Serving a need by giving Detroit residents a seat at the table

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With a variety of Detroit-focused research projects, Wayne State’s Anthropology of the City initiative aims to bridge the university and its community, making an urban impact that involves and serves the needs of residents. One such project is “Just Food in Detroit: Groceries, Ethics and Governance in the Resilient City,” led by Department of Anthropology associate professors Yuson Jung, Ph.D., and Andrew Newman, Ph.D.

“Just Food in Detroit” was launched as premium grocery store Whole Foods Market was preparing to debut in Midtown. The arrival of Whole Foods Market as the first national supermarket to return to Detroit following a period of severe capital flight in the 2000s has provoked competing moral claims and practices related to “good” food.

This particular study examines the city’s alternative food movements (e.g., eating local, organics, food justice) and the cultural, political and personal meanings Detroiters associate with food. Using ethnographic research from a wide variety of stakeholders (ranging from grocery shoppers to community activists), Jung and Newman argue that the debate over Detroit’s food access is not only about healthy sources of nutrition, but radically different visions of how a city should be developed and governed.

In discussing the importance of “good” food with Detroiters, Jung and Newman draw out the different ways residents perceive the city’s present, past and possible futures.

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