Healthy Food Stores, Greenlining and Food Gentrification: Contesting New Forms of Privilege, Displacement and Locally Unwanted Land Uses in Racially Mixed Neighborhoods


Local activists engaged in contemporary environmental justice struggles not only fight against traditional forms of hazardous locally unwanted land uses (LULUs), they also organize to make their neighborhoods livable and green. However, urban environmental justice activism is at a crossroads: as marginalized neighborhoods become revitalized, outside investors start to value them again and they themselves invest in green amenities. Yet vulnerable residents are now raising concerns about the risk of displacement from their neighborhoods in consequence of environmental gentrification processes. Their fear is linked to environmental amenities such as new parks or remodeled waterfronts, as well as (most recently) healthy food stores. Using the case of a conflict around a new Whole Foods supermarket in Boston, MA, I examine how food venues and stores labeled as healthy and natural can create socio-spatial inequality together with privilege, exclusion and displacement in racially diverse neighborhoods. I analyze how high-end supermarket chains target inner-city neighborhoods for their growth and profit potential, and demonstrate that their arrival contributes to what I call ‘supermarket greenlining’. This greenlining illustrates the process of food gentrification, and the manipulation of health and sustainability discourses about food by healthy and natural food investors and their supporters. The opening of high-end supermarkets thus converts such stores into new LULUs for historically marginalized groups.