On leaving the Whole Foods debate

June 10, 2011

The following open letter was sent to the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council:

This letter makes official the resignation that I have tried to tender to the JPNC’s ad hoc Whole Foods Committee for two weeks. It conveys, with my regrets, my lack of confidence in the committee’s ability to prepare an unbiased and intellectually rigorous report—despite dedicated efforts on the parts of some members. Please note that twoother committee members are also resigning in protest at this time.

When I joined the committee, I thought I was signing up to help my community shed light on the issues surrounding the controversy of Whole Foods. I care deeply about the issues of gentrification and displacement. During some of my 22 years in Jamaica Plain, I wrote a book that deals extensively with these topics (“Americans and Their Land,” 2006). I invited Ben Forman, research director at MassINC and a JP resident, to address the committee on the ways Boston housing policy causes gentrification and displacement. However, most committee members seemed interested in displacement only as far as they could blame Whole Foods for it, and interested only in research that confirmed their prejudices. A few seemed unable to believe that anyone who welcomed Whole Foods was not “selfish” or “racist.”

Anyone who attended the recent public meeting with Whole Foods representatives can imagine the hostile atmosphere that pervaded some of the ad hoc Whole Foods committee and subcommittee meetings. Four of our committee members attended that meeting in blue T-shirts, and one was arrested for disrupting the meeting. Three of the Whose Food? organizers at that meeting also attended most of the ad hoc Whole Foods Committee meetings, though they were not members; designed and produced portions of the committee’s report; and contributed to the divisive atmosphere.

This recipe for a committee seems extremely odd, given the expertise of many Jamaica Plain residents in the issues relating to Whole Foods’ arrival, which might have helped raise the level of the discussion on the committee. I have worked on many committees composing planning guidebooks for the public. On the ad hoc committee, I missed the cooperation and desire to work constructively that typified those earlier experiences. Thus, my lack of confidence in the committee’s work. Will the committee’s report even admit that Jamaica Plain needs supermarkets, as shown in the Food Trust’s 2010 report, “Food for Every Child: The Need for More Supermarkets in Massachusetts”? I hope so, but I don’t know. Will it show that not just Whole Foods but bookstores and public parks and many other amenities we all enjoy have the potential to raise surrounding property values? I don’t know.

I look forward to leaving the committee’s small world of anger and hostility and healing in my former life of constructive work, family love, and volunteering.

Anne Mackin, Jamaica Plain