Final Dissertation Defense - Jessica Daniel - Aug. 24

Date: August 24, 2016
Time: 10 a.m.
Location: Natural Resources RM 338

FoodLab Detroit


Jessica A. Daniel


Time: 10 a.m.

Room: 338, Natural Resources Building


I define Good Food Enterprise (GFE) as a for-profit food firm that operates to some degree in solidarity with ‘good food’ values (e.g. health, justice, accessibility, and sustainability), and that relies primarily or wholly on market-based revenue versus philanthropic or public funds for its continuation. Like other forms of alternative food initiatives (AFIs), GFE is growing in scale and sophistication across North America, yet there has been little research targeted at understanding or documenting the trend. Critics of other forms of AFIs note the limitations of entrepreneurial approaches to uphold good food values, showing how market-based approaches to food systems change may fail to address or even exacerbate challenges such as the exploitation of labor, structural racism, and environmental stewardship (Allen 1999; Allen et. al., 2003; Johnston 2008). Others, however, suggest that these criticisms can be reframed as an opportunity for organizers to shape entrepreneurship into more powerful form of resistance (Donald 2008; Johnston 2008; Shattuck & Holt-Gimenez 2011; Starr 2010).

FoodLab is a non-profit network of more than 150 entrepreneurs who are “committed to making the possibility of good food in Detroit a sustainable reality […] as part of a good food movement that is accountable to all Detroiters” (FoodLab Detroit 2016). I founded and led the organization from 2011 to 2015 out of desire to serve my community and to ask: what are the opportunities, limitations, and tensions of good food enterprise as a strategy in the food movement? This mixed-methods dissertation draws on a network survey organizational records, interviews, and five years of participant observation as the basis for three standalone journal articles, each addressing an aspect of this primary question.

The research supports three major findings: first, FoodLab GFEs espouse a broad set of food movement values, though individual entrepreneurs vary in their understanding, prioritization, and integration of these values into their businesses, and public framing of values can differ from more internally-facing dialogue. Second, entrepreneurs are motivated by individual values and identity, but their embeddedness affects how they prioritize, manifest, and adopt new values. Finally, limitations noted by critics, including cultural and economic elitism, lack of emphasis on collective approaches to food systems change, and an overemphasis on the local – are real tensions that GFEs and organizers grappled with, but are not necessarily inherent to the GFE form. The study also uncovered tensions around organizational scale and impact.

Committee Members:

  • Dr. Michael Hamm (Chairperson)
  • Dr. Wayne Baker
  • Dr. Kimberly Chung
  • Dr. Philip Howard