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Michigan Citizen: Whole Foods, access and food justice

Whole Foods, access and food justice
Published • Sun, Aug 07, 2011 – The Michigan Citizen
By Gregg Newsom

It is convenient to this column’s current focus on access that health food giant Whole Foods Market, Inc. recently announced its plan to open a location in Detroit at Mack and John R in 2013. “Whole Paychecks,” as many call it, is well known for their exorbitant prices and for increasing disparity in urban communities. Whole Foods’ intention to join our local food system offers an opportunity to discuss the importance of food access within the larger frame of food justice and take a closer look at their business practices and policies.

The movement toward a just and equitable food system in Detroit has a rich, diverse history and the current expression of food justice is held by many individuals and organizations. One of them, The Food Justice Task Force was seeded two years ago as part of a community response to outside interest in the city’s growing urban agriculture movement. Rather than defer to outside interests, the partners organized and began building relationships and strategies to co-create a just food system in Detroit.

Some argue Detroit, as a regional hub for food distribution with large land parcels for potential farming use, represents a large playing field where differing models of agriculture and development can be explored and evaluated. While the field may be large, with a proposed $4.2 million in tax credits, pricing that makes their food inaccessible to most Detroiters and their role in gentrification, Whole Foods is already playing unfair and unjust.

In cities around the United States, the coordinates where Whole Foods break ground are now signposts of gentrification. The chain peddles foods and products that are considered staples among the so-called “creative class.” Rather than lift up and value longtime Detroiters as resources, the mayor’s office would prefer to import people they perceive as innovators and saviors.

Instead of attempting to mindfully navigate the inevitable challenges and opportunities that arise as Detroit’s demographics shift, many Midtown developers and business owners have read gentrification as an unavoidable natural process at best or, at its most dubious, as a mandate and means to increase property values and move low income residents out of desirable areas.

In addition to supporting gentrification, Whole Foods promotes healthy, green lifestyles. Their shelves and cases are stocked with foods and products framed as solutions to health issues and raise awareness of and support global causes. The reality is they promote a profit driven, homogenized and predominately white image of heath and wellness and stock “feel good” home products that are environmentally friendly in name only.

Admittedly, the grocery stocks some examples of socially conscious products that walk the talk, but many of their packaged foods contain refined sugars, highly processed oils and unregulated additives used to maintain flavor and color. Of course, this phenomenon is not exclusive to Whole Foods, but their name and branding give people the impression that anything they purchase in the store is healthy. So, in addition to pricing their food and vision of health out of the reach of certain people, they mislead their actual customers with that same food and vision of wellness.

In 2009, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey spoke out against national health care in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece. Mackey’s recommendation is that rather than providing national health care, Americans should simply eat at Whole Food. He writes, “Recent scientific and medical evidence shows that a diet consisting of foods that are plant-based, nutrient dense and low-fat will help prevent and often reverse most degenerative diseases that kill us and are expensive to treat.” While proposing a healthy diet as a means of preventative or alternative self-care, Whole Foods’ prices render that care inaccessible.

Even with the above examples of manipulation of food and health access by Whole Foods, the perceived, media-driven “plight” of Detroit makes it challenging to question any proposal with potential to generate revenue, create jobs and increase food options. Detroit’s food system, like the landscape of the city, is changing rapidly at both the grassroots and the corporate level. The principles of food justice, particularly as they pertain to community access to fresh, nutritious, affordable and culturally-rooted food are fundamental in growing a truly sustainable food system in Detroit.

Gregg Newsom is the communications coordinator for the Detroit Food Justice Task Force, a consortium of Black and people of color led organizations and supporters that share a commitment to creating a healthy, sustainable, affordable food security plan for Detroit. For more information, visit

August 8, 2011   No Comments

Action: Support Blair’s Memorial Fund

Angela and I want to express our deepest condolences to the family, friends and the many communities that gathered around Blair. Many of our friends have asked us to post this and we encourage our community to make a donation to the memorial fund set up family and friends to help with the cost of his memorial service. Thank You! ~G

David Alan Blair “Blair”, age 43, born September 19th 1967, passed away Saturday July 23rd. David grew up in Newton, New Jersey but came to call Detroit his adopted home. He is the son of Hildegard Blair and (the late) Herbert Blair.

Blair was an award winning multi-faceted artist: poet, singer-songwriter, writer, performer, musician, community activist and teacher. In the words of Metro Times journalist Melissa Giannini, “Blair focused his work on the hope that rises from the ashes of despair.”

A 2010 Callaloo Fellow and a National Poetry Slam Champion, his first book of poetry, Moonwalking was recently released by Penmanship Books. Blair, as a solo artist, and with The Urban Folk Collective, self-released more than 7 records in the last ten years. His most recent album, The Line, with his band The Boyfriends, was released in 2010 on Repeatable Silence Records.

Throughout his life, Blair performed at venues, large and small, across the nation and around the world. He was nominated for 7 Detroit Music Awards, including a 2007 nod for Outstanding Acoustic Artist. He was named Real Detroit Weekly Readers Poll’s Best Solo Artist and The Metro Times Best Urban Folk Poet. In 2007, he won the Seattle-based BENT Writing Institute Mentor Award. As well as being the recipient of numerous awards, he taught classes and lectured on poetry and music in Detroit Public Schools, The Ruth Ellis Center, Hannan House Senior Center, the YMCA of Detroit, and at various universities, colleges and high schools across the country.

Blair has friends and fans on almost every continent. He will be greatly missed by the loved ones he left all too early. He is survived by his mother, Hildegard (Smith), and his siblings: Herbert Blair of PA, Tony Blair of NJ, Walter Blair of FL and Joy Blair Swinson of NJ. He is also survived by many nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles.

And every raindrop falling from the sky
is like a tribute to the blue skies following behind,
And every raindrop falling to the sea
is like a testament to a new life that will come to be.


His family and friends have set up the David Blair Memorial Fund to help with the costs of his memorial service. You may donate by clicking on the button on the top right corner of this page. Any funds raised beyond these immediate expenses will be used to create a fund in his honor for Detroit artists in need of healthcare.

July 29, 2011   No Comments

Detroit Food Justice Movie Debut and Zine Release

July 26, 2011
Contact: Gregg Newsom
Phone: 313.316.1411
email: gregg@detroitfoodjustice.org


The Detroit Food Justice Task Force to debut COOK EAT TALK: The Movie, release the Just Feed Detroit CookZine and celebrate the local Food Justice Movement
Detroit, July 26, 2011 – The Detroit Food Justice Task Force (http://detroitfoodjustice.org) is excited to host the monthly free Eastern Market Movie Night on Wednesday, August 17 from 7-9pm. The group will screen COOK EAT TALK: The Movie, a film documenting their part in the Detroit Food Justice story and the Cook Eat Talk community sessions offered in the spring of this year. The gathering will also serve to launch the first issue of the Just Feed Detroit CookZine, a collection of recipes, words and images from the local Food Justice Movement. The Task Force will also report on their first year and share stories from a recent visit to Oakland, CA. Copies of the CookZine will be available and light food and refreshments will be offered.

shares the story of the Detroit Food Justice Task Force’s successful Cook Eat Talk community sessions. These sessions, initiated through existing partnerships, are based on permission seeking, mindfulness and respect for our host communities ‘invisible capital’, resources typically disregarded or unseen. The 40 minute documentary is being released in conjunction with the publication of the Just Feed Detroit CookZine, a collage of recipes, images and resources for Food Justice. “We believe that there are people growing food in Detroit, feeding each other, learning how to be healthy without a lot of resources, interested and investing in the local food economy.” shares Task Force Coordinator, Adrienne Maree Brown, “We want to lift that network up, so more and more Detroiters can access and celebrate it.”
The Detroit Food Justice Task Force is a consortium of Black and People of Color led organizations and supporters that share a commitment to creating a food security plan for Detroit that is: sustainable; that provides healthy, affordable foods for all of the city’s people; that is based on best-practices and programs that work; and that is just and equitable in the distribution of food, jobs and economic benefits. The Detroit Food Justice Task Force is made possible with the support of the Kresge Foundation.
Since 2008, neighbors and friends have brought their own lawn and camp chairs to Eastern Market’s Shed 5 to watch a free movie on the third Wednesday of every month. The Market Movie Night series screens films that explore the connections between health, the environment, agriculture, food security, the economy. Every month the movie is selected by a different partner organization who also facilitate open discussions, activities and offer local resources relevant to the films topic.
As a Market Movie Night host, The Detroit Food Justice Task Force will debut COOK EAT TALK: The Movie on Wednesday August 17th 7-9pm in Eastern Market’s Shed 5 on Russell St. at Alfred St. The event is free and parking is available in the lots adjacent to the shed. For more information about the event and the work of the Detroit Food Justice Task Force please visit http://detroitfoodjustice.org
Detroit Food Justice Task Force Partners – Building Movement Project, City of Detroit Planning Commission, Creative Community Pathways, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN) and D-Town Farm, Detroit Evolution and People’s Kitchen Detroit, Capuchin Soup Kitchen’s Earthworks Urban Farm, Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit, Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, Sierra Club – Detroit EJ Project, Mt. Elliott Makerspace, and Oakland University. http://detroitfoodjustice.org

July 26, 2011   No Comments