All right, I've seen this passed around over the last couple weeks, and my tongue can't sit still: GOOD Magazine published an article earlier this month last January (what's up with the weird revival of this piece in multiple circles of my life?!) about Detroit called "Forget Urban Farms. We Need a Wal-Mart." First of all, if any fact-checkers had done their job, the article's thesis would've been nullified at the outset: writer Richard C. Longworth perpetuates the myth that there are no food markets in Detroit. Indeed, part of the reason that urban farming has flourished here is because of the need for more diverse sources of fresh foods in the city. But the fact that there are few supermarket chains in the city does not equate into there being no markets at all. Longworth's intrepid reporting must have overlooked Honeybee La Colmena, the 43-acre Eastern Market, University Foods, Goodwells Natural Foods, Peaches & Greens, Mike's Fresh Market, Spartan Stores, La Fiesta, the Aldi over on Gratiot. For whatever it's worth, there is also a new Whole Foods opening soon in Midtown, which Longworth also neglects to mention.
Shame. Because whether Longworth overlooked the existing local, homegrown markets that distribute fresh foods across the city, or if he just wrote this article based on what he heard someone once say about Detroit, his thesis about our city being a "food desert" in desperate need of a Wal-Mart is undercut at the outset. Alas, he uses the myth to argue that Detroit should invite Wal-Mart into the city rent-free "but only if it committed to staying for, say, 10 years and to running nutrition classes for local residents." Setting aside unethical business and labor practices at Wal-Mart, it's tremendous that Longworth thinks those of us living in Detroit need Wal-Mart to teach us how to eat. Wal-Mart! Its slogan is "Save money. Live better." How does that qualify it to teach nutrition for local residents? Maybe if Longworth weren't so snide about "raising your own rutabagas in vacant lots" and realized that the city that has organically (ahem) developed one of the largest network of urban farms in the world -- presenting a significant and substantial alternative to traditional food systems -- might already know a thing or two about healthful food. Urban farmers should be teaching Wal-Mart, not the other way around. Independent food markets should be celebrated and supported, not erased.
Look, I live here. I'm all about more sources of healthful, local produce in Detroit, or anywhere. But by mistaking the lack of big-box chain supermarkets with a lack of *any* kind of market or food distribution perpetuates a sloppy, annoying, and pervasive myth about Detroit. It's incredibly irritating that GOOD Magazine's "reporting" on behalf of Detroit ignores homegrown markets and wishes a damn Wal-Mart to come and feed us.
Before I get myself even more worked up, check out the excellent and much more thorough response to GOOD from James Griffioen, the author of the marvelous Sweet Juniper blog. His post got picked up everywhere from BoingBoing to The Atlantic. He writes, in part:
Richard C. Longworth (senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and former Distinguished Visiting Scholar at DePaul University) writes in Good Magazine: “This seems incredible—a city of nearly 1 million people without a supermarket—but it’s true. No A&P. No Meijer’s. Not even a Wal-Mart. Any Detroiters who want fresh store-bought fruits and vegetables or wrapped meats have to get in their car and drive to the suburbs. That is, if they have a car.”
I’m tired of being nice about this. That is such utter and total bullshit.
I know the traditional media is suffering. Reporters are overworked and underpaid. Scholars like Mr. Longworth, too, might not have the research assistants they once enjoyed, but I would certainly expect anyone who makes an unequivocal statement like Detroit “is a city of nearly 1 million people without a supermarket” to at least have done a 4-second google search to confirm it (six seconds, I guess, if google isn’t your homepage). In four seconds, here’s what I found:
Each of those orange dots is a supermarket, not a liquor or discount store. ...
About the Image: Tomatoes I grew in my plot at the North Cass Community Garden.