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By visiting Kids Food Basket in Grand Rapids, Gov. Whitmer perpetuates food insecurity by normalizing the food charity model

April 2, 2023

The headline from a March 27th MLive article read, Gov. Whitmer prepares meals for West Michigan kids with volunteers to highlight food insecurity. 

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer engaged in a photo op at the non-profit group, Kids Food Basket last Monday. Whitmer posed for the media while she assisted other volunteers to put together bag lunches that go to numerous schools in the Grand Rapids area.

The MLive article states: 

In her proposed $79 billion budget, Whitmer has recommended spending an estimated $160 million from the state’s School Aid Fund so that all Michigan children could get free breakfast and lunch at schools. This would impact 1.4 million children statewide, according to a press release.

Now, I believe that the government, especially the federal and state governments should makes sure that students attending public schools should have access to free meals while they are at school. In fact, providing free meals to Public Schools students should always be part of state and federal budgets.

Having said that, what is problematic about this story is that the MLive reporter doesn’t question the realities of food insecurity in West Michigan. Instead, the MLive story presents information about Kids Food Basket and how many sack lunches they prepared for school age students on a regular basis, along a bit of information about their farm program. At one point in the article, a representative from Kids Food Basket is quoted as saying: 

“Many times, parents and families don’t have enough food to get them through the night and into the next day until they get their (school) breakfast and lunch. So, we provide healthy, nourishing meals because no child deserves to go to bed hungry.”

This is a nice sentiment, but what Kids Food Basket does is to promote a food charity model, not a food justice model. The food charity model provides donations of food to people who are experiencing poverty. A food justice model would first ask the question, “Why are children food insecure, or why are families food insecure,” and then the food justice model would include some sort of action to end food insecurity. Kids Food Basket does not address the root causes of food insecurity, they have instead chosen to continue to expand their operations to provide more sack lunches to students, which might make for good photo opportunities and it might provide business opportunities to donate money or labor, but it also does nothing to address food insecurity. In fact, the food charity model that Kids Food Basket and so many other non-profits embrace, actually perpetuates food insecurity. 

If an organization provides food to families, but never addresses the reasons why these families need food assistance on a regular basis, that is simply a perpetuation of food insecurity. In addition, the students who receive sack lunches from Kids Food Basket are also disproportionately Black and Latino students, which means that besides not address the economic disparities that exist in this area, Kids Food Basket also practices a form of White Saviorism.

Whether knowingly or unknowingly, by coming to Kids Food Basket, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was also complicit in perpetuating food insecurity by endorsing the food charity model, as practiced by Kids Food Basket. Thus, the headline from the MLive article mentioned at the beginning of the blog, Gov. Whitmer prepares meals for West Michigan kids with volunteers to highlight food insecurity, should have read, Gov. Whitmer prepares meals for West Michigan kids with volunteers, thereby perpetuating food insecurity. Then again, journalism practiced by the commercial media doesn’t question injustice, they are too busy being stenographers to power. 

Editor’s Note: For more analysis of the food charity model and Kids Food Basket, check out previous GRIID articles on the topic. For more information on what the food justice model is, check out the GRIID Food Justice Workshop slides.

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