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Detroit’s food landscape: Building change for generations to come

By Myra D. Lee

How is the current food system in Detroit defined? Is it progressive, evolving or innovative? Does the Detroit food landscape show humility to both laborer and consumer?

Where do shoppers spend their dollar for groceries and why? Do they use their power of influence as a consumer? If so, when? Do they know their local farmer? Does Detroit’s food system exemplify resident ownership and support for quality of life for all human beings? Do food retailers show dignity and respectful interaction with their patrons and provide effort in facility up-keep that revolves around best sanitation practices? Do owners of these facilities mirror the reflection of those who live in the community?

How would you define community outsider? When you close your eyes and picture the following generations that have and will come, what type of food do you see them eating at home, school and in stores? What does food justice mean to you? What about food quality?

These questions must be asked in order to reach the nucleus of Detroit’s food system challenges.

The value of quality, affordable and accessible fresh food for all is more than an attractive concept. It is necessary in order to foster and nurture a community design-based food system.

The more individuals begin to play a habitual role in analyzing Detroit’s food system, the more we as a community will begin to birth a consciousness to understand why we support the very paradigms that preserve health disparities in Black and low-income areas. We need to reverse this institutional commonality and change it so that one day diseases such as childhood obesity and diabetes will be rarities across vast branches of the Black race. Food is the most effective form of medicine and yet the most destructive.

Detroit residents need to arm their minds with information and facts about how their food is being grown, processed and where it is intentionally distributed.

Protect your children’s health and advocate for healthy fresh produce to be provided in school menus and join an organic buying club or start a Food Co-op. Those who find it financially challenging to eat healthy on a budget, take advantage of the Double-Up food Bucks Program at local farmer’s markets. When a person is eligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) uses his or her SNAP Bridge Card to shop for food at a farmers’ market, the amount of money that he or she spends is matched with Double-Up Food Bucks bonus tokens. The tokens can then be exchanged for Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables and can earn up to $20 per market day in credits. Parents and guardians must be the most aware to create a fresh food-literate culture that is passed on to their children’s children. Grocers sell what is in demand and it is important to know how to use that power as the consumer to influence what is placed on those store shelves.

We must begin to shake hands with our local farmers and support businesses that value buying produce from local farmers. We must speak truth to power and understand that the battle to fight for what was rightfully earned by our ancestors enforced labor, raping of our culture and bloodshed continues on with each land grab that is approved and leased. It is necessary to pay attention to the misinformation provided in corporate media and the business elite that intentionally prevent our right to land ownership and to learn and study the language and write policy against the literary barricades of progressive momentum toward Detroit resident land ownership.

There is not a shortage of fresh produce, but a limited food access infrastructure. So who will build these direct routes to urban grocery stores in underserved communities? Who will grow the organic, GMO-free produce and manage developing community kitchen cooperatives? Detroit, we must work together and fill these positions to build change for the generations to come.

Myra D. Lee is the director of Sustainable Communities and Healthy Food Access for the Church of the Messiah Housing Corporation and a member of the Detroit Food Policy Council.

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