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Covid-19 Sheds a Light on Food Insecurity in the Detroit Community

DETROIT - A group of Detroit Community Leaders met to discuss how food insecurity in Detroit may have aided in the spread of Covid-19. The panel consisted of farmers, gardeners, community leaders, pastors and a Medical Doctor. The zoom meeting was live streamed on Facebook.

The discussion focused on how education, local and federal policy, food deserts, poverty, and cultural stigmas against farming led to food insecurity in Detroit. Living in Detroit during the pandemic sheds a light on the lack of readily available resources.

Elder Leslie Matthews, Michigan United Clergy Organizer, opened the meeting by discussing how much harder it is to access food in Detroit now than it was when she was a child. Even Eastern Market is selling expensive boutique foods instead of nourishing foods for local residents. “Whoever is in charge of food is in charge of power,” Matthews said.

Local Farmer, Melanie McElroy highlighted that a lot of our food was being imported. She asks, “Why is our meat coming from China in the first place?” McElroy said that family farms have gone out of business to make room for developers.

Dr. Margaret Betts, Sinai- Grace Detroit, discussed the need for getting vegetable based protein and water and how most diseases are related to what people eat. Someone who is malnourished, diabetic or suffering from hypertension is more likely to be vulnerable to complications from Covid-19. Dr. Betts stressed that educating her patients to eat a healthier plant based diet was crucial in their long term health.

Alicia Candi Wallace Franklin, a licensed master gardener at CWO Farms, said “the best way to resolve the issue was to teach people how to plant their own gardens and grow their own vegetables.” Her goal is to empower local Detroit residents to grow their own produce.

“All around the world we see people moving from rural to urban communities. There is this almost universal feeling that someone in a city is more sophisticated, smarter, or has more value than someone living and working the land,” Malik Yakani, Executive Director of Detroit Black Community Food Security Network said. “Especially in the black community where we are rooted in a history or being enslaved to work the land. We seem to only be able to view farming from that lens. We don’t see farming as a high value profession.” Yakani advocated for eating locally grown nutritional food. In addition to the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, Yakani is promoting the Detroit People’s Co-op. This is a community owned grocery store. Unlike chain grocery stores, a Co-Op is owned and operated by its members.

When someone lives somewhere that is already considered a food desert (an area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food) and the United States has stopped importing food because of the pandemic, people are more vulnerable to food insecurity than ever before. Feeding America, a leading non-profit who fights food insecurity in the US, reports that prior to Covid-19 the rate of Food Insecurity in Wayne County was 17.3% and projects that it is now 22%.

Jamii Tata, Firehouse Garden, is shaping young people by bringing them to the grocery store and teaching them how to shop. “I work with so many young men who are going to the grocery store at the first time at the age of 30,” Tata said. “I think it is important for them to learn how far the dollar will stretch. Once you learn how to grow your own food it allows you to become an entrepreneur.”

Dr. Betts responded, “A person’s taste in food is developed by the age of 15.” She stressed, “We need to drastically change the way we think about food.”

Yakini added, “...while we’re building a resilient local food system we need to be fighting poverty on every level.”

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