Two of the biggest food retail chains in the country have very different ideas about which products to stock. Then again, did anyone ever think Walmart and Whole Foods would see eye-to-eye about anything? Recently, Slate's Ben Blatt did the math on which products that Walmart carries would be banned from Whole Foods. The result? It turns out 54 percent of the 19,900 food products on Walmart's website also include ingredients that are on Whole Foods'"unacceptable ingredients list." In fact, 17 percent of the Walmart products get knocked out by high fructose corn syrup alone.
Blatt notes that this picture isn't totally complete. Walmart doesn't list nutritional information for all of their products on their website, and many of the products they carry aren't listed online at all. To put it in perspective,19,900 is a lot of products but most grocery stores stock about 42,000 products. Plus, different stores will sell different items. But still, 54 percent of 19,900 is over 10,000 products.
Now, look, I'm not a huge Whole Foods fan, mostly because of their ridiculous prices, and I am certainly not a fan of Walmart and their questionable labor practices and habit of putting locally owned places out-of-business. But you don't need to take a side in the Whole Foods/Walmart debate to be a little concerned that 36 percent of the products Walmart labels as "water" also contain something that would keep them off a Whole Foods shelf. I mean...it's water. You're supposed to filter things out of it, not put things in, right? But apparently not.
Even wheat bread at Walmart apparently contains high fructose corn syrup. What does bread need with high fructose corn syrup? I mean, I'm a fan of high fructose corn syrup in stuff like soda, but bread? And I don't even want to think about what it means that 7 percent of Walmart fruits and vegetables include artificial flavor.
(Play around with the other parts of Slate's interactive infographic here.)
Of course, Blatt points out as well that all of the 78 items on the Whole Foods no-no list are approved by the FDA. It's not like anyone is pumping arsenic into our soft drinks. And in some cases, Whole Foods may just be playing into prejudices. For instance, high fructose corn syrup has a bad reputation, but it's chemically identical to sugar. Though I still don't see why it's in bread, but that's another matter.
Overall, this research highlights the growing differences in how various people in this country think about food. Should food be as natural as possible? Or should we not care what ingredients are in our food as long as they've been approved as safe? Or does the truth lie somewhere in between?