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Dollar Store Food: Globalization and Economic Inequality

Updated: Oct 13

Discount store food items have emerged as a primary source of groceries for a rising number of marginalized demographics living in highest income countries (HICs).

Students, singles, widowed, the elderly, individuals living in poverty are all at risk to the pitfalls of purchasing small quantity, over-packaged discount store food items.

There are some benefits to the consumer such as they can purchase within their means, enjoy the convenience of reduced transportation to the physical store, and reducing their food waste, however we are now understanding the long and short term concerns.

These products are sometimes produced in countries with agricultural practices such as the use of pesticides which are banned in some regions like the European Union.

Environmentally concerning ingredients such as palm oil are also often used in products sold in dollar stores. A staggering 1,300 square kilometers, or 500 square miles of rainforest has already been cleared since the end of 2015 to make way for the increased production of Palm Oil to meet demand, about the size of Los Angeles.

Concerns are also present in the children's toy aisle. In a press release by, in an alarming consumer product screening report that was released by the Campaign For Healthier Solutions and the Ecology Center Healthy Stuff Lab, regarding the safety of children toys.

The new purchasing pattern is argued to be a result of globalization, and highlights how it has increased economic inequality for vulnerable populations. The manufacturing of dollar store products often occur in countries far away from the point of sale and shipped long distances, contributing to increased ocean traffic, air pollution, and economic inequality.

Marginalized and economically vulnerable consumers in highest income countries, especially in urban areas are at risk of not accessing adequate nutrition within their means. At the same time in the country of manufacturing laborers working to create the products are often at risk to poverty.

Some towns in the United States are pressing more than ever to implement bans on discount and dollar stores to prevent "food deserts", which is when grocery store chains start closing in poor urban neighborhoods as shoppers move towards the discount and away from supermarkets.

Food desert

From a consumers budget perspective, at first glance the price looks good like you are getting a deal but if you add the "value added" markup over five, ten, twenty years it is a big difference from what could have been purchased in bulk, quality and less inflated food products.

Apart from the economic and ingredient concerns, there is also the matter - literal physical matter of plastic which is produced and used to package small serving and single use food products.

The total amount of plastic in the ocean to date is estimated to be 75 trillion pieces, that makes its way back into food systems with devastating effects on humans, plants, animals, and our planet.

Consumers saw extreme rising food prices in 2022 "The price of fruits and vegetables increased by 10.4 percent annually, while milk rose 15.2 percent and eggs soared 30.5 percent.", The Hill.

North American grocery stores are experiencing a decline in shoppers with the rising cost of food, and inflation. So during the boom of online shopping - it's no surprise why consumers have started to look elsewhere but it's not too late to prevent nutrition inequality from worsening.

Wouldn't it make sense to increase domestic consumption and production? Sustainable consumption and production. But maybe that is already happening around the world as citizens become aware of the chemicals in their food, environmental degradation, and the pride of purchasing nationally.

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