Critical conversations at the April 5, 2019 Michigan Racial Equity in the Food System Summit

Keynote speaker chef Tunde Wey to conduct a series of regional culinary events in support of summit.

Michigan’s food system is broken. In order for the state’s economy and society to thrive, it must have a food system that serves all people equitably. That’s the message being delivered at the inaugural Michigan Racial Equity in the Food System Summit.

The one-day Summit happens Friday, April 5, from 8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. at the Gilmore Conference Center at Bronson Hospital in downtown Kalamazoo. Event hosts include: Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Michigan State University Extension, Open Vegan Eats, Bronson Healthcare and Good Food Battle Creek.

Research shows communities of color have a harder time purchasing healthy food, and people of color working in the food system earn lower wages on average than their white counterparts. The Summit focuses on education and dialogue to inspire advocacy concerning structural racism and other inequities in the food system. Sessions center on the theme of access to power as it relates to land, labor and food by historically marginalized communities.

Keynote speaker for the event is renowned chef and writer Tunde Wey, who uses food to help illustrate institutional inequities that exist in food and health. Western Michigan University’s Dr. Michelle Johnson is presenting the historical context for Michigan’s current food system and the racial health and wealth disparities that have resulted.

The event is open to the public and lunch is provided. Registration is $50 per person. A limited number of needs-based scholarships are available. An online scholarship application form and link to the summit registration can be found at

Chef Wey will speak about how to redistribute the burden of inequality. “If we want truly equitable and inclusive communities, then we have to create parity differently,” he says.

“Currently when we think of parity or equity we mostly consider providing equal benefits and advantage. Instead, I propose we shift our perspective to ensure equal disadvantages. Middle and higher income households should face the same sort of scarcity and competition as lower socioeconomic groups. This is a framework of equity - where the burden, rather than benefit, is more equally distributed,” said Wey.

The following is a list of some of the breakout session topics:

  • How and why mothers should engage in local food system work.
  • The intersections of veganism and social justice.
  • After decades of well-meaning nonprofit work, why is our food system still unjust?
  • The connection between race, place and food.
  • Designing and conducting urban agriculture research.
  • Exploring the deep connections between ancestral lands and food traditions.
  • The impact of current labor policies on people of color in the restaurant industry. 

Summit sponsors include: Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Bronson Healthcare, Michigan State University Extension, Open Vegan Eats, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, ARCUS Center at Kalamazoo College, People’s Food Co-op, Sprout, Ottawa Food, Our Kitchen Table, Michigan Farmers Market Association, Macomb Food Collaborative, and Creative Dining Services. Sponsorship opportunities are still available. For more information, visit the Summit’s Facebook page.

The Summit will close at 4 p.m. Participants will be invited to end their day in downtown Kalamazoo by visiting Art Hop locations and attending the Kalamazoo Foodways Symposium keynote presentation “Foodways in Exile: The intersection of Cuisine, Immigration, Identity and Culture” which will be offered twice, at 5:30 p.m. or 7:00 p.m. at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum’s Mary Jane Stryker Theater.

In addition to serving as Summit keynote speaker, Chef Wey is participating in a series of regional events. All events are free and open to the public, with food available for purchase. On Friday, March 29, he will be in Battle Creek at Sprout BC for an evening event featuring food counter service. On Monday, April 1, Chef Wey will be at People’s Food Co-op in Kalamazoo. There, he’s providing food on the hot bar during normal hot bar hours. An in-person event is taking place there; details are forthcoming. Details about these public events with Chef Wey will be posted at

On Thursday, April 4, Chef Wey is presenting at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market for its Culinary Conversations event, from 5:00 – 7:30 p.m. For more information on the Grand Rapids event, please visit:

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