A concern for low income parents is that many are trapped in “food deserts,” places where it is difficult to buy nutritious food for their children at decent prices.

So New York politicians are jumping up and down with joy that a retailer offering “$4 prescription drug co-pays, organic baby food, and eco-friendly laundry detergent” wants to set up shop in Harlem, right?

Not so fast—the retailer is Walmart. Greg Beato of Reason magazine observes:

[G]iven that the city has been loudly decrying its lack of supermarkets in recent years—a Walmart in New York would make total sense. And thus city officials have been working hard all year to quash such scheming. Low prices for the people of Gotham City who don’t have the time or wherewithal to venture to New Jersey or Long Island?

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has published a “case against Walmart” that makes Harlem sound like a regular Eden of grocery stories that would be irreparably harmed by the advent of a Walmart.

Beato writes:  

Attacks on Walmart from New York City politicos aren’t news. In February 2011, for example, various City Council members competed with each other at a special hearing to see who could posture hardest against the retail giant. But if the arguments Food for Thought deploys against Walmart seems fairly well-chewed at this point, its characterization of Harlem is surprisingly novel. While the neighborhood is often characterized as a “food desert” and an “underserved” area by New York City officials and food justice activists, Food for Thought touts Harlem’s “diverse retail landscape” and “multitude of fresh food outlets.”

Some businesses undoubtedly could not survive the challenge of a Walmart. Many of these are bodegas that overcharge customers and provide great opportunities for food stamp fraud. The article cites a report that only 3 percent of the bodegas in East and Central Harlem carry leafy green vegetables. At only 30 percent, according to this study, can low-fat milk be bought.

I suspect something other than a love of picturesque bodegas is driving the opposition to Walmart:

As Nick Gillespie reports in an April 2011 Reason.TV piece, Walmart’s increasing focus on groceries—and its success in selling them—has limited expansion opportunities for traditional grocery chains, which are the most unionized sector of the retail workforce.

To stay in good stead with UFCW Local 1500, Scott Stringer and his colleagues are pretty much compelled to oppose Walmart as vehemently as they can manage.

But characterizing an area where 218 out of 230 stores have never harbored a peach or a grapefruit as a “diverse retail landscape” with a “multitude of fresh food outlets” is asking Harlem residents to swallow a lot of empty rhetorical calories in pursuit of such efficacies.