Walmart is worldwide. I spent time in the grocery section of the Walmart in Wu Jiao Chang for the first time yesterday and had a bit of a sensory-overload experience. My nose registered the meat produce before my eyes. To be honest, the smell wasn’t bad. In fact it was similar to the Wet Markets we visited last week. But the contrast to what I see in Walmart back home, any grocery store in fact, and what I saw yesterday was fascinating.
Chickens were sold whole, laid out for anyone to touch and examine with slit throats easily visible. The sausage and frozen meat selections were not behind glass but displayed on stands at the intersections of busy aisles. I wasn’t expecting meat to be prepped and sold in this manner when I entered the Walmart. I am used to seeing packaged chicken breasts that are disassociated with the rest of the chicken. Sausages placed in neat rows behind JimmyDean branding and fish laid out on ice instead of swimming in tanks scattered throughout the seafood section of the floor.
I’ve learned that freshness in food is valued in Shanghai. Seeing a food product as close to its original state as possible is important because it provides customers knowledge about where their meat originated. A live fish is better than a dead fish, even if the dead fish is made up to look nice with parsley garnishes behind a display case.
However, my opinions on the unsanitary food preparation and display techniques I saw in Walmart are shrouded in ethnocentrism. In fact, the idea of seeing a chicken in its entirety is something new to me. I’ve only ever seen chicken breasts wrapped in plastic and disassociated with any other part of the chicken. It was nice to see whole chickens that were not overly injected with hormones and steroids, which is stereotypical of chickens in the United States.
Cultural values are different. In China I’m noticing it is important to have easy access to meat products that are in “whole” states. The Walmart in Shanghai caters to the need (or at least what I perceive as a cultural need) of the Chinese population to see meat in its original state (or as close to it as possible). As a global company, Walmart varies what it sells and how it sells food stuffs for the country in question. What my experience in the Wu Jiao Chang Walmart taught me is that I do not know where my chicken comes from, nor do I have a thorough understanding of what meat produce looks like before it is disassembled and placed in pretty packaging. The United States could learn a thing or two about food display techniques from China, however the sanitary rules most likely won’t allow for stark changes anytime soon.