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Has Foodie Culture Forgotten the Poor?

Has Foodie Culture Forgotten the Poor?

In my hometown of Richmond, I long for a truly great food scene that blesses the privileged and under-privileged alike.

I recently attended a Public Square event hosted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. We discussed recent survey results about how "it" cities like Richmond can attract and keep millennial professionals, who represent the future of the workforce and who are often less expensive to employ than older adults. The survey found that, more than any other factor, a job is the most compelling reason for recent college graduates to move to a city. And young people (digital natives all, and reared on Apple products as they are) prize jobs in workplaces imbued with a creative spirit.

Several members of City Church, where I pastor, helped conduct and analyze the survey data. I was impressed by their work and their recommendations, and by the crowd's interest. Since that night, I've been thinking about the findings, especially about restaurants. The survey found that a thriving food scene—measured by many eclectic food choices at a variety of price points, ideally located in walkable neighborhoods—was a key factor in drawing millennials to a city.

"Richmond, where every week is Restaurant Week." So quipped Michael Philips, a Times-Dispatch reporter, delivering what may have been the soundbite (pun intended) of the night. Philips was noting how restaurants in Richmond and other cities develop prix fixe menus to showcase local cuisine while also donating a portion of each bill to nonprofits combating hunger. Philips and others touted Richmond's food scene for offering a diversity of food, often served in fun and compelling venues. Our food scene, the team insisted, should be celebrated, expanded, and leveraged to attract more young professionals to Richmond.

The Public Square was reporting results from a survey. They were sharing "what is" rather than "what ought to be." And I appreciate a dynamic food scene as much as the next guy. I love to eat. I look forward to trying new restaurants. I spend hours each summer in my own "urban garden." I even pickle. But I'm left feeling that building a city's identity around a dynamic food scene—which, let's face it, tends to cater to largely white, middle- to upper-class professionals—is an undernourished vision of what makes a city truly great.


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August 03, 2013  12:02pm

Living in a small town, we don't have much of a "foodie" culture. (Also the heavily German, farming demographic may have something to do with that...a doughnut shop that dared feature raised doughnuts instead of cake doughnuts quickly went out of business...we like what we like and don't take to that "furrin'" stuff too well...LOL) But we have dedicated churches that provide meals to the disadvantaged along with housing several food pantries. We have two farmers' markets in the summer where produce is LESS expensive than in the supermarkets. And the Mennonites run a "scratch and dent" grocery store that sells common market items, often at one-half to one-third the usual retail price. This works in a small town. Why can't it work in a larger city?

Grady Walton

August 01, 2013  12:35pm

Having lived all my life in California, I know a thing or two about foodies and food culture. This article was a beautiful reminder of where our heart should be for all the citizens of our communities. That said, I have two minor critiques. First, the foodie culture (at least in Northern California) is not limited to white middle and upper-class patrons. Food culture here is truly multi-ethnic and has a cool way of drawing people together. Second, Trader Joe’s is not really a high-end premium chain; they are more of a small grocer where people can get premium niche products for less than a typical grocery store (I do not work there or have any stock in the company). I would hate to see low-income folks avoid Trader Joe’s because they think it might be too expensive. Whole Foods, on the other hand, is a premium chain. If communities, and the churches therein, desire blessings from heaven, they would do well to keep quality kitchens open to their poorest citizens.


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