MOOC “Sustainable food systems: a Mediterranean perspective”

This is an announcement for a free, on-demand, on-line, course on sustainable food systems. It is an intriguing model for providing certain kinds of education about food (and other things, of course). SAFN readers may find it interesting to follow along. This could also provide a useful tool for student debates in classes you teach. Enroll in the course here.

Sustainable Food Systems: a Mediterranean Perspective

Course Description

The Mediterranean region is one of the most biodiverse in the world, home to a complex and intricate patchwork of cultures, climates, and cuisines. Food systems in the region — represented worldwide by the “Mediterranean diet” — are equally complex, demanding analysis across the political, social, cultural, economic and nutritional spectrums from landscape to table.

The ability of Mediterranean agriculture to sustain its peoples — and the planet — is now threatened by several issues:

  • Unsustainable agriculture production and limited agricultural diversification;
  • Overexploitation of natural resources, including loss of soil fertility and agricultural biodiversity;
  • Water scarcity and poor water management;
  • Limited agricultural diversification;
  • Increasingly poor nutritional value of food products and diets;
  • Food loss and waste; and
  • Decline in food culture and food sovereignty, highlighting the struggle between modernity and tradition.

This course discusses the challenges and opportunities of the agricultural sector in the Mediterranean basin. It summarizes global-to-local challenges related to achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG); outlines the history and culture of agriculture and its main characteristics with a focus on the “Mediterranean diet”; explains agricultural data with a focus on rural development models and value creation; explores EU policy frameworks and international agreements related to food and agriculture in the Mediterranean; and highlights emerging opportunities linked to innovation and sustainability in the sector.

This course is for:

  • Students at the undergraduate or graduate level interested in the main challenges facing the Mediterranean region;
  • Current and future practitioners in the agriculture, food and beverage sectors who wish to gain useful insights about current and future trends and business opportunities; and
  • Policymakers and regional stakeholders who want to deepen their knowledge of agricultural policy, investment, and decisionmaking in the region and globally.

How do we produce more, better quality, and safer food while simultaneously achieving social and environmental goals? Join this course to find out.

Course Structure and Requirements

This course is offered on demand, which means that the content is available in its entirety with no closing date. Students may enroll at anytime, and may complete all content at any time suitable to their schedule. While on demand courses are not monitored by course staff or instructors, we encourage students to share their experiences, questions, and resources with one another using the discussion forum anyway.

Structure: Video lectures, readings, and quizzes

Estimated time commitment: 2 hours per module

Cost: Free

Requirements: An internet connection

Certificates: Students who successfully complete the course will receive a digital certificate of proficiency, signed by the course organizers. In order to successfully complete the course, students must score an average of 70% or higher on the quizzes, all of which are multiple choice. Students who score 85% or higher will receive certificates of proficiency with distinction. Certificates will be distributed within 2 weeks of completing the course.

Credits: While this course is not credit granting, we encourage students to work with their own institutions to explore the option of granting credit for online coursework.


Prologue: Prof. Jeffrey Sachs

Module 1. The Mediterranean challenges around food and agriculture
1.1 Introduction to this MOOC (Prof. Alessio Cavicchi)
1.2 Mediterranean challenges and innovation in food systems (Prof. Angelo Riccaboni)
1.3 Theoretical framework, objectives and course outline (Prof. Alessio Cavicchi)
1.4 Contextualizing the SDGs for the Mediterranean region: what do the SDGs mean for the countries of the Mediterranean? (Prof. Phoebe Koundouri)

Module 2. History of agri-culture in Mediterranean basin and Mediterranean Diet (Prof. Ayman Farid Abou-Hadid)
2.1 The origin of agriculture
2.2 Civilisations
2.3 Middles ages and early modern
2.4 Modern agriculture
2.5 Agriculture and habits of local communities: the origin of the “Mediterranean diet”

Module 3. Poverty alleviation, economic and social rural development 
3.1 Economics of food systems
3.2 Rural development
3.3 Markets and supply chains
3.4 International trade
3.5 Development enhancing investments
3.6 Food governance

Module 4: Fisheries and Aquaculture 
4.1 Our Ocean: A Finite Resource
4.2 Dance of the plankton
4.3 Marine Food Chains
4.4 Fisheries Economics and Management
4.5 Aquaculture and Mariculture
4.6 Sustainable Management of Fisheries
4.7 Summing it up

Module 5. How to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in the Mediterranean – The way forward 
I. Water resources and Fisheries Management (Prof. Maite Aldaya)
5.1 Challenges
5.2 Theoretical chapter
5.3 Successful case studies in Mediterranean

Module 6. How to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in the Mediterranean – The way forward
II. Sustainable farming systems under environmental and climatic constraints
6.1 Challenges (Prof. Riccardo Valentini)
6.1b Challenges at Mediterranean level
6.2 Theoretical chapter (Arbaoui Sarra)
6.3 Successful case studies in Mediterranean (Arbaoui Sarra)

Module 7. How to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in the Mediterranean – The way forward 
III. Food value chain for regional and local development
7.1 Challenges of the Mediterranean food value chains (Prof. Angelo Riccaboni)
7.2 Theoretical chapter (Prof. Stefano Pascucci)
7.3 Successful case studies in Mediterranean (Prof Stefano Pascucci)

Module 8. How to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in the Mediterranean – The way forward
IV. Reducing food waste and enhancing by-product innovations
8.1 Challenges (Prof Ali Abdelaziz)
8.2 Theoretical chapter (Prof Ali Abdelaziz)
8.3 Case studies in Egypt (Prof. Amr Helal)

Module 9. How to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in the Mediterranean –  The way forward 
V. Nutrition and Education
9.1 Challenges (prof. Gabriele Riccardi)
9.2 Theoretical chapter (prof. Gabriele Riccardi)
9.3 Successful Case studies in North Africa and Middle East (Prof. Reema Tayyem)

Module 10. New professional profiles in a Mediterranean context (Dr. Sonia Massari – Gustolab International Food Systems and Sustainability)
10.1 Professional needs to face sustainability issues
10.2 Youth & food: new entrepreneurs in the Med food systems
10.3 Professional profiles in the agrifood sector
10.4 Professional profiles in the “sustainable tourism” sector: food as destination branding driver
10.5 The role of Higher Education Institutions: international cooperation, exchange and mobility
10.6 A job for the future: the “innovation broker”

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A Call for Blog Posts!

A Call for Blog Posts on Certain Timely Themes!
We invite anthropologists of any persuasion to contribute to a dialogue about contemporary cultural issues! The current cultural conversation about the meaning of food, the politics of our supply, the nutritional issues confronting us, and the consequences of a global food trading systems is robust, but how much of it is grounded in the close and fine-grained work to which we are so committed?  Let’s not only join the conversation, let’s help shape it! As a first step, write a blog post about your relevant research or provide a commentary on an issue of relevance for local, state, national or global policy! Let’s make the SAFN blog a ‘go to’ source for many. Abigail Adams ( and Amy Trubek (, the co-editors of the blog are willing to work with you. Send us an idea, a draft, a completed essay! Send us your ideas and we will work with you to develop, write, edit and post a 600-850 word blog post.
Here are 4 themes we would like to see covered in 2018. 
1.     2018 Farm Bill  
Food policy and movements were a charismatic issue over the eight years of the Obama administration. Over those years, policymakers, food justice and security advocates increased funding for farmers markets, urban agriculture, healthy food financing incentives, initiated the Let’s Move campaign, heightened attention and interventions on childhood obesity, and put pressure on prepared foods corporations.
Under another administration, 2018 brings us the next Farm Bill.  Anthropologists of food and nutrition! Weigh in on where food policy and justice is headed–and needs to head–in the coming years. How do anthropology’s qualitative research methodologies, long-term, longitudinal and immersive data-gathering, and ethnographic presentations “matter,” in the post-fact/post-truth moment?
2.     Restaurant work, the labor of commercial food production, #metoo and restaurant culture
Many of the recent media articles about sexual harassment in restaurant kitchens pointed out they have long been masculinist cultural spaces, where a ‘boys will be boys’ mentality was widely accepted. As more and more women become leaders in the industry what happens next? And what about the disjuncture between the idea of an ‘authentic cuisine’ being sold to consumers while the laborers in the kitchens have no real lived experience with it, but rather make such food primarily as a commodity transaction? Many anthropologists are now doing ethnographic research in commercial kitchens. Share your insights!
3.     Archaeologists and food studies
 Archaeologists are doing such innovative work around foodways, food waste, food security and more.  Send us a blog posts on what your work on material culture is uncovering about these topics!
4.     Climate change, food production, food consumption, modeling and behavior change
In many fields allied with anthropology – ecology, nutrition, public health, resource management – there is a growing movement to use mixed-methods to help create descriptive and prescriptive models in order to prevent practices seen to be facilitating climate change. Some recent ideas  – Organize people to embrace a vegan diet; Outlaw the consumption of endangered species and promote the consumption of invasive species; Grow broccoli near cities to improve health outcomes.  What can anthropologists contribute to this combination of research and activism? How can we incorporate the perspectives of the lived experience of people that might be ‘in the way’ of such change? 

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Postdoc Opportunity in Sustainability & Food Security

We have received notification from Katarzyna Dembska, BCFN YES! Coordinator, of the latest edition of their postdoc program in sustainability and food security. This is clearly a great opportunity of interest to SAFN members and FoodAnthropology readers. The announcement:

The Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation launched the seventh edition of BCFN YES! Young Earth Solutions, an international competition for PhD students and postdoctoral researchers under 35, from all over the world and from any educational background.

A maximum of three research grants of € 20,000 will be awarded in favor of innovative research proposals in one or more of the following areas:

  • Sustainable and healthy dietary patterns;
  • Sustainable agriculture;
  • Food security.

The research proposals can be submitted by individual researchers and multidisciplinary teams, until June 14th, 2018. More information on application material is available after registering on competition’s website:

The authors of the ten best research projects will be invited to the International Forum on Food and Nutrition in Milan, on November 27 and 28, 2018. All travel and accommodation expenses will be covered by BCFN. Finalists will have the opportunity to present their projects in front of a panel of experts and the public of the Forum, and in this occasion, the three winning projects will be selected. You can have a look at the 2017 highlights here

The BCFN YES! Research Grant Competition is an ideal opportunity to create a new generation of sustainability experts. All finalists become part of BCFN Alumni, global network that brings together finalists of all the previous editions. The Alumni share resources and experiences, participate in workshops and events, and are in constant dialogue with other institutions to promote food sustainability and the active role of future generations within society.

Questions? Contact Katarzyna Dembska,

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AAA CFP: Time and Power in Agrarian Environments

CFP: AAA 2018

American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, November 14-18, 2018

San Jose, California


Natalia Gutkowski (Harvard University) and Ashawari Chaudhuri (MIT)

Time and Power in Agrarian Environments

Time has emerged as a locus of critical theoretical inquiry in anthropology over the past three decades. Nancy Munn’s influential essay “The Cultural Anthropology of Time” published in 1992 not only circumscribed the production of time as opposed to time as an already established constant, but also opened the floodgates of thinking about time and temporality as seats of power. This panel explores the imbrications and juxtapositions of time in/with agrarian environments. While producing and managing agrarian environments have often been tied with control of spatial and human resources (land, water, labor), in the era of growing social-environmental precarity, agrarian environments are becoming a matter of temporal control as well.  Recent scholarship reflects on the time of uncertainty, anticipation and preparedness that are bound with agro-environmental politics and power in cases such as GMOs, climate modeling, time techniques in land grabs or the state of finitude of resources and species extinction. Horizons of future are, however, one way of formulating relations between time, agriculture, and the environment. Papers can be about the following: How time is read and told among communities of practice, tools of time-reckoning and what remains and what gets submerged in these tellings, seasonality and the constant techno-scientific attempt to push its limits, and rhythm of the market and the state in understanding the past and future of agriculture and environment.

Finally, the panel will explore the multiple uses of time as a technique of power and social control in agrarian environments. We ask, how can we better understand political processes and power relations in the agrarian environments when time is added to our analysis? How does it change a social dynamic when we understand the different temporal imaginaries that various actors hold? What, if anything, can be learned anew about agrarian environments through a focus on their temporalities? 

Please send abstracts (250 words max) to both Natalia Gutkowski ( and Ashawari Chaudhuri ( by the end of the day on Tuesday, April 3. Please include your name, affiliation, title of paper, and email.

We will notify authors by Sunday, April 8. Session participants must be registered AAA members and registered for the meeting by April 16.

Dr. Natalia Gutkowski, PhD | Environmental Anthropology

Academy scholar| Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies| Harvard University

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Christine Wilson Award Submissions Due on July 27, 2018

The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN) is pleased to invite students to submit papers in competition for the Christine Wilson Awards presented to outstanding undergraduate and graduate student research papers that examine topics within the perspectives in nutrition, food studies and anthropology.

Papers may report on research undertaken in whole or in part by the author. Co–authored work is acceptable, provided that submitting student is first author. Papers must have as their primary focus an anthropological approach to the study of food and/or nutrition and must present original, empirical research; literature reviews are not eligible. Papers that propose a new conceptual framework or outline novel research designs or methodological approaches are especially welcome. Winners will be recognized and presented with an award at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association and receive a year’s membership in SAFN. Continue reading

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2 More CFP’s: Estrangement & Belong in Global Agriculture and Anthropological Contributions to Theories of Change

Here are two more CFP’s for the upcoming #AmAnth2018 conference in November focusing on food. If you have a CFP you would like on our website, feel free to email me at Don’t forget the AAA submission portal will close at 3 pm Eastern on April 16. Please note that the portal will not allow new submissions after 2 pm Eastern, so be sure to start one before the deadline.

Foreignization, Farmland, and Food: Estrangement and Belonging in Global Agriculture

CFP: 2018 American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting

Serena Stein, Princeton University

Andrew Ofstehage, UNC-Chapel Hill

Keywords: agribusiness, food commodities, land grabs, migrant labor, belonging

This panel questions the meanings of estrangement in agribusiness, with respect to i) foreign investments and ‘land grabs’, ii) migrant labor and xenophobia, as well as iii) ecological alienation.

We bring together papers, with preference for those drawing on empirical research in the Global South, that consider how flows of people, capital, and crops generate anxieties, assemblages, and intimacies. We especially welcome papers that address how these flows create new local vernaculars of alterity of relatedness.

The farm, as a multispecies relational space, traverses boundaries of received categories such as culture, nation, race and kinship. Contemporary agribusiness relies on mobile participants in the global political economy who symbolize the cosmopolitan strivings of modern nations (Ong 1999). The plantation-ization of the farm assembles disparate plants, people, technologies, and animals to take advantage of climatic, financial, genetic, and cultural differences. Farms are locations for the production of alternative forms of belonging and fixity, in which intimate relations based on care and shared interests are in formation, as well as superseding the more problematic issues of belonging proffered by state ideologies. Thus, in the Plantationocene (Haraway 2015) processes of estrangement and familiarization work alongside each other to sever social and material relations and realities while generating novel ones.

The past decade has seen a growing interest and concern for global farmland investments in the Global South. National governments in Africa and South America have sought to curb these so-called land grabs by framing land deals with foreigners as dangers to national sovereignty (Fairbairn 2015). Several governments have passed laws to limit foreign acquisitions of farm land, capping foreign ownership and mandating majority-ownership by nationals. Brazilian critics of large land acquisitions frame land grabs as estrangerização, or ‘foreignization’ to differentiate it from the home-grown variety of land grabbing, known as grilagem.

However, this perspective also overlooks complexity in types of actors drawn to Brazilian land and flows of capital (Sauer and Leite 2012). The most recent wave of land grabs shows that the ‘foreign threat’ received disproportionate international media coverage to actual land investments. For example, Chinese government-backed farmland investments in Brazil, Mozambique and elsewhere were met with opposition from national legislatures and social movements, though they never materialized in real land use change. Furthermore, of the large-scale acquisitions that did take place, most of the leading actors are not easily identified by any single national origin. Further, in China and Brazil land use change is driven as much by Brazilian migrants from southern Brazil as foreign buyers, blurring the significance of foreign capital and actors (Borras et al. 2018). ‘Foreignness’ is a deeply inadequate basis upon which to conceptualize land deals, as land comes under the control of capital whose national affiliation is either unstable, multiple, non-transparent or simply designed to ensure preferential tax treatment. This also introduces important contrasts between ostensible and occult ownership (Oliveira 2018).

We look for papers that contradict portrayals of a generic ‘farm’ and highlight particular connections that exists in the midst of other tensions. We welcome papers that challenge existing frames of ‘foreignization,” not limited to the following themes:

  • Racial and ethnic formations of foreignization of farming
  • Generativity of plantation-style farms and foreign-owned farms
  • Personhood in transnational agriculture
  • Financialization and capitalization of agriculture
  • Migration and mobility of farm workers and farm owners
  • Transnational land deals
  • Internationalization of farming, farmers, and farm work
  • Global lives of plants, seeds, labor, and animals

Please send abstracts (250 words max) with paper title and presenter information to Serena Stein ( and Andrew Ofstehage ( by Friday, April 6. We will notify selected participants by Monday, April 9. Session participants must be registered AAA members and registered for the meeting by April 16.


Borras Jr., Saturnino M., Juan Liu, Zhen Hu, et al.  2018. Land Control and Crop Booms inside China: Implications for How We Think about the Global Land Rush. Globalizations 15(1): 134–151.

Fairbairn, Madeleine 2014 “Like Gold with Yield”: Evolving Intersections between Farmland and Finance. Journal of Peasant Studies 41(5): 777–795.

Haraway, Donna. 2015. “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin.” Environmental Humanities 6 (1): 159–65.

Oliveira, Gustavo. 2018 Chinese Land Grabs in Brazil: Sinophobia and Foreign Investments in Brazilian Soybean Agribusiness. Globalizations 15(1): 114-133.

Ong, Aiwa. 1999 Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality. Durham: Duke University Press.

Sauer, Sérgio, and Sergio Pereira Leite. 2012 Agrarian Structure, Foreign Investment in Land, and Land Prices in Brazil. Journal of Peasant Studies 39(3-4): 873–898.

Eating Away at Food System Problems:

Anthropological Contributions to Theories of Change

The Anthropocene is at a precipice. Human civilization’s current path of immense resource extraction, mass consumption, and waste generation is harming human and environmental health, and threatening the very survival of the species, and maybe the planet itself. Food is central to the problem since, globally, agriculture emits more greenhouse gases than transport and, annually, more people die from diet-linked chronic diseases than from all infectious afflictions, road accidents, and crime, war, and terrorist acts, combined. We need change on a large scale, and we need it fast.

Anthropology has amassed a rich record of primary data on and critical analyses of the drivers of eating (Mintz & DuBois 2002; Farb & Armelagos 1980) and farming (Netting 1993; Barlett 1980, 1989) practices in hundreds of cultures and groups. Yet, it trails behind other prominent disciplines, like psychology and economics, in building cohesive, evidence driven, and actionable theories of change. Historically, this lag is well-reasoned due to hesitations to repeat the mistakes of the past when some anthropological work served colonial and neocolonial racist projects (Lewis 1973). Yet, careful, respectful, and well-founded anthropological interventions that proceed with an eye on social justice (Bradley & Herrera 2016) are desperately needed to help heal human bodies and our natural communities.

In fitting with this year’s AAA meeting theme of Change in the Anthropological Imagination: Resilience, Resistance, and Adaptation, this session seeks papers from researchers who are laboring to distill anthropology’s insights into workable proposals for fostering individuals, communities, and societies to move towards greater food system sustainability (Holt-Gimenez 2011). It is the goal of this panel to generate discussion about how anthropology can theoretically contribute to reversing global ill health and promoting resilience in the face of global environmental change.

Whether their work intersects consumption and production, health and environmental sustainability, and/or conventional and alternative food networks, panelists are encouraged to draw out the theories of change that are the logical implications of their work, especially the links between individual, household, and community behavior change—whether manifested on the farm or on the plate—and food systems transformations. Possible paper topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Implications from individual consumer or farmer narratives of personal change towards seeking to consume or produce healthier, more sustainable, and more ethical foods;
  • Ethnographic lessons from case studies of institutions that have achieved cultural and material changes in food purchasing or production practices;
  • Theoretical inferences drawn out of anthropologically informed, community-focused chronic disease prevention interventions that consistently lead to measurable positive results in the intersections of local eating and farming practices;
  • Theories of change derived from anthropological analyses of major food business changes and the social, ideological, and material bases that underpin them;
  • Syntheses of anthropological work on historical drivers of change in eating or farming practices and how positive, widespread, systemic transformations can be achieved in the future.

Due Date: If you would like to present on the panel, please send a 250-word abstract including title of paper, and author’s affiliation to Ioulia Fenton at by FridayApril 6, 2018Accepted presenters will be notified by April 12, 2018 in order to comply with the April 16 deadline for complete panel proposals. AAA guidelines and meeting information can be found HERE.

Session Organizer: Ioulia Fenton (Emory University)


Barlett, Peggy F. (1980) Adaptive Strategies in Peasant Agricultural Production. Annual Review of Anthropology, 9, 545-573.

Barlett, Peggy F. (1989) Industrial Agriculture. In Economic Anthropology. Stuart Plattner, ed. pp. 253-291. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Bradley, Katharine & Herrera, Hank (2016) Decolonizing Food Justice: Naming, Resisting, and Researching Colonizing Forces in the Movement, Antipode, 48:1, 97-114.

Farb, Peter & Armelagos, George (1980) Consuming Passions: The Anthropology of Eating, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Holt-Gimenez, Eric, ed. (2011) Food Movements Unite! Strategies to Transform our Food System.Oakland, CA: Food First Books.

Lewis, Diane (1973) Anthropology and Colonialism, Current Anthropology, 14:5, 581-602.

Mintz, Sidney W. & Dubois, Christine M. (2002) The Anthropology of Food and Eating, Annual Reviews of Anthropology, 31, 91-119.

Netting, Robert M.C.C. (1993) Smallholders, Householders: Farm Families and the Ecology of Intensive, Sustainable Agriculture, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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Race, Food, and Rebellion: Detroit’s History and Conflicts over Food Access

By Alex B. Hill


In the City of Detroit there is a history of unequal access to quality grocery stores and discriminatory treatment while shopping. Many Detroiters continue to hold perceptions of poor quality food and discriminatory treatment in local Detroit stores based on decades of experience. Two of my recent articles address the impact of labeling Detroit a “food desert” and engage consumers in their own experiences and perceptions around food access.

The “food desert” label has been both accepted and refuted in Detroit. The majority of academic researchers lean towards labeling Detroit as a food desert; however, many have come to that conclusion without adequate assessment of community perceptions of food access or historic barriers to buying food in the city. Access is a key word when talking about food, culture, and place and is where many researchers simply tally the number of stores and measure the distance of people to those stores. However, just because a grocery store is close by doesn’t mean that people want to shop there or are treated well when shopping.

In the article, “Critical inquiry into Detroit’s ‘food desert’ metaphor” I examined how media outlets use “food desert” as a negative label, but local food advocates find the label their continuing work to address inequitable access to food in the city.

“Most neighborhoods have a grocery store and people have found ways to adapt to what they have. It’s not good, just, or fair, but they piece together family food needs in many ways. Some people see the term as a personal affront.” – Woman, 51, Local Nonprofit

The article digs into the unequal power relations in media discourse while lifting up the perspectives of local food advocates in the purported “food desert” of Detroit, using Katherine McKittrick’s discussions on the production of black geographies.

“At the beginning it had its role, but now it’s being abused, not abused, but used against Detroit. It’s been blown out of proportion.” – Woman, 33, Local Nonprofit

Community food advocates largely found the negativity of the label overshadowing the important work that they were doing. They noted that the label allowed well-funded nonprofits and media outlets to drive a narrative contradictory to what food advocates were seeing in their communities. Food advocates were seeing grocery stores and community gardens and farmers markets, but what was largely missing was opportunities linked to income, jobs, and education.

Detroit has long been supplied with food by local, independent grocers located in neighborhoods while there have only been a few chain supermarkets to ever exist within the city limits. If you lived in the segregated Black neighborhoods of Detroit, you likely would have relied on black businessmen like Berry Gordy Sr., father of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr. Gordy opened a grocery store to serve the Black community in the 1920s. By 1955, there were 69 supermarkets operated by Kroger, A&P, and other small local suppliers in Detroit. In 1959, Borman Food Stores Inc. bought up smaller chains and expanded to 46 stores in Detroit. In 1966, Borman Food Stores announced the opening of three superstores under the name of Farmer Jack. The following year everything would change.

Detroit, 1967.

In our article “Detroitists: Reflections of Detroit Ethnographers at the Anniversary of the 1967 Rebellionwe explored how civil unrest was fueled by ongoing discrimination in food and retail industries. In interviews with local residents after the riots, the Detroit Urban League and the Detroit Free Press found that 54 percent of Detroiters identified grocery stores as places where they were treated badly more than any other type of establishment. The 1967 Rebellion highlighted the juxtapositions of food, power, and race in a notably black area of the city along Detroit’s 12th street. Robert Ward Jr., who witnessed the disturbance in 1967, recalled that the first business to be looted was a white-owned grocery store, while the black-owned grocery store across the street remained untouched. Discussing the rebellion, Thomas Sugrue wrote,

“Few blacks worked where they shopped. Fewer felt any loyalty to neighborhood stores.”

In group and individual interviews that I conducted across Detroit in 2014, I found that most Detroiters still felt discrimination in grocery stores and wanted to see improved customer service. One Detroiter even noted that he wanted grocers to “treat everybody right.” The majority of participants noted that they established weaving foodways through Detroit and its nearby suburbs to carry out their food shopping with the positive treatment, environment and service that they deserved.

In Detroit, race and food have been intertwined for decades. While the city is far from seeing a present-day “rebellion,” the events of 1967 demonstrate the historical basis for understanding where and how different communities and racial groups in Detroit access food today. These deep racial histories define the current food landscape more than any other factor and provide critical framing for future progress.


Hill, Alex B. “Critical inquiry into Detroit’s “food desert” metaphor.” Food and Foodways 25, no. 3 (2017): 228-246.

Hill, Alex B., and Maya Stovall. “The Detroitists: Reflections of Detroit Ethnographers at the Anniversary of the 1967 Rebellion” Anthropology News 58, no. 4 (2017).

Bio:  Alex B. Hill works to address the impacts of health disparities from chronic diseases through data analysis and community engagement strategies. His personal research is focused on food access, health disparities, and racial justice. Alex’s projects and research focus on the need for greater community involvement at all levels and specifically highlight the intersections of power, privilege, and race.

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