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Commentary :: Gentrification : Organizing
Why white people should oppose Whole Foods coming to Jamaica Plain
31 Mar 2011
It is crucial that I and other white middle and upper class people publicly oppose Whole Foods, and join the fight against it. This article is specifically written to white middle and upper class people, because I am one myself, and because I feel most effective and appropriate communicating with those who approach this issue from a similar background as me. This article explains why I oppose Whole Foods’s plans to move into Jamaica Plain, and why I think you should too.
whole foods no.jpg
In January 2011, it was announced that in Jamaica Plain’s Hyde Square, the 47-year-old landmark Latin supermarket, Hi-Lo Foods, would shut down and that the multinational corporation, Whole Foods Market, had signed a lease to replace it. Immediately, a large backlash against Whole Foods coming to JP erupted from within the local community. The most public organization which formed to stop Whole Foods from coming to JP is the all-volunteer, multicultural, intergenerational organization “Whose Foods/ Whose Community? : The Coalition Against Gentrification.”

The Whose Foods Coalition has cited three reasons why Whole Foods should retract plans for a store in Jamaica Plain (as taken from their petition on http://whosefoods.org/):

1. Whole Foods is too expensive for many individuals and families in Jamaica Plain.
2. Whole Foods will lead to increased real estate and commercial prices in Jamaica Plain that will displace low- and moderate-income families.
3. Whole Foods is a multi-national corporation whose profits will not sufficiently feed back into our diverse, local community.

In just over a month the Whose Foods Coalition managed to gather over 1,000 petition signatures, deliver those petitions to Whole Foods Regional Headquarters, meet with JP’s elected officials, talk to thousands of neighbors, turn out hundreds of residents to JP Neighborhood Council meetings and support them in their stance for an equitable JP, and create a base of support for an affordable and diverse JP, one that is stronger without Whole Foods.

In addition to the work done by the Whose Foods Coalition, many other individuals have taken action on their own against Whole Foods, which has taken the form of everything between talking with their friends and neighbors, to the publishing of articles and comments in the media, to the hanging of “No Whole Foods” banners on Centre Street.

This Saturday, April 2nd, Whose Foods is organizing their biggest event yet: a rally and march to celebrate and protect JP’s diversity, and oppose Whole Foods coming to Jamaica Plain. The rally will start at 3:00pm at Mozart Park, and will be followed by 4:00pm with a march to the former Hi-Lo building in Hyde Square. There will be free food, a DJ, activities for kids, and more! All are encouraged to come.

Please note, the views expressed in this article are my personal beliefs and are not the official stance of the Whose Foods Coalition. Also, although I am a supporter of them, I am not directly involved with the Whose Foods Coalition at this time, nor have I been in the past.

A few months ago, I became a Jamaica Plain resident myself. I come from a white, middle class family. I will soon be graduating from a private university in Boston. I care deeply about access to healthy food and the environment. I am Whole Foods’s market base and I recognize that Whole Foods is coming to Jamaica Plain with the intention to sell primarily to people like me. However, I am opposed to Whole Foods moving here. I oppose Whole Foods coming to JP because I care about the well being of those who are less socioeconomically privileged than I am, and I wish to stand in solidarity with their struggle against gentrification. Whole Foods is both a symptom and a cause of gentrification. Whole Foods decided to come to Hyde Square because they see the ongoing cultural and economic shifts in JP, but their presence will also accelerate these shifts, as has been seen many times in the past in other neighborhoods that Whole Foods has entered. Whole Foods knows that as time goes on, their market base will expand as gentrification happens around them. I recognize that my own presence in Jamaica Plain attracts upscale corporations to here, but if I really care about maintaining affordability and diversity in this community, I must oppose significant changes, such as Whole Foods, that only appeal to wealthier, and primarily white individuals and which simultaneously negatively impact lower-income community members. Overall, Whole Foods’s arrival in JP will not affect me much on a personal level, in fact, it may provide minor conveniences for me and other middle and upper class residents. However, I realize that Whole Foods’s arrival will financially strain the working-class and low-income residents of Jamaica Plain, resulting in increased displacement of people of color from this community as gentrification gains further momentum here.

It is crucial that I and other white middle and upper class people publicly oppose Whole Foods, and join the fight against it. Whole Foods is coming here to sell primarily to us, not our lower income neighbors, who are largely people of color. Whole Foods claims that its market base is wealthier and more educated than average, and in our society, this implies their market base is predominately white. Therefore, it is us wealthier, educated white residents of Jamaica Plain who are responsible for attracting Whole Foods here. As a result, we hold significant responsibility for the economic hardship and loss of cultural diversity that Whole Foods will cause in this community if we allow it to open in JP. This article is specifically written to white middle and upper class people, because I am one myself, and because I feel most effective and appropriate communicating with those who approach this issue from a similar background as me. This article explains why I oppose Whole Foods’s plans to move into Jamaica Plain, and why I think you should too.

Whole Foods is not a good fit for the people of Jamaica Plain as a whole. Its introduction to the community will negatively impact Jamaica Plain’s low-income and working-class populations through the subsequent increase of rental prices and loss of affordable food, while only providing minor conveniences for the more affluent in Jamaica Plain and surrounding areas. Whole Foods is perhaps the biggest corporate symbol of gentrification. It will rapidly accelerate the ongoing displacement of lower income community members, hurt locally owned competitors, and give a green light to other upscale corporations who want to exploit JP for maximum profit. These changes in the neighborhood will force lower-income community members to leave Jamaica Plain in search of more affordable housing elsewhere and result in an overt change in cultural makeup of JP as people of color are displaced, and then replaced with wealthier, predominately white residents.

Whole Foods coming to Hyde Square will negatively impact Jamaica Plain’s low-income and working-class populations. Whole Foods will increase the cost of living for all, but not provide any significant benefit to the large percentage of low-income and working-class people living around it. Replacing the affordable Latin market, Hi-Lo, which catered primarily to the local community’s huge Latino population, which is largely working-class and low-income, with Whole Foods, which almost strictly caters to a wealthier, more educated, and primarily white population, is a massive victory for gentrification. If Whole Foods is not stopped, it will set off runaway gentrification around Hyde Square. At that point, there may be no hope for the preservation of cultural diversity and affordability in JP.

The introduction of Whole Foods will trigger an increase in rent prices for all, but will hit the low-income and working-class populations of Hyde Square the hardest. Landlords will raise rent prices, knowing that there are many new tenants who match Whole Food’s market base, that is, wealthier, more educated, and primarily white, who would be willing and able to pay an increased rent to live in a beautiful neighborhood like Jamaica Plain once and if it has a Whole Foods. Proof of this has been seen elsewhere where Whole Foods stores have opened, and Whole Foods’s CEO John Mackey even admits their stores greatly increase neighboring property values. This effect can already be seen happening in JP on the Internet where real-estate agents and landlords are listing Whole Foods as an upcoming feature of Jamaica Plain on ads for expensive apartments, condos, and retail spaces. JP is primarily a renter’s community. Aside from the small percentage of property owners who live in JP, the only people who will see benefits from this increase in real-estate prices are real-estate agents and landlords, who for the most part do not live in JP. For the vast majority of JP residents this increase of real-estate prices will be a bad thing, but it will hit working-class and low-income residents the hardest.

Whole Foods is not affordable for much of the local community, nor does it carry the products the local community desires. Whole Foods is notoriously expensive, especially when it comes to staples such as meat, dairy, eggs, and produce. Whole Foods’s store brand for packaged goods is often comparable to other supermarkets, as some proponents of Whole Foods have pointed out, but it does not sell affordable staple foods or the diversity of Latin foods upon which the local community has come to rely. It is unlikely that much of the local Latino community, which makes up a substantial proportion of JP’s Hyde Square area, will shop regularly at Whole Foods. Whole Foods knows that the local Latino community, the working-class, and low-income people of color will not be shopping there often, and knows very well that wealthy, more educated, and primarily white JP residents (both longtime and an increasing amount of newcomers), as well as this demographic from surrounding areas, will shop at their JP store. Whole Foods will not make a significant effort to sell to the culturally diverse working-class and low-income residents of Jamaica Plain because that is not their market base. That is not who they are coming here to sell to and profit from.

Whole Foods will only benefit the more affluent in and around Jamaica Plain, and those benefits are merely minor conveniences. Several supporters of Whole Foods have said that they want to be able to walk out their door and get healthy food, and have used this as justification for why a Whole Foods is desirable in JP. These people can already do this. Whole Foods does not offer a significant amount of products that cannot already be found at Jamaica Plain’s locally owned businesses. Local grocers such as “Harvest Co-op” and “City Feed and Supply” already offer, or can order, essentially all of the products, including organic and fair trade products, which are sold at Whole Foods. Latin foods, which will not be offered at Whole Foods in the way they were at Hi-Lo, will likely be found at local bodegas. There is a Stop & Shop just a few minutes by foot from the proposed location of Whole Foods. There are many Whole Foods stores in more affluent parts of the Boston area that are only a short trip away. Whole Foods is completely unnecessary in JP when considering all of the food shopping options already available, and the former Hi-Lo building can certainly be put to better usage if given a chance. The minor conveniences Whole Foods’s presence in JP would provide to the middle and upper classes do not justify the substantial negative impacts it will have on working-class and low-income residents of Jamaica Plain.

Whole Foods will financially strain and displace far more community members than it will employ. Some proponents of Whole Foods coming to Jamaica Plain have touted “job creation” above all as the reason why JP needs to accept Whole Foods, but we should not blindly give thanks and praise to any corporation that wants to come here and offers a few jobs to tempt us with. Whole Foods has publicly stated that they will have 100 employees at the JP store, and that about 70 of these positions will be full-time. In comparison, Hi-Lo, the former grocery store at the same location had 40 employees. Former Hi-Lo employees have been guaranteed interviews with the planned Whole Foods in JP, but Whole Foods is under no obligation to hire them. Also an unknown, but noteworthy, number of employees for the planned JP store will be transferred to this location from other Whole Foods stores in more affluent neighborhoods. So Whole Foods will be creating less than 60 new jobs in JP. While this number is still significant, Whole Foods has not committed to local hiring, and it is reasonable to expect that a large number of their employees will not be from or representative of the local working-class and low-income community of color who most greatly needs employment. Whole Foods’s economic effects will place financial strain on far more community members than its employment will sustain. Whole Foods will challenge an entire culture of working families and individuals struggling to pay rent, eat, and make ends meet. It is undeniable that many lower income residents will find Jamaica Plain no longer affordable after Whole Foods moves in and thus be forced out of the neighborhood.

We should be supporting local business, and resisting corporations coming into Jamaica Plain. Whole Foods is not good for JP’s locally owned competitors. The introduction of Whole Foods will immediately and severely undercut locally owned “organic and fair trade” grocers such as “Harvest Co-op” and “City Feed and Supply.” Rent prices have been on the rise in JP for a while now and the introduction of Whole Foods will cause landlords to further increase rental prices on businesses. This will put even more strain on many local business owners struggling to earn a living and provide for their employees. One of JP’s greatest sources of pride is that its main street, Centre Street, is as culturally diverse and as filled with locally owned businesses as it is. The same cannot be said for the majority of economic and culture centers in Boston. If Whole Foods enters Centre Street, it will not come alone. Many other corporations will be on its tail and will jump at any chance to break into Jamaica Plain. If Whole Foods comes to Jamaica Plain, the number of locally owned businesses will dwindle over the years as they are undercut, priced out, and replaced by corporate chains who can afford to run a business here. We should be supporting local businesses with our patronage. When we buy from local business owners, our money stays in the community. It is given to people who care about the well being of the community. Most local business owners are living out their dreams, but running a local business is a tough job, especially when competing with multi-million dollar corporations such as Whole Foods. When we buy things, we should be throwing our support behind local businesses 100%. Whole Foods, and all major retail corporations, only seek to exploit the communities in which they reside to their fullest potential. Whole Foods will not offer anything we can’t get from our real neighbors already.

We should all be upholding the cultural diversity found in Jamaica Plain, and actively resist the displacement of the working-class, low-income residents, and people of color. The loss of Hi-Lo market has been seen as significant blow to Latin culture in Jamaica Plain. The announcement that Whole Foods would be its successor is seen as a major symbol of gentrification and acceleration of cultural changes in JP. Whole Foods caters to a wealthier, more educated, and primarily white demographic. Hyde Square is at the front lines of gentrification of JP, and Whole Foods is culturally and economically imposing into the neighborhood that has been called JP’s “Latin Quarter.” The introduction of Whole Foods will result in the decreased affordability of JP, and the increased displacement of the working-class, low-income, and majority of people of color living in it. It will attract a wealthier and primarily white influx of replacements to Jamaica Plain. It will make it harder for local businesses to succeed due to increased rents and competition from corporate giants, and it will open the doors to other corporations, who have no consideration for the well being of local residents. These changes will drastically affect the cultural makeup, affordability, and overall feel of Jamaica Plain.

Whole Foods does not care about the diverse cultural and economic communities their presence will result in the displacement of. Whole Foods is not coming to Jamaica Plain to serve the people of this community as a whole. It is coming to Jamaica Plain because it sees that JP is undergoing cultural and economic shifts. More and more of Whole Foods’s market base, that is, wealthier, more educated, and primarily white people, are moving into JP. They are moving here because they see great things in the neighborhood, but their move is in part encouraging the displacement of many of the very people who made JP so attractive. Whole Foods knows that once it establishes itself, gentrification will accelerate in JP and that its market base will grow. It is important for white middle and upper class people to join the fight against Whole Foods moving into JP, because it is people like us who Whole Foods is coming here to sell to and profit from. It is people like us who can afford to shop regularly at Whole Foods, not the significant proportion of working-class and low-income population who live near the store’s planned location.

By stopping Whole Foods, we will be saying “no” to the displacement of fellow community members and the increased corporatization of JP. We will be saying “yes” to affordability, cultural diversity, and local business. The struggle against Whole Foods is fundamentally about community-building. It is an effort to unite all residents of Jamaica Plain to stand up for each other's well being across racial, cultural, and economic lines. It is not about “us” versus “them,” it is about realizing that the minor shopping conveniences for the affluent and the few jobs Whole Foods will provide to Jamaica Plain are dwarfed in comparison to the economic hardships, displacement, and cultural homogenization that Whole Foods will bring with it if it moves into JP. Stopping Whole Foods is extremely significant and worthwhile, as it will serve as a powerful precedent against gentrification and corporatization, and be forever held high as a victory won by and for the community. Stopping Whole Foods is crucial to put a halt on the runaway gentrification that its presence will cause. Stopping Whole Foods will dissuade corporate chains from wanting to come into JP, stabilize rents, and in turn encourage a diverse variety of locally owned businesses to sprout up that will truly cater to the needs of the people of Jamaica Plain.

Whole Foods can be stopped from coming to Jamaica Plain, and the time to take action is now. JP has a strong community focus and residents have stopped many corporations from coming to JP in the past, even after leases had been signed. Corporations stopped include: Kmart, Domino’s Pizza, D’Angelo, and Papa Gino’s. In a powerful example of popular resistance, JP residents stopped the major highway project I-95 in the 1960’s when it was already well underway. Whole Foods may have signed a lease, but they have a long way to go before they can open. Whole Foods can back out of their lease and not come to Jamaica Plain at any time if they decide it is in their best interest to do so. Whole Foods does not want to tarnish their public image as a “ethical, caring, and community-oriented” corporation, and will back out if they think coming to Jamaica Plain will be too controversial for their image. Popular resistance can stop Whole Foods, but as a part of this, Whole Foods must hear from us white middle and upper class people. Our voice maintains extra influence over Whole Foods because we are their market base. If we really care about encouraging and maintaining an affordable and culturally diverse JP, white middle and upper class residents of Jamaica Plain, neighboring communities, and beyond must publicly take a stand against Whole Foods coming into JP and support the struggles of the working-class and low-income residents of the area.

How can you join the fight to stop Whole Foods from coming into Jamaica Plain?

1. Sign (and share) the petition urging Whole Foods to retract its plans to enter JP at: http://whosefoods.org/petition/

2. Attend the rally and march to “Celebrate JP’s Diversity & Protect it Now” with your friends this Saturday, April 2nd:

The rally starts at 3:00pm in Mozart Park on Saturday April 2nd, where there will be free food, a DJ, activities for kids, and more! By 4:00pm, the crowd will leave the park on a march to the former Hi-Lo space, where there will be another rally held.

3. For more ways to get involved, visit: http://whosefoods.org/get-involved/, or organize and take action against Whole Foods coming into Jamaica Plain on your own.

Written by Chris Knighton on 3/31/2011

This work is in the public domain.
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Comments

Name Re-Recognition Efforts, Right!
02 Apr 2011
G/E will comment on this further but for now say it is refreshing to see an effort, that if it does propagate the name recognition further, it is (hopefully) in the negative sense, leading to more concern about 'Whole Profits Over Food, which as the Whose Foods website shows, and it reminds me of the efforts of subvertising, as well as remembering that not all "ads'" ought to default to corporate, consolidated, wage-chain ones, they can also be propagating "Community Ads", and much more, as some forms of the media, IMC, being one, does, and can, do even more.

http://publish.indymedia.org/en/2005/03/871240.shtml

Some old but relevant remarks (well maybe) and references from
above, title at time was:

www.subvertise.org 'em without furthering name recognition, mainly form critical association

by public rapsohody, private profit 24 Mar 2005 00:03 GMT

at Indy Global www.indymedia.org,

and while at recalling some times ago after Equal Exchange first opened on Causeway Street in the West End by the 'ole "Commercial Alert" "Garden," in regards to www.organicconsumer.org, though mention the obvious briefly, how all too often someone is referring to people as consumers and seldom, it seems, citizens, but if memory serves, Red Eye Coop Radio, to the north of some of U.S., had an interview a couple of years ago, or so, thanks to the consistent folks at Truth and Justice Radio, again if memory....

Anyone else have fond memories of the book shop, Roses (?) with the cat regularly there, well some things are worth keeping, some worth recalling, some worth preventing.

Mention Words to Avoid, or think about, at www.fsf.org:

http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/words-to-avoid.html

The threat of an atomized citizenry, not really related, but in effort to integrate


http://publish.indymedia.org/en/2011/04/947322.shtml

http://www.indymedia.org/de/2005/03/871312.shtml

Support "Us and Them" and 'everyone's backyard'
"persistent anoyance" 26 Mar 2005 20:21 GMT
the forms of the above is a mess, as yet to "fix it."
Re: Why white people should oppose Whole Foods coming to Jamaica Plain
08 Apr 2011
While I'm not a fan fo the corperate giant myself, your arguments against gentrification are weak and tenuous at best. For years now, Jamaica Plain has been on the verge of gentrification thus it is inevitablle that some corperate businesses would be interested in the area. Is this to say that Jamaica Plain will become over-run by them. Hardly. CVS and Dunkin' Donuts certainly didn't upset the cultural balance or boost rents.
The proposal that we should ban Whole Foods on the grounds that they cater to a wealthier, educated and by your assumptions white demographic is not only reprehensable but personally offensive. Its okay to discriminate against wealthy, educated white people? Interesting.
Your contention that is was the Latin presence which made the area attractive is actually incorrect. Speaking as someone who practices real estate at one of the most prestigious firms on Newbury Street, I'm telling that it actually had the opposite effect.
The people that made Jamaica Plain attractive were actually the students who attend MassArt and BU etc who upon metriculating remained in JP and purchased property. And then theres the gay and lesbian community that transformed the area in a similar fashion that Boston's South End once saw a decade or so ago and what we're seeing now in Southie.
Additionally, the idea that just because Jamaica Plain acquired a Latin presence to its already diverse makeup and that it should remain predominantely Latin is in itself discrimnatory and futile. Jamaica Plain has always played host to a variety of diasparas which include Greeks, Irish, Jews, Italians, Portuguese. They each had their time, but Jamaica Plain is an ever changing place. You have the old world mixed with the new. Whites Blacks, Latinos, Gay, Straight etc living in harmony. Corperate doing business next door to local. That is what makes Jamaica Plain attractive and why gentrification is and will happen.
Re: Why white people should oppose Whole Foods coming to Jamaica Plain
08 Apr 2011
I appreciate your ideals, but they're misplaced, and rather naive. You're still in school, so it's understandable. Come back to this article in 10 years and write a retrospective. I guarantee your opinion will have changed.

I moved to JP a few months ago for, among other things, the culture. "Culture" doesn't equal "dangerous". The crime in the area, while not out of hand, is one of the things that almost kept me out of JP. I welcome gentrification. That's the second reason I moved to JP. What would have cost me 2+ million on Beacon Hill only cost me 1 million here. But with gentrification, it'll be worth that 2 million by the time I'm ready to sell. As a home owner, I WANT real estate prices to increase. I challenge you to find me a home owner who wants otherwise. If that means a less desirable element is forced out of the area, then that's ultimately better for the community.

And please, bring in Whole Foods. I need a quality market I can stop by on the way home. I'd also like to see a CVS, and a Dunkin Donuts (Starbucks can stay where they are, I've never been a fan.)

And the little artsy stores, the other cultural outlets that brought us to the area? Don't worry about them, they'll be fine. People with disposable income are the ones keeping them in business. The family of 6 living in a one bedroom apartment above Kennedy's Fried Chicken isn't buying gourmet cat food down at the fancy pet boutique on Centre Street. I am.

(And as a tangential point, NOT having a Whole Foods near me is taking business out of JP. I, along with most of my neighbors, do all of our grocery shopping in other areas. We do love our fresh produce and quality cuts of meat.)