's market, but there are some good organic and closer-to-organic grocers.

Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 years ago

Kevin G. Agribusiness would put arsenic in the food if it didn't kill you right away, as long as they make money. They are destroying not only health of every human (with their poison GMO and lethal herbicides/pesticides) but the future of our planet. There is a certain percentage of the human race which is never going to go awayuntil the human race goes thankfully exticnt.. they become managers and politicans etc, and they are CRIMINAL PSYCHOTICS who would kill your children without blinking and they will use every trick in the book to do away with all life on earth.. their personality makeup is PURE unadulterated evil, and they get away with it, but lies and pretense and social veneers which the stupidity of the human race will always swallow as a deluded truth.

Anne K.
Anne K.2 years ago

Thank you!

Kevin Bingham
Kev B.2 years ago

What a load of bulldust. Basing a critique of food worth on one company's high profit marketing concept is a waste of bits on a near endless internet ”Don’t eat anything incapable of rotting.” What a load of hooie.
Properly stored we have been able to store MANY foods for decades after production since at least the time of Jesus. A barrel of salt meat was a staple of just about every house until the time of refrigeration. We have been storing dried grains, legumes and even fruits for later use for millennia. Pickled and oil preserved veetables and meat have been around at least as long and if in a good oil or pickled in acid rather than brine are VERY healthy. Smoked meats have been around for just as long and smoked and dried meats are a fantastic protein source, especially added sparingly to a meal (although all smoked or fried food contains the potential carcinogen of simple carbon, also the most basic and essential part of our bodies - as essential as the most potent carcinogen in our lives, oxygen, our main energy source). Canning although a recent revolution allows us to keep food's nutritional content better even than storing fresh to eat, and in general frozen foods are healthier than their 'fresh' counterparts as they are frozen so soon after picking, whereas by the time they get to you supposedly 'fresh' are months or more old.
On the other hand There are also plenty of things (like the aforementioned saltpork unless very boiled and once popular l

Kay M.
Kay M.2 years ago

can't afford to shop at whole foods.

Jelena Radovanovic
Past Member 2 years ago

Thank you.

A F.
Athena F.2 years ago

Wal-Mart = evil

Lynn C.
Lynn C.2 years ago

thanks - good article.

Carmen Baez
2 years ago

Thanks for the article.