The Rapidian

The Local Beet: Grand Rapids' Food Trends for 2011

Kale. Embrace it. It's good for you and it's finally a food getting due recognition.

Kale. Embrace it. It's good for you and it's finally a food getting due recognition. /Lisa Rose Starner

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Frugal. Quality. Hyper-Local. Traditional. Artisanal. Bartering. Food empowerment. Now that we are one month into 2011, it's already shaping up to be a fun year on Grand Rapids' food front. What will we see more of in 2011?  Here’s the run-down on what’s in store for the rest of the year. 

Frugal & Quality
In these times, people are doing more with less. But this is the year where we will see the debate rage on between the WalMart mentality of consumerism and truly turning back to our roots- seeking what comes from the earth.  WalMart only subsidizes frugality.  This is the year we will see real frugality come out on top. Back to the basics.

And even though resources are limited, more and more people will be choosing quality over quantity.  Sure, you can go to Costco and buy several bags of cut up chickens. But what about restructuring your budget and eating habits to buy a few whole, pastured chickens from a local grower and use the whole thing

Using an entire chicken can not only stretch your food dollar, but choosing the latter supports the farmer who practices humane animal husbandry practices (an act in and of itself helps depower our out-of-control factory farm industries).  You'll get a really fine chicken for your dinner table and though it might cost more (usually $3-5/lb, depending on the grower) the value is there at every point of the chain.

The value is there, and hopefully you will learn ways over this next year to stretch your food budget to accomodate good food. So, give it a go- buy one whole pastured chicken and learn to cook it - check out FoodIly's cache of roasted chicken recipes for ideas and tips.

Traditional Foodways  

While on the subject of going back to the basics, whether you are living in the city or on its outskirts, more and more people are going back to the old kitchen ways. Many are taking the time to learn to cooking whole chickens, use raw milk, and get schooled on fermentating foods as new old ways to preserve the harvest. Not just because it’s trendy, but because it is good for you, frugal, and just tastes better.  Interested in going traditional? Check out Nourishing Ways of West Michigan for a list of free classes in traditional foodways. 

Homesteading & Gardening
Backyard gardening and farming has become a hot activity over the past decade. And this year will be the most productive year for food gardening we've seen since the Victory Garden movement in World War II.  

Classes on how to start your own garden like GRCC's ROOT CAMP are already in progress. The organizers of this free monthly gardening instruction want to get over 1000 new gardens growing in urban Grand Rapids.  How's that for impact! 

Not ready to start your own garden? Get a collective together and consider going in on the endeavor with a team.  This helps share resources and elbow grease, and has the potential to unite community in ways social media never could.

Homegrown and harvested herbs for teas and medicinals
As the New York Times reported last summer, many people are turning to their gardens and local plants for ingredients for the infusions in their tea cups.  And as people look to find real ways to be well, local plants will once again be in our medicine cabinets to help with basic ailments and to keep us healthy. 

Beyond the cultivated gardens, more and more people will take to the fields and woods to discover the wild world of wild edibles.  Be sure to know your botany and what you are collecting before you eat it. Also, don’t overharvest. Because that’s just lame. Instead, help propagate our plant communities for future enjoyment.  You have an ethical responsibility if you choose to forage. 

In the marketplace

This is the year for Grand Rapids to finally break free of the beguiling, brainwashing charm of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. I challenge you to ask yourself -  "Are these stores *really* what we are looking for in terms of a food shopping experience?"  

The Grand Rapids’ metro area and its surrounding suburbs have a plethora of local shops that offer ethnic foods (think Asian grocers on Division past 36th Ave - Mexican Mercados on the SW side - and Middle Easter grocers at K-Zoo Ave and 44th), wines (Russo'sGrand River GroceryArt of the TableMartha's VineyardSiciliano's, & Smitty's), cheeses (though, anyone remember Erika's Delicatessen? They had the *best* cheeses...), and the like. 

For local, whole foods from local growers, Grand Rapids has the West Michigan Co-op that offers a great selection of vendors from whom you can buy local, quality products on a monthly basis (albeit *I* wish it was a retail front to allow for more frequent purchasing). And the large-scale grocers that exist on the periphery of town - D & W, Meijer - are local and have well-stocked wine, beer, and corporate organic vegetable selections (and some are designed with a Whole Foods experience in mind).

Oh, and don't forget Kingma's in the Creston Neighborhood. One of the best local grocers around. 

So all those requests to Facebook "like" a Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s Page for GR? Ignore them. We have all we need already for quality food in Grand Rapids, provided by local businesses. Personally, I can't *wait* for that downtown Urban Market! Now there's a shopping experience for Grand Rapids!

Food trucks
I added this for good measure, just because it’s something everyone is talking about.  But, really, to call it a "trend" would mean Grand Rapids would expand its food truck selection beyond Grand Rapids’ ONE fair-weather food truck operated by Winchester in UpTown. So, restaurants: there is definitely an opportunity to make it a trend. Maybe on the WestSide?

Small Food Businesses in Household Kitchens & Bartering
Because of the passage of Michigan’s Cottage Food Law last summer, more and more people will be trying to add to their household income by producing handmade small batch foods like jams, jellies, herbal products and baked goods.

And like Brooklyn's Food Swap, these artisan foods will enter the bartering scene as we find other ways to add beautiful food to our table other than shelling out a lot of money for pricey foodstuffs. This is a new facet to the changing economy.  

On the menu...

More vegetables
Turnips, kohlrabi, daikon, kale and bok choi are all here to stay.  They’ll be the vegetables on the menu at restaurants throughout the season, and probably also be showing up in your CSA share. Embrace them and develop a toolbox of recipes to prepare them at home for your evening meal. 

Pork has had its run
While pork is an amazing food and can add briliance to a bahn mi or can be delicious combined with caramel and chocolate, this new decade can put to rest pig recipe abuses such as the pork lip balm. Good chefs and home cooks will use it prudently and not abuse it like we've seen over the past several years.

It’s the year of the pie and apparently cupcakes are out. But I ask: did Grand Rapids ever even get caught up in the cupcake fad? I am not sure we did. But no matter. Pie is definitely a good trend AND a classic foodway.  Eat up.  

And finally ... 

Food reporting gets democratic
No more will food reporting be relegated to “White People Food.” We can expect more people to use technology and platforms like The Rapidian to engage and have critical conversation about what they eat.  Expect the coverage to take on different flavors than the pallid "foodie" persona that's been the lead face of our food over the past decade. 

It's your plate. Claim your voice and speak up about what you eat- The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. Speak up.  Grab a pen, notebook, or camera.  Cook. Eat. Think. Repeat.


And have a Good Food year. 


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This was an insightful and interesting piece. I like reading something with this much big picture, yet local thinking. Nice work.

Thanks, Roberta.

I think we are on the edge of a significant shift in our GR food trends, and this is only just a bit of what's on the horizon.

Glad to be a part of the conversation, and hope our readers also choose to chime in with their thoughts and perceptions on this dynamic issue.  

 Great piece to encourage conversation about food. Some exciting ideas spring from this. Thanks for the good work.

i have conversations about food in my own brain or with others on the daily. great to see something in print.

for those of you looking to continue the conversation check out these two events at the division avenue arts collective (115 s division)

*FEBRUARY 8 @ 7PM : daaclicious potluck and recipe swap  : bring a dish to pass and one copy of your recipe. we'll make copies there for anyone who wants one!

* FEBRUARY 17 @7PM : talking with your mouthful : a panel discussion : talk with local foodies and activists about local food trends, where to eat, and the inside scoop!


 Thanks for sharing!

are the panel members set for the february 17th event yet?  eager to find out who's talkin! 

 working on it! almost set!

Marlee - Great to see new food events on the calendar.  Unfortunately, I can't attend either event but look forward to seeing the DAAC host more like these ...

Perhaps at these meetings we can offer more info about the Rapidian to encourage others to become citizen food journalists... That will keep the conversation flowing, for sure! 


Ah, how Facebook has ruined our communication. I really want a "like" button for Lisa's suggestion of more folks to get involved as citizen food journalists.  Whether it be restaurant reviews, news on local farmers, producers, and retailers, or photo essays (or heck! audio and video reports!) of gardens, farmers market finds, and local farmers-we could use more food writers!  I think this is something our readers would be interested in hearing more about, so if anyone is keen to join the team, give me a shout!

I've been thinking that a lot lately too, hmm...

 It'd be very easy to focus on... I've been suggesting to Denise that her idea last year of Nibs+Noms *could* serve as a platform for bringing people in to talk about any aspect of food...  Someone stoked about SPAM? Great.  Someone raising a goat for it's milk and got recipes? Cool.  

And there's potential here to be more than a food "journalist" and to Holly's point, there is a TON of potential content here. Just need more people to be a part of the conversation. 

So, call on me anytime if the core Rapidian team talks strategy about food writing and recruitment.  It'd be great to intentionally grow this aspect of our online journal -- it'd be a great way to increase the visibility of the Rapidian and at the same time showcase the diversity of GR food perspectives in our community. 

 i'd be happy to bring rapidian info to both events and let people know about how to get involved!

Do you know of anyone who's going to cover it for those who can't attend?  I'll be out of town for the first event but would love to hear how it went.

Thanks for the good post, Lisa.

I have a couple of recommendations on sources of items you've mentioned.

We buy whole chickens exclusively. And like most of our meat, we go to Creswick Farms (about 35 minutes from downtown, in Ravenna). They have pastured beef, lamb, pork and chicken. It is not certified organic, but it is what I'd call "organic in spirit". Their prices are higher than grocery store prices, for sure, but they aren't as high as some of the vendors who stock meat at Fulton Street Farmer's Market. And, FYI, Creswick does the Plainfield Farmer's Market on Thursdays in season.

You alluded to the Asian markets on Division, and I'd second that. The one inside the plaza that also houses Wei Wei Palace and Pho Sac Trang has a great selection of fresh fish that you can't find at most grocers. I just bought a whole mackeral ($7) and a whole pompano ($4.50) the other day. If you could even find those fish at, say, D&W, I'm sure they would be special order and much more expensive.

Another under-the-radar place I'd recommend is Horrocks at 44th and Breton. They have a very large produce section which features some hard-to-find ethnic staples, and a lot of local stuff - for instance, they have a huge display of nothing but dried beans/peas/lentils from West Michigan farms. Their bulk, deli and foreign/ethnic packaged foods sections are pretty great, too.

Finally, on the subject of food trucks, there are plenty of others besides the Winchester's What the Truck - but most of them are traditional Mexican taco trucks that operate seasonally. They're not part of the trendy food truck movement per se. Having said that, I recommend the one that is parked out front of the laundromat at Burton and Clyde Park throughout much of the year. They sell traditional Mexican tortas, tacos, tamales, etc., and you can get a pretty great lunch there for about $5.

I guess I should have written my own column. This post is going to turn out to be longer than your original piece!

 Kevin - I *LOVE* the add-ons! 

Yes, when I was writing this list, I knew there was more to include for sure.  

As for taco trucks, when it's the season, let's head down together and check them out. There is so much opportunity for the truck/cart mov't (which is actually growing) to expand.

And WeiWei Palace ... Pho Soc Trang is one of my personal favorite eat-out spots.  Love their #37 in bowl.   

Again, thanks for being part of the conversation. 

 And don't forget the live crawfish at WeiWei. :)


Horrocks... I don't get down there often, but they remind me of southside version of Kingma's in a way... 

You're right. They are quite similar. I think Horrock's has more/better produce, but I haven't been to Kingma's for about five years, so I'm not a reliable source.

As for a taco-truck round-up, I'm all for it. In fact, I was thinking of talking to George about a Rapidian feature idea I've had called "Food Afield" which would be all about visiting out-of-the-way eateries.

 Love it. Count me in.

I'm loving the Food Afield idea.  It reminds me of a friend's challenge to do a "mac and cheese tour" to find the best real macaroni and cheese offered at local restaurants.   Hmm.  The ideas are endless!  And tasty!

It's September of 2011. How are we doing on these trends? What have I gotten right? What's a miss? What do you see happening in the world of food in GR, and where are we headed?