Detroit's Food Economy

Shopping For Groceries In Detroit Is a Three Hour Voyage

by: Travis Wright

February 19, 2013

Specialty Meat Market. Photo Credit: Travis Wright, WDET

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“If there were less kids worrying about where their next meal would be … that would dramatically affect the crime rate.” -Sharin Vickey Carter

Shopping for groceries is a chore for every American household. Carving out the time you don’t have, to push an increasingly heavy shopping cart down aisle after aisle, its weight reminding you of the impending amount due at the end. Minds across America are zoning out to the monotonous blip of scanned bar-codes. And with the swipe of a card, there goes your money. Always more than you’d planned. After deftly stacking the bags in the back of your car, you make it home only to work those biceps one more time, hauling in your catch.

However, for Vickey Carter and her family, shopping for groceries is a whole heck of a lot more laborious than that.

WDET’s Travis Wright introduces us a Detroiter in the Brightmoor Neighborhood and the challenges she faces when it comes to feeding her family.

This series is made possible by the generous support of our Sustaining Members. Because of you, WDET can bring this critical story to everyone in our region.


For just about every American household, shopping for groceries is a chore. Carving out time you don’t have to push an increasingly heavy shopping cart down aisle after aisle, before rolling into the check –out lane. And with the swipe of a card, there goes your money. Always more than you’d planned. However for Vickey Carter and her family, grocery shopping is a whole heck of a lot more laborious than that.

My name is Sharin Victoria Carter – everyone calls me Vickey – I’m 32 years-old. I’m the mother of three children and I live in the Brightmoor community of Detroit.

Detroit isn’t like most American cities, and Brightmoor isn’t like most neighborhoods in Detroit. There is still a sense of community in Brightmoor, it’s just kind of overshadowed by the blight, and the drugs, and the prostitution. Sometimes people can’t see past that. And when it comes to putting good food in Carter’s cupboards, it’s more than a chore. Calling it an errand doesn’t suffice. It’s a voyage.

I would love to be able to one store and knock it out. But I have to go to three or four sometimes, and that’s just the reality of that. But it really is frustrating. These days, Carter shares a truck with her dad and sister, who live right around the corner. But she manages to get by because she always has a plan, especially when it comes to grocery shopping, because sufficient options for nutritious food in her neighborhood are lacking at best.

As far as party stores and gas stations around in the neighborhood, I really don’t feel that they care about health. I think they’re more so just trying to make money, and you see that with the prices: A gallon of milk at the party store is $4.50, whereas at the grocery store you can get it for under $3.00.

She gets her essentials, cereal, juice and canned goods, at Aldi. It’s a discount supermarket. About a ten minute drive into the neighboring suburb of Redford. She still has to pay a quarter for a shopping cart when she gets there. But Vickey doesn’t have spare change; not today or most days; so no cart. At Aldi, Vickey is pleased to see she’s getting some good deals. A four-pack of Easy Mac catches her eye. Her kids can make it at home, she says, in the microwave. At 89-cents a pack, the price is right. Only a half-mile down the road from Aldi is Joe Randazzo’s Fruit and Vegetable market, in Dearborn Heights.

I’m getting snacks and stuff for salad. Carter says that buying produce here is less expensive, however being that they only sell the freshest produce, sometimes they don’t have the bare essentials. Today, the Romaine lettuce her kids love is nowhere to be found.

After snagging some fruits and veggies, Carter drives ten minutes north to the Mini Mart Food Center on Six Mile Road. When you pull up on it, you’re going to go ‘Oh, wow, this is one of those corner stores. It’s one of those unknown, I guess, gems of Detroit ‘cause they have great meat at a great quality.

If you didn’t know what was going on inside, yeah, it’d be easy to assume the Mini Mart is just another party store with a hand-painted façade. But inside, a Grade-A meat market is bustling, and a guy named Mike behind the counter is wheeling and dealing meat by the pound.
Anybody Interested in Crab legs? I got jumbo, and I mean jumbo, snow crab legs. They came in yesterday. Five pounds for $45. They’re big, they’re red, they’re jumbo, they’re here. This place specializes in putting together customizable fresh meat packages for families on a budget. And Carter swears by the place. She comes every month. And if the product is any good as the service, it’s easy to see why:

So I’m getting chicken wings, legs, ground beef, some pork chops, pork steaks, chuck roast, bacon … Three hours later, 20 miles on her truck, and it’s another five miles back to Carter’s house. She hauls in her catch and buy the time she’s got all the groceries in the house, she’s exhausted. There’s a struggle throughout the whole city, but I know I’m doing the best I can with what I have, and I don’t want to burn myself out because I really want to be a great parent. When the cupboards are more empty than not, when the fridge doesn’t have much in it to absorb the sound of its hum, when she’s still a week away from her monthly bridge card imbursement, the stress that Carter starts to feel isn’t about the three hours that shopping for groceries takes out of her day, or that she doesn’t have a quarter for a shopping cart. It’s not even about her economic bottom line.

For Vickey Carter, there’s something greater at stake: If there were less kids worried about where their less meal would be, and more kids worrying about school and, you know, just having fun and being kids, I think that that would dramatically change the crime rate. I really think that food is a big part of why the city is effected the way it is. So grocery shopping is a voyage for Carter, but it’s one that she’s willing to make, because if her kids don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, well it not only makes for a healthier family and neighborhood, but, in the long run, a safer city.

I’m Travis Wright, WDET News.