What Chili-Mango Ice Cream Says About Urban Renewal

“The Plate,” National Geographic • Aug. 24, 2016

If I ask you what Detroiters eat to cool off on hot summer days, chances are you think of two Midwestern staples: ice cream and pop. If you know Detroit you might even think Faygo or Vernors. (You may also, to be honest, think beer.)

But folks around Lawndale Street, on the city’s southwest side, have an option that might seem, to outsiders, an odd fit for Detroit: Mexican-style frozen sweets and snacks from a six-table, five-year-old shop called Mangonadas del Barrio. The shop’s namesake, a variation on a popsicle, is a godsend on a steamy August afternoon—and it’s so popular that owner Antonio Hernandez opened up a second shop in June. Continue reading “What Chili-Mango Ice Cream Says About Urban Renewal”

Pita and Hummus: The Next Great American Foods?

“The Plate,” National Geographic • May 6, 2016

Picture a traditional American meal, and chances are good that you’re headed for the 1950s: burgers and fries, fried chicken and potato salad, maybe an Italian-turned-American-staple like pizza (see How Italian Cuisine Became as American as Apple Pie.)

But chances are good that the cuisine of the Middle East, a region whose immigrants to the U.S. face varying levels of acceptance, does not come to mind right away.

And yet, at the James Beard Foundation Chef and Restaurant Awards this week, a Lebanese restaurant was named an “America’s Classic.Continue reading “Pita and Hummus: The Next Great American Foods?”

Some Restaurateurs Are Building Better Benefits Into Food Jobs

“The Plate,” National Geographic • Feb. 2, 2016

The eggs and flour at Rose’s Fine Food, a diner on Detroit’s deep east side, are local. The bread and mustard, the donuts and pickles and beets, are all made in-house. The lunch menu offers a $13.75 rabbit sandwich; the chef apprenticed at San Francisco’s famed Tartine bakery; and there is a well-worn Ottolenghi book among the stack of cookbooks displayed on a kitchen shelf. In this, Rose’s is unmistakably a trendy kind of place.

But Rose’s is also becoming known for a new kind of trend: Paying restaurant workers a decent wage and offering opportunity for advancement. Continue reading “Some Restaurateurs Are Building Better Benefits Into Food Jobs”

An Insider’s Guide to Detroit

Wall Street Journal “Off Duty” • June 19, 2015

FRESH OUT OF BANKRUPTCY and angling toward boomtown, Detroit is attracting an influx of creative young professionals and entrepreneurs to its middle- and working-class mix. Continue reading “An Insider’s Guide to Detroit”

A Detroit Opera Celebrates Frida Kahlo’s Life And Cooking

NPR.org — The Salt  Feb. 25, 2015

The life of Frida Kahlo seems tailor-made for an opera: pain, love, art, travel and revolution. So the Michigan Opera Theater’s decision to mount a production of the opera Frida, opening Mar. 7 in Detroit — where the iconic painter lived with her husband, Diego Rivera, for nearly a year, and where she survived a miscarriage that marked a turning point in her art — isn’t so surprising.

But here’s something that is: The opera is celebrating not only Kahlo’s art and life, but her recipes and cooking, too. Continue reading “A Detroit Opera Celebrates Frida Kahlo’s Life And Cooking”

Stateside with Cynthia Canty

Michigan Radio • Dec. 8, 2014

When Whole Foods opened in Detroit, there were questions on whether or not the vast majority of Detroit could afford the upscale grocer. Goals were set into place to make the grocer more accessible to the citizens of Detroit. The results, however, have been a mixed bag.

Here, I discuss piece for Slate and FERN, “Can Whole Foods Change the Way Poor People Eat?” with Michigan Radio’s Cynthia Canty.

Can Whole Foods Change the Way Poor People Eat?

Slate; Food and Environment Reporting Network

Nov. 19, 2014

(1) “Everybody Was Talking About It”

A couple of years ago, as winter gave way to spring, Toyoda Ruff began to think about changing how she ate. Ruff had always been heavy, but her son, Tarik, a freshman honor student, had recently crossed the 300-pound mark, prompting Ruff to ferry him to appointments at a children’s weight loss clinic, 11 miles away in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood, and to document everything he ate for two months. At 270 pounds, her husband, Jermaine Harris, wanted to slim down, too. Ruff was beginning to see her family’s weekly fast-food habit and visits to Golden Corral’s all-you-can-eat buffet as a problem.

As Ruff mulled over these changes, a friend cajoled her into joining a healthy cooking class at their church. Ruff was on medical leave from her job as a probation officer due to an injury, and the break gave her time to consider her meals. The more she thought about eating healthy, the more intrigued she was by a new store: Whole Foods, which had just opened in Detroit. “It was on the news. People were talking about it at church,” Ruff said. “Everybody was talking about it.” Continue reading “Can Whole Foods Change the Way Poor People Eat?”

The Detroit Anthology

DetroitAnthologyMy essay, “Hungry Days in Detroit,” an homage to the year I spent living there while working on The American Way of Eating, has been included in this lovely new anthology, edited by the uber talented Anna Clark. 

While much is written about our city these hard days, it is typically meant to explain Detroit to those who live elsewhere. Much of this writing is brilliant, but our anthology, this anthology, is different: it is a collection of Detroit stories for Detroiters. Through essays, photographs, poetry, and art, this anthology collects the stories we tell each other over late nights at the pub and long afternoons on the porch. We share them in coffee shops, at church social hours, in living rooms, and while waiting for the bus. These are stories addressed to the rhetorical “you”—with the ratcheted up language that comes with it—and these are stories that took real legwork to investigate. We may be lifelong residents, newcomers, or former Detroiters; we may be activists, workers, teachers, artists, healers, or students. But a common undercurrent alights our work that is collected here: we are a city moving through the fire of transformation. We are afire. Continue reading “The Detroit Anthology”

How the Local Food Economy Is Challenging Big Food

Next City • Apr. 14, 2014

About 15 years ago, Jim Vansteenkiste got a phone call from Kroger that changed his life. It was 1997 or ’98, and the fourth-generation farmer had spent decades working the same Michigan land his father had worked before him, about an hour’s drive from Detroit. In winter the land turned into icy white tundra dotted with collard green stalks spiking up through the snow, but even in the middle of a storm he could tell you which field held eggplants the year before, and which held squash. In the summer it was lush and green, and covered in four dozen kinds of vegetables, stuff he’d been selling to Kroger and Farmer Jack — two big grocery chains — his whole life. But then he got the call from a Kroger buyer, telling him he would lose the contract and, with it, half his business. Tall and trim, with the sun-creased eyes of a life worked outdoors, Vansteenkiste knew that unless he figured something out, he could lose the farm, too. Continue reading “How the Local Food Economy Is Challenging Big Food”