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Detroit’s food justice and food systems

Numerous studies have been conducted on the accessibility of healthful food in poor urban areas. Many of these use the presence of supermarkets and large grocery stores as the sole indicator of access to nutritious food. In contrast, corner stores, mini marts, gas stations, liquor stores, and fast food restaurants are identified as sources of unhealthful food. Previous food access studies conducted in Detroit have often focused on determining distance to food sources. In this article, we identify critical shortcomings of the traditional approach to studying food access, and argue for a more systematic process. We use this approach to assess food accessibility in Detroit, with a focus on three questions: (1) What kinds of food outlets are available to residents within the city? (2) What is the nature of the Detroit food environment and how does it vary by the racial composition and population of neighborhoods? and (3) How do citizendriven initiatives shape the food landscape? Detroit is an important food system to study, as it has been in the center of research and policy discussions about food access for more than a decade. It has been a part of a debate over whether “food desert” is the appropriate term to describe areas that have limited or no access to supermarkets, and whether depopulated and deinstitutionalized inner-city areas can attract and retain full-line grocery stores. Detroit is also a city with vibrant food movements centered around issues of healthful food and social justice, which further enhances its utility as a model food system.


Food & Nutrition, Food Assistance, Food Insecurity, Neighborhood Effects, Place, Spatial Mismatch