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Can Whole Foods Coexist with the Homegrown Food Movement?

Some worry a new Whole Foods might damage the gains of Detroit's burgeoning food movement.

Photo Credit: Pincasso/


A new Whole Foods recently broke ground in Detroit, but not everyone is excited. 

Over the years my relationship with Whole Foods has evolved, along with my understanding of food justice and community. I shopped at Whole Foods seven years ago when I lived in Brooklyn, and when I lived in Oakland three years ago. It has often been a beacon of healthy food options when I am on the road in an unknown place

Yes, it’s too expensive for me, but it was always such a pleasurable experience to walk in, and have all this bright natural food there. I thought everything in the store was automatically healthier than anything I could get outside of the store.

Mind you, I wasn’t into food justice or even personal food health then. I didn’t have a dedication to small local health food stores, farmers markets and growers. I didn’t have an intimate relationship with fruits and vegetables. I was so impressed with myself for shopping there, getting overpriced salads and frozen quiche and veggie entrees, sliced salami at the deli, looking tenderly at the produce area on my way to check out.

I learn through relationships, and I didn't have regular relationships with a lot of urban gardening folks, at least not with the young white folks who appeared to be the main folks in it. 

But that all changed. My food justice analysis developed through political work with Common Fire , Movement Generation and the Ruckus Society , and on a personal level, from knowing Bryant Terry , and watching my sister Autumn get into growing and canning foods and facilitating food justice work. Through relationship with people from a lot of backgrounds, including white folks, I came into awareness around key pieces of food justice. 

One was that it isn’t necessarily about the “organic” nature of the food that goes into my body, but about how whole and fresh and local that food is. A lot of the foods I was getting in Whole Foods weren’t whole at all, but highly processed and from thousands of miles away. I had to develop a much deeper and closer relationship to food.

I also learned that small local health food stores are impacted by big chain stores like Whole Foods. This, just like every other space where I spend money, was a place to align myself with justice. 

Around this time I started coming to Detroit to facilitate social justice work. 

I went on one of Detroit-based rapper/organizer Invincible's famous tours of the city, where she lifts up the curtain of ruin and blight to show a beautiful fertile land full of brilliant philosophers and radical creators and growers. 

Here, I met people who were the living embodiment of food justice. They blew wide open my idea of what food justice looked like, felt like. I wanted to be them when I grew up, or at least eat like them. And compost. And garden. And create sustenance from scratch and scraps.

I met elder/philosopher Grace Lee Boggs , who told me about the Gardening Angels, elderly black Detroiters who had seeded an urban gardening movement in response to the economic crisis of the '80s.

I heard Malik Yakini, of the Detroit Black Food Security Network , speak about the ancestral legacy of growing our own food as a way of growing our communities. 

I met Myrtle and Wayne Thompson, who created Feedom Freedom Farm, where they bring black youth into an ongoing political education conversation that happens in the context of growing and harvesting delicious local food.

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