A coalition of University organizations examined inequalities in the food industry during a food justice panel Tuesday night.
The discussion, which served as a part of the University’s Martin Luther King Jr. symposium, featured remarks from representatives with various campus organizations on current racial injustices within the food industry, as well as a brainstorm on innovative ways to solve them.
The discussion was hosted by several organizations, including the Food Access in Michigan Project, the Residential College and the Michigan Community Scholars Program. Student Food Co., a group that aims to provide students with affordable produce, both helped organize the discussion and offered free produce to audience members.
The discussion featured several speakers who represent leaders and members of food-themed organizations within the Ann Arbor and greater Detroit areas.
During the event, panelist Shane Bernardo, a representative from the Earthworks Urban Farm in Detroit, told attendees that historical, institutionalized racism is the main reason for the racial inequities within the food industry.
According to Bernardo, policies like redlining — a practice used by some banks to deny credit for individuals living in urban areas — have created current inequities in the food supply by dictating who could get credit based on where they live within cities like Detroit.
“This is legal segregation,” Bernardo said. “This is what it looks like.”
Another panelist, Mama Hanifa Adjuman, who is the Education and Outreach Director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, said the city of Detroit doesn’t need missionaries, but rather needs allies.
While working with DBCFSN, Adjuman said the organization noticed a new phenomenon in the city of Detroit: Young, suburban white people were coming to the city to teach members of the Black community how to garden.
“To come into the city and begin to garden was not the issue, it wasn’t even the problem,” Adjuman said. “To disrespect the traditions, to disrespect the residents in the city of Detroit — residents who have for thousands of years been engaged with agriculture — was the problem.”
Adjuman said the most effective movements happen organically by the people who will be most affected by the decisions.
“This is a grassroots community organization that came out of the people in Detroit — the Black community in Detroit, first identifying a very real problem and then coming together collectively to create a solution to that problem,” she said.
Panelists Whitney Smith and Montana Stevenson, both graduate students in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, focused their presentation on the Ypsilanti food system.
Their research examined food accessibility for impoverished areas of Ypsilanti by examining the public transportation system to those areas of the city.
Smith and Stevenson first identified where residents in or near Ypsilanti could buy food, including both traditional food stores as well as pharmacies, farmers markets and food banks.
Their results concluded that some of Ypsilanti’s most impoverished areas do not have access to bus lines, and therefore don’t have access to affordable and nutritious food.
“Access is still a critical part of food justice, and it is very important to this conversation,” Smith said.
Panelist Carla Dhillon discussed what she described as the unjust appropriation of native communities’ food systems through government treaties, highlighting how colonists arrived in the United States and erased native people and their culture and have therefore greatly altered their food systems.
She also said native food systems, such as sacred wild rice, have become more difficult to cultivate since native populations have been relocated to reservations.
“The many ways that settler America disrupts collective food relations represent forms of food injustice,” Dhillon said.
LSA senior Claire Roos, who was also one of the event’s organizers, said the event was created to recognize that while food sustainability is an often-discussed topic, food justice is not.
“Oftentimes we forget to address the social justice side,” Roos said. “You can’t have sustainable food without social justice.”
Business junior Courtney Maliszewski, who attended the event, said it particularly interested her because of current health and nutrition concerns addressed in the media in Flint and Detroit.
“I really took away how it affects so many different groups,” Maliszewski said. “And I definitely think that is something more people need to be aware of.”