Detroit has long been noted for the difficulties its residents face with basic food provisioning, but after an extended absence, national chain grocery stores are now returning to the city. Whole Foods Market is the first major national corporate grocer to reopen in the city following a period of disinvestment by the sector as a whole going back to the mid-2000s. As the city moves through a series of dramatic political and economic upheavals defined by fiscal crisis, emergency manager control, and the largest municipal Chapter 9 bankruptcy in U.S. history, food has become a focal point for debates over economic and racial inequalities, and contrasting ideals of urban governance in the city. In this research brief, we describe an ethnographic project that examines how concepts of food justice and ethical food relate to urban governance in Detroit. We seek to explore how Whole Foods Market and Detroiters engaged in shopping and activism articulate “just,” “good,” and “quality” food in ways that imply varying visions of governance for the city, community, and self. We suggest that Detroit's moral economy of food could offer a particularly fruitful venue for understanding divergent visions of the city's future and the relationship between food and politics.
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