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By Local Food System, they mean a food system which benefits those with racial and class privilege in West Michigan

January 7, 2019

Last Friday, MLive posted an article headlined, West Michigan’s regional food system the focus of new Culinary Conversations

The article focuses on the new “community conversations” that the Downtown Market will offer beginning this month. Mimi Fritz, the president and CEO of the Downtown Market is quoted as saying:

Feeding and nourishing our community is the core function of our food system and connecting food innovators with experts will help us build a healthy ecosystem. A healthy local food system is an excellent economic indicator — and West Michigan is on the right track to becoming self-sufficient to feed everyone who makes this place their home.

First of all, it should be noted that the Downtown Market is part of a food system that is unjust, unsustainable and caters to the desires of primarily white, upper class people. Therefore, if people from the Downtown Market are talking about a local food system, then it is important to point out that what they mean is a food system based on making a profit, a food system that ignores how workers are exploited in the process and a food system that necessitates that food charity be the solution for those living in poverty.

Second, these community conversations that the Downtown Market will host are designed to bring people together who share their vision of local food, not so much to assess and improve a local food system.

Third, the Downtown Market CEO doesn’t seem to understand that what it means to be self-sufficient in terms of a food system. The head of the Downtown Market fails to acknowledge that the current food system for West Michigan heavily relies on massive farm subsidies (as does the rest of the country) through the Farm Bill. In addition, the current food system is not self-sufficient, since they are a great many food items consumed in this market that come from outside of the state and outside the country. A food system is never self-sufficient if it relies on food that has to travel more than a thousands miles before it is consumed.

Lastly, the very fact that these local food conversations are co-sponsored by Start Garden, just underscores the point that the focus will be on food as commodities for profit and niche markets that benefit those with privilege.

In contrast to what the Downtown Market will be hosting, I suggest that people read The Grand Rapids Local Food Discussion through a Food Justice Lens, which was written after an urban grower critiqued the Downtown Market, plus a post we wrote a few years ago entitled, Community organizing as points of intervention in the Food System: A Grand Rapids perspective.

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