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Posted on Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 9:15 a.m.

Food for thought: Is Whole Foods an answer for Detroit?

By Wayne Baker

1114 Whole Foods Market New York City.jpg
Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week Dr. Baker is discussing food in America.

Detroit—the nation’s Number 1 food desert—will soon have an oasis of good food. Whole Foods, the upscale supermarket, is building a new store in Midtown Detroit. It’s scheduled to open doors in 2013. It will be the first new Detroit supermarket in decades.

How much will it help Detroit and Detroiters?

If you’ve shopped at Whole Foods, you know that the quality and selection are top-notch. Products are also pricey. The Midtown location was chosen because it has the highest family income in the city of Detroit.

The Whole Foods debut in Detroit illustrates the complexities of solving the kinds of food problems Tracie McMillan describes in The American Way of Eating, which we have been discussing since Monday.

A local Whole Foods addresses one key obstacle of eating healthy: availability of fresh food. Another plus: Whole Foods sells products sourced from around the country and world, but it also has announced plans to use local Michigan producers and growers.

But consider this list of potential concerns: Products may be too expensive for many Detroiters to purchase. Whole Foods is a chain headquartered in Texas, so profits may leave the city and state. Whole Foods will create new jobs, but it is unknown how many will be filled by Detroit residents. Hefty tax breaks and incentives were inducements used to attract the new store to the city.

Despite these complexities, the new Whole Foods could be a cornerstone of a much better food infrastructure for Detroit. Today’s question is: How do you judge this news, from what we know at this point?

What do you make of the Whole Foods coming to Detroit?

Would Whole Foods be your top pick from all the national chains?

Can Whole Foods save the day in Detroit and other food deserts?

Wayne Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at or on Facebook.



Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 7:37 p.m.

a little fuzzy where midtown Detroit is?

Kyle Mattson

Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 4:14 p.m.

I'll second Sarah. In fact, it is a particular misnomer for the "downtown" area as there are a number of grocers in the area including Ye Old Butcher Shoppe, HoneyBee, Lafayette Foods, etc. The drive to most stores in Detroit is comparable to the one most make here in Washtenaw County. Also, a Meijer will be opening in the city at 8 Mile and Woodward:

Sarah Rigg

Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 2:31 p.m.

And one more link, to a photo essay about the "food desert" idea:

Sarah Rigg

Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 2:29 p.m.

Detroit being a "food desert" is not quite accurate. This has been debunked in several ways: