PM Pick

Organic Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart's move into organic food would seem to inevitably undermine the whole principle of going organic in the first place -- after all the ideology of "organic" involves natural growth, human-scale farming, and diminished stress on the environment -- not behemoth stores devoted to the proliferation of cheap, synthetic consumer goods, manufacturing needs with lower price points. When "organic" is used in criticism (it was especially popular with literary New Criticism of the 1950s, from whence it trickled down into pop criticism) it is to suggest something unforced and unified by its conditions of origin, naturally evolved from the bottom up, not the product of elaborate calclulation or top-down schemetization. When applied to food the word is meant to evoke spontaneously generated relations among people in a farming village, not the most recent ruthless iteration of massive, heretofore inconcievable economies of scale. It seems like titanic irony just to put the words organic and Wal-Mart next to each other. After all, the cliched gripe about the company is that it comes to a small town and obliterates whatever businesses had sprung up organically in response to local demand. Moreover Wal-Mart leverages the efficiencies of globalization against small businesses, undoing the fabric of commerce that once wove a community together.

But that's all ideology, you might say. Surely we can overlook that for the benefits Wal-Mart will provide in making organic food accessible to the masses -- the company will make better quality food, made in more enivronmentally friendly ways, available to more people for cheaper. The people who eat organic as a means of conspicuous consumption might not like it, but is this not a good thing for the quintessential lower-middle class Wal-Mart shopper? Writing in The Nation Liza Featherstone sets up her article with a similar ruse, evoking the promise and the PR supporting the notion of a greenified Wal-Mart:

an "organic Wal-Mart" represents the democratization of healthier -- and better-tasting -- food. Bob Scowcroft of the Organic Farming Research Foundation argues, too, that environmentalists should cheer Wal-Mart's move, which will "turn hundreds of thousands of acres" now being farmed conventionally to organic. "Think of the tonnage of toxins and carcinogens which will disappear from the earth," he says.

Then Featherstone undermines this sunny notion with the underlying economic consequences: small producers bullied out, wasteful transportation from large farms to various distribution points, top-down imposition of standards, quality sacrificed to price, etc. Brad Plumer adds the likelihood of Wal-Mart using its lobbying clout to change the USDA's definition of organic to suit its purposes. He also sums up the whole conundrum of large-scale organicism nicely: "Wal-Mart's whole strategy is to slash prices by outsourcing many of its costs onto other entities—the environment, say, or its workers. The idea behind organic farming, by contrast, is to make the consumer pay all of those costs, since cheap products aren’t cheap when others are shouldering the cost. Expecting that these philosophies can happily coexist seems improbable, to say the least." The conflicting rationales stem from different priorities -- Wal-Mart assumes price (and behind that rational maximization of utility at the margin) is the overriding priority in all cases, the only conceivable definition of value (which is why they are so noticeably indifferent to externalities). Your typical fervent organic food lover prioritizes the externalities -- the suffering of animals, the stewardship of the land, the distance food travels to their table, etc, and is willing to have them priced back in so as to be avoided. This concern is often depicted as moral vanity, futile and burdened with the ulterior motives of self-promotion and self-satisfaction, mainly because such critics have bought into the idea that purchasing power is all important -- the critical metric of personal freedom -- and anything that can be done to extend the poor's purchasing power (even if it comes at the expense of the planet or the poor's own ability to make a fair wage) is justified.

Ultimately I suspect this mainstreaming of "organic" will make the concept meaningless, and a new word to mean what organic did a few years ago will have to be coined and standardized. Perhaps this will mean the world has been edged a little bit further in the direction progressives want it to go, but it may end up being a case study in how a progressive notion is neutralized by its being reduced to something fashionable to be disseminated on a mass scale -- or rather why consumerist programs don't make for very good means for conducting progressive politics.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image