I’M Just About Sick Of American Retail Chains--What About You?

Posted on Sunday, December 07 at 13:18 by nuff_respect
In all seriousness, although the media would like us to celebrate the opening of these stores, Sam’s Club and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts should really be construed as the devil in a blue dress or in these respective cases, devilishly disguised oversized cheap merchandise and sugar coated heart attacks to go. I’m being slightly facetious of course, but the opening of these American chain stores herald in more than just great prices, they raise deeper social issues that we as informed consumers should consider.

For instance, David Olive’s article “Values outsourced. What are the social costs of the Wal-mart economy?” which originally appeared in the October 18th Toronto Star highlights some of these very same concerns. Olive writes that Wal-mart has played a key role “in the elimination of 2.8 million jobs in the U.S. economy since 2001, and 77,000 manufacturing jobs in Canada so far this year.” [2] To put this figure in perspective, Olive further states, “not long after its arrival here in the mid-1990’s, Wal-Mart had pushed T. Eaton Co. and Kmart Canada into an early grave, merely an opening act for its current menacing regard for survivors Hudson’s Bay Co., Loblaws Cos., Shoppers Drug Mart Ltd., and the like.” [3]

These are alarming figures, but stepping outside the box of the straight financial ramifications of the Americanization of our country, the health issues these stores pose are equally as disheartening. Although no study has been produced suggesting a direct or indirect causal relationship between the encroachment of the Canadian retail marketplace with American fast food chains and cheaper prices with the increasing rate of diabetes, the coincidence should be more than duly noted; it should be seriously contemplated. Is anyone concerned with the fact that diabetes is now the seventh leading cause of death in Canada? [4]

The question we need to ask ourselves is while cheap prices are always an added bonus, to what extent are we willing to put our health on the line to save a buck or two (or three for that matter)? By no means would I contend that Canadian companies are heaven sent while American companies are straight from the devil--of course not. But the problem I have is the unshakable feeling of powerlessness against doing anything to fight the decline of healthy choices. It is often an overwhelming feeling when year after year, community after community, mall after mall our country more closely comes to resemble any-small-town-USA. After the dust clears and the prices settle down, the bigger-is-better and cheaper-prices-marketing of American retail chains are just further enticements contributing to the growing Canadian problem of diabetes and obesity, which day after day, year after year more closely mirrors the very same problems already present on epidemic levels in the U.S.

Typically statistics can often be slanted to reflect the agenda behind the organization compiling the numbers, however in the case of the rising rate of diabetes in Canada, the numbers stand alone as reflective of our physical decline. In 1996, Health Canada’s statistics show 5,447 deaths for which diabetes was certified as the underlying cause of death[5] while in 1999, this figure increased to 6,137 [6]. Importantly enough, as Health Canada notes,

Using data from other studies, the true mortality related to diabetes is as much as five times higher than the rate calculated …Therefore, approximately 30,000 deaths (6,137 deaths in 1999 multiplied by 5) each year may be attributed to diabetes and diabetes-related complications [7].

According to statistics gathered by Owen Wood, CBC News Online, 47.9% of Canadians were overweight in 1998 [8]. Granted, much of that obesity is due to the decline of physical activity, the point being is that as Canadians we are progressively on that same slippery slope our friends to the south have been on for years, seemingly without complaint and seemingly with much success.

To be fair, it is difficult to do a comparative analysis of Canadian and American figures as there are substantive differences in our population numbers as well undoubtedly our respective health care systems, which do play their part; however, there should be no questioning the lack of a full throttle media attack to promote healthier choices and responsible purchasing over the celebration of poor eating habits and the over-consumption that American retailers implicitly take pride on attaining.

Through the process of globalization we’ve all had to come to grips with McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s on almost every city block, but how much further are we willing to let the deterioration go? The next thing you know, the new store opening up down the street will be “Fat Burger” or “Hardees” – American burger joints that in comparison make McDonald’s look like a health food restaurant. What kind of social infrastructure do we have to prevent such business ventures from aiding and abetting if you will, in our dietary decay?

As Canadians, we have to remember that good ol’ Uncle Sam is not here to protect us. Clearly our government is more than happy to sit by the wayside in pursuit of what they call “economic growth” but I always assume we have some agency against such hegemony, but could I be fooling myself?

People often rationalize their choices by saying, “it’s just more competition, a representation of democratic capitalism at its best” and while I could not agree more, of course the easy position we – the unassuming masses – are inclined to take is that the bombardment of our culture with American companies is another one of the great successes of NAFTA and universal consumerism. However, behind every new retail opportunity and business venture gain is a little something lost, culturally speaking.

In a show of resistance, as cited in business reporter Dana Flavelle’s report in the Toronto Star, “Canada’s largest supermarket chain [Loblaw’s] says it’s prepared to do whatever it takes to remain consumers’ favourite food retailers, whether it’s lowering prices, adding more non-food items, or buying other grocers and department stores [9].” On a personal level we too can make that conscious choice to do things differently, step outside the box and not believe the hype surrounding the American companies a’ comin’ north for the winter.

So, during this holiday season, I hope others will join in and make the conscious choice to say no to America, that is, no to Type-II diabetes disguised as a glazed donut from Krispy Kreme and no to size 22 jeans wrapped up in a jumbo box of cookies from Sam’s Club. What do you say?

[1]Doors open at Sam's Club

[2]Originally appeared in the Toronto Star on Saturday, October 18, 2003: Values Outsourced

[3]Ibid.

[4]Diabetes in Canada

[5]Ibid.

[6]Health Outcomes

[7]Ibid.

[8]obestity statistics [9] http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&call_pageid=971358637177&c=Article&cid=1068160208984

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Cheryl Thompson is an aspiring writer/journalist living in Toronto, Canada. She has a B.A. in Criminology and is pursuing an M.A. in Media and Communication through Ryerson University. Cheryl believes that part of our survival as human beings is being able to express ourselves, and hopes to be able to influence those who have the power to bring about change through her writing.

Note: Doors open at Sam's Club Values Outsourced Diabetes in Canada Health Outcomes obestity statistics

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