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  • Writer's pictureYouth Energy Squad

Detroit Food Insecurity


Some consider Detroit a ‘food desert.’ This is a reflection of the lack of access to healthy, fresh food that many Detroiters experience. However, this terminology fails to adequately represent the challenges these Detroiters face. Deserts are naturally occurring, but there is nothing natural about not having access to food. Rather, it is human decisions that lead to this lack of food access for many Detroiters.

The term “food insecurity” may suggest a surface issue, but it defines the ongoing socio-economic crisis between the community and the lack of physical or financial access to safe and nutritious food every day. According to a report by the Detroit Food Policy Council, nearly half of the city falls under the category of food insecure.

According to data found in the Detroit Food Policy Council's 2017 Detroit Food Metrics Report, 30,000 Detroiters don't have access to a full-line grocery store. Even with the 74 full-line grocery stores (shops that offer dry and canned goods, fresh produce, meat, dairy products, and nonfood items) operating within city limits, many Detroiters still don’t have physical or financial access to healthy, fresh food options. 

Here's a breakdown of the metric report:

  • 30,000 people do not have access to a full-line grocer.

  • 48 percent of households are food insecure.

  • 40 percent of households enrolled in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, most commonly referred to as food stamps) and 18 percent of SNAP-eligible households are not enrolled

  • 19 percent of Detroit children are enrolled in WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) meaning 1 in 5 children are fed through the government assistance program.

  • 48 percent of WIC stores are liquor stores.


Goals: Grade Levels: 9th-12th

  • Learn about food justice

  • Think closely about your access to food

Supplies: Time: 30-45 minutes

  • Internet access

  • Pen and paper



First, read this short article from the Metro Times:

Then read;

Next, look at this map and figure how much access you have to healthy fresh food based on your Detroit zip code.

And read the quoted sections from the article below:

“Detroit’s food justice and food systems”

Dorceta E. Taylor and Kerry J. Ard

Section 1:

“Numerous studies have been conducted on the accessibility of healthful food in poor urban areas. Many of these use the presence of supermarkets and large grocery stores as the sole indicator of access to nutritious food. In contrast, corner stores, mini marts, gas stations, liquor stores, and fast food restaurants are identified as sources of unhealthful food. Previous food access studies conducted in Detroit have often focused on determining distance to food sources. In this article, we identify critical shortcomings of the traditional approach to studying food access, and argue for a more systematic process. We use this approach to assess food accessibility in Detroit, with a focus on three questions: (1) What kinds of food outlets are available to residents within the city? (2) What is the nature of the Detroit food environment and how does it vary by the racial composition and population of neighborhoods? and (3) How do citizen- driven initiatives shape the food landscape?”

Section 2: 

Questioning the definition of food deserts

“Researchers who recognize these gaps in the food desert literature have questioned the USDA’s definition of food deserts and the depiction of communities to which the term has been applied. Studies that identify only supermarkets and large grocery stores miss a variety of small food outlets that carry healthful food that urban consumers desire, including independent grocers and small ethnic grocery stores. For example, one study used the term “food oases” to describe neighborhoods that had ethnic food stores—overlooked in most food environment studies—providing affordable, culturally desired food.6 Another study, which found that only about 10 percent of Detroit could be classified as a food desert using the USDA definition, suggested that the city could best be described instead as a “food grassland” with small pockets lacking easy access to grocery stores.”

Section 3: 

How does the food environment vary by neighborhood?

“A rapid decline in population over the past six decades has contributed to inequitable distribution of food in Detroit. The city’s population peaked at nearly 1.9 million in 1950, with 84 percent of the population white, and 16 percent black. By 2012, the population had declined to just over 700,000, with non-Hispanic whites making up less than 8 percent of the population, blacks in the majority with 83 percent, Hispanics at 7 percent, and Asians at 1 percent.10 In 2013, the unemployment rate was 14.8 percent, the median household income was $26,955, 38 percent of residents were living below the poverty level, and a similar proportion was receiving federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit.”

Now, answer the reflection questions below.


Reflection Questions:

  • What do you consider healthy, fresh food? 

  • Based on the Detroit Food Map (link above) please describe how much access you have to healthy food.

  • Do you know members of your community who don’t have access to healthy, fresh food?

  • What is the difference between a food desert and food insecurity? 

  • Does everyone have a right to have access to healthy fresh food?      

  • If you could build your own community how would you design their access to food? 

  • How many times do you cook in your home? 

  • How many full line grocery stores are near your home? 

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