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Deconstructing the Jill Biden visit to Grand Rapids: Election Stenography, Food Insecurity and Kids Food Basket

September 18, 2020

On Tuesday, the wife of Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden, Jill Biden was in Grand Rapids. As expected, the dominant news media reported on Biden’s visit, but we’ll limit our critique to what MLive had to say.

There are many things to deconstruct from the MLive article, which is symptomatic of how most journalism is created, where those in power are rarely questioned for the claims they make.Too often, journalism mimics stenography, where reporters just document what was said, but don’t verify claims that are made.

The first section of the MLive article, which is headlined, Jill Biden focuses on veterans issues, food insecurity in West Michigan campaign swing, communicates broad election elements, with little substance. Joining Jill Biden was Hillary Scholten, who is running for the 3rd Congressional District seat against Peter Meijer. MLive states:

Scholten said Joe Biden has dedicated his life to service and is running at a crucial time “to restore, civility, humanity and empathy to our national leadership.” Scholten said her campaign’s internal polls show Biden leading by 5 percentage points in Michigan’s 3rd District.

“I think the main topic of conversation is the disparities that have been broken wide open because of this pandemic,” Scholten said. “People aren’t so much focused on national politics as they are on everyday kitchen table issues. I think the importance of an event really highlights it.”

While is is possible that Scholten provided more details, the comments from the 3rd Congressional Democratic candidate are vague. What disparities have been broken wide open because of the pandemic, an what kitchen table issues is Scholten referring to? These are not idol questions, but deeply relevant to what matters. The pandemic has indeed expose disparities in our society, but what is the candidate proposing as a response to the social and economic disparities that exist?

If we look at Scholten’s platform, we can make some determinations about how or if she will address these disparities. Under Health Care, she does not endorse Medicare for All, rather she plans on defending the Affordable Health Care Act, which is woefully inadequate. In fact, most of the policy positions on Scholten’s campaign page are vague and moderate, with none of them addressing the disparities exposed by the pandemic.

Another instructive component about the MLive article was the fact that Jill Biden visited the non-profit organization known as Kids Food Basket (KFB). Biden was quoted as saying, “A program like this should be national, it should be in every state to help kids learn about food and healthy meals and help all families with food insecurity.”

Food insecurity is indeed a serious issue, but Kids Food Basket does not address food insecurity, an to suggest that their model should be replicated across the country demonstrates that Jill Biden has no idea of what the root causes of food insecurity are.

KFB, in many ways, is a perfect example of what’s wrong with the Non-Profit Industrial Complex:

  • KFB has grown exponentially over the years to provide more food aid to children, but they have failed to address the root causes of why there are so many children that are food insecure in West Michigan – poverty, low wage jobs, systemic racism, growing wealth gap, etc.
  • KFB has the support of local corporations, such as Amway, Meijer and Spartan Stores, specifically because they do not challenge economic centers of power.
  • KFB is the darling of the professional class, which provides countless volunteers to help them make sack lunches, without questioning how this alleviates food insecurity.
  • KFB is a charity organization that gets lots of accolades, since the organization does not challenge systems of power and oppression.
  • KFB provides a false solution to the issues of hunger and food insecurity.
  • KFB provides a great opportunity for those who want to advance in the non-profit world, provided they do not question what is being done.
  • KFB is recipient of millions in local philanthropy, precisely because they provide a false solution to a systemic problem in this community.

Over the years, I have been contacted by numerous people who have previously worker for KFB. Those of have contacted me have done so, only if I agree to not share their identities. Several people who have formerly worked for KFB fear that if they speak out publicly, they will ruin any chances of finding work in West Michigan, particularly in the non-profit sector.

The Biden campaign chose to go to KFB because they see it as good optics, particularly to white moderate voters who don ‘t want to be bothered by the movements calling for racial and economic justice. It’s great for an organization like KFB to get such praise from people like Jill Biden, but there are lots of people who are not buying into the idea that KFB actually fights against hunger in West Michigan.

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