Courtesy of Walmart
Even the most strident public health advocates cautiously welcomed Walmart's plan, announced yesterday, to slash produce prices and reformulate its private-label processed foods to cut sodium and added sugars. Still, on and off the record, they worried. Where were the details about the discounted produce? Did the company really need five years to reformulate packaged foods? Would the cuts—25 percent on sodium and 10 percent of added sugars—be enough?
As a reporter in Washington, I might have given weight to such concerns about the company's timetable and pace of change. In the national debate, it's all about keeping score. But after several months of reporting on how people eat and why they make the choices they do, I think Walmart's plan strikes just the right balance.
First, the five-year timetable: Sodium, in particular, is difficult to cut from recipes, because it fundamentally affects flavor, and there is no obvious substitute as there is for oil and other fats. But the schedule also gives Walmart customers a chance to adjust their palates to new products. Americans are used to certain foods tasting a certain way and they are attached—very attached—to those tastes. A case in point: one young mother in Huntington, West Virginia, who is teaching herself to cook in an effort to wean her family off processed foods, told me she won't make homemade mac-and-cheese. It tastes wrong somehow, too eggy. "It's just not boxed mac-and-cheese," she says. "And sometimes that's what you want."