Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

A critical discourse on Detroit’s ‘Food Desert’ metaphor

A critical discourse on Detroit’s ‘Food Desert’ metaphor

Alex B. Hill

Differences in the use of the “food desert” term in reference to Detroit show strong linguistic divisions between local and national Detroit media coverage as well as structural power relations between local activists and more dominant national organizations. Over the last decade, understandings and applications of the “food desert” term have changed, and with it the culture around food in Detroit. The term is widely used in national media as a negative metaphorical label applied to Detroit, but is largely rejected by those living and working on food advocacy in Detroit. The juxtaposition of the national media’s focused narrative of a declining Detroit clashes with the efforts of local food advocates and activists. While locally the term is regularly rejected, the “food access” problems associated with “food deserts” are very much accepted and efforts continue to address the inequitable access to food experienced by a large majority of people in Detroit.

Keywords: Detroit, critical analysis, food access, food desert, food oasis, metaphor

April 9, 2014 - Posted by | abstract


  1. Two words: Anthony Bourdain. “Parts Unknown,” Season 2, Episode 8:
    Bourdain as “early adopter?”

    Comment by Dan Harrison | April 9, 2014 | Reply

  2. Dan, quite the opposite actually. The episode aired 11/10/13, Bourdain could be seen as reporting more of the same of the “Detroit decline” narrative after it had become a popular media story. While he eats food in Detroit he never refers to the city as a “food desert” or covers food access issues.

    Comment by Alex B. Hill | April 28, 2014 | Reply

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