Michigan/Great Lakes Region
The variety of food in Michigan and the Great Lakes Region represents
the cultural diversity found in the area. With immigration, neighborhoods
and regions of the Great Lakes have grown around a distinct sense of
place and culture. Yvonne Lockwood and William Lockwood explain that
the culinary generalizations of the Midwest stem from the physical environment
and the immigration history of the region. (2004, p. 3) Although "many
of the features that define the Midwest’s traditional foodways
are attributable to the early northern European, especially German,
influence," there are culinary influences of the Spanish, Polish,
Arabic, French, Italian, Chinese, Greek, Dutch and Korean throughout
Michigan and the Midwest as well. (Lockwood and Lockwood 2004, p. 3) Over 130 different ethnic
communities/groups are in Michigan, making it the U.S.’s most
ethnically diverse state (Vander Hill 1970). According to historian Arthur
Woodford, Detroit has "the largest multi-ethnic population of any
city in the United States. Detroit has the largest Arabic-speaking population
outside of the Middle East, the second largest Polish population in
America (only Chicago has more), and the largest U.S. concentration
of Belgians, Chaldeans and Maltese." It was the various ways in
which the immigrants made use of the environment and food resources
of the area, shaped of course by their original and newly learned cultural
food habits, that led to the region's contemporary food traditions.
In this way, cultural diversity combined with a sense of geographical
place to form identifiable foodways.
For an overview of regional foods and restaurants in Michigan, visit
the Great Lakes Folk Festival's Food
Michigan State University Press has published a series of short books
the Peoples of Michigan, edited by Arthur W. Helweg, Russel
M. Magnaghi and Linwood H. Cousins, which examines the state's rich
multicultural heritage. Each edition covers the history of immigration
to Michigan and the immigrants' experiences in their new homes. General
food discussion is included in several of the books, sometimes with
an included recipe section. For example, the book, Albanians
in Michigan, by Francis Tix, explains that due to the high
respect for hospitality and the importance of visiting in Albanian culture,
the Albanian Americans place food preparation and sharing as the centerpiece
to their familial lives. The book then includes a cookbook, with recipes
that center on this idea of sharing and visiting. Other books, such
Amish in Michigan, by Gertrude Enders Huntington, discuss
the role of food in Amish people's lives throughout the book rather
than in a seperate designated section. The series is available through
University Press, 1405 S. Harrison Rd., Suite 25, East Lansing,
Visit the Encyclopedia
of Chicago online for an interesting look at the Foodways
Mexican and Hispanic Food Traditions
In his article, "Mexican Foodways in the Great Lakes Region: Prehispanic
and Spanish Colonial Symbols of Greater Mexico," Mario Montano
explains that the rich food tradition of Mexicans was well established
before Spanish colonial times, but throughout the colonial period merged
with Spanish food traditions to become the Mestizo cuisine (also known
as Mexican cuisine or Mexican food) of today. As Mexicans migrated north
to the Michigan area, they brought their food traditions with them.
"Mexicans in Michigan have reproduced a cultural atmosphere and
food system that approximates the one they left two thousand miles away...
In Michigan, Mexicans continue to prepare many foods with Prehispanic
and Spanish Colonial origins." His article, accessible online here,
"examines the extent that food as a material object gives meaning
to the history of Mexicans living in Michigan."
"In Lansing, Mexicans have recreated their cultural and Mexican
food system. They buy or prepare their own barbacoa de cabeza
on weekends... At the other end of the festive food spectrum are the
everyday foods, antojitos, tortilla specialty dishes, and meat
dishes... All these food performances cast light on the role that food
plays in the lives of Mexicans in the Great Lakes region." (Montano
1992, p. 7)
In Detroit, the variety of local cuisine not only signals a celebration
of culture, but also contributes to some of Detroit’s most thriving
neighborhoods. Mexicantown is one such example of Detroit’s rebirth.
Today, the area surrounding Mexicantown is the only region in Detroit
to experience population growth; Mexicantown’s restaurants and
businesses not only celebrate the food and culture of Mexico, but, in
turn, are building and rebuilding community within the city of Detroit.
Website lists the restaurants and businesses that comprise Mexicantown;
also visit the Mexicantown
Community Development Website.
The Upper Peninsula's Pasty: A "Functional
Food" for Working Immigrants
"The pasty is a turnover with a pie-like crust filled with a variety
of food combinations. It is the national dish of Cornwall, and it played
an important role in the diet of Cornish-Americans wherever they settled.
The pasty was quickly adopted by newer immigrants who worked by their
sides and under their direction in the mines of the U.P. It was not
just a recipe that was passed from one ethnic group to another, but
an entire cultural complex including the occasions for which pasties
are prepared, the ways they are prepared and eaten, and some of the
folklore associated with them... A principal reason that the Cornish
pasty was readily adopted...was its close association with work"
(Lockwood and Lockwood 1990, p. 4). The pasty, due to its heartiness,
conveniently portable size and warmth was a "functional food".
"In Cornwall, the pasty was particularly associated with mining,"
and so it became quite useful for the Upper Peninsula's Cornish immigrant
population to reproduce and consume for their work in the mines. As
the Finnish immigrant population grew, many Finns soon adopted the pasty
as well. Some "were receptive to the pasty because they had similar
regional dishes...many Finns soon came to believe the pasty was a Finnish
food" (p. 5). Throughout the years, the pasty has been diversified
and commoditized; "Reference to the pasty, to its multiple ethnic
associations, to its occupational and regional functions...have bestowed
new status on the pasty" (p. 18). Today it has "come to symbolize
the Upper Peninsula... it is a statement of regional identity"
Native American Food Traditions of
the Great Lakes Region
The Great Lakes Region was inhabited mostly by three nations, the Ojibway,
Ottawa, and Potawatomi. The Ojibway nation resided in the north regions
of Michigan, where a short growing season and hard soil posed difficulties
for farming. Instead of relying on summer crops, they depended instead
on seeds, nuts and game meat as their staple foods.
The Ottawa nations had access to Lake Huron and Lake Michigan for aquatic
resources, and experienced a fairly longer growing season than the Ojibwa
nation, making fish, maize and squash important staples for survival.
The Ottawa lifestyle, as with the Ojibway and the Potawatomi, consisted
of "a personal knowledge of the environment which allowed them
to maintain a balance between the number and kind of resources available
and the number of people who used them, assuring all people a share
of food and material goods and minimizing the potential threat of starvation"
(Clifton 1986, 2).
"The Potawatomi Nation that occupied the southern part of the
Great Lakes Region practiced and were highly dependent on community
farming, and tended to stay in one place for long periods of time. They
grew corn, squash and beans as their staple crops. The Potawatomi also
used wild plants to spice foods and for medicinal uses. For example,
sumac berries were boiled for a tea similar to lemonade; raspberries
were also boiled for a tea that removed tartar from teeth and the leaves
were mixed into a paste and applied to sores; cattail roots and stems
were eaten, flowers used for diaper lining and leaves for weaving. While
Potawatomi were mainly farming people, they also hunted deer, elk, bear,
raccoon and opossum for food and for the use of their fur and bones"
River Watershed Council Website.)
Recovering Our Ancestors' Gardens: Indigenous Recipes and Guide
to Diet and Fitness, by Devon Abbott Mihesuah, features an array
of tempting traditional Native recipes and no-nonsense practical advice
about health and fitness. The book draws on the rich indigenous heritages
of this continent to offer a helpful guide to a healthier life. The
first half of the book consists of clear and often pointed discussions
about the generally poor state of indigenous health today and how and
why many Natives have become separated from their traditional diets,
sports, and other activities. Poor health, Mihesuah contends, is a pervasive
consequence of colonialism. Indigenous foods and activities can be reclaimed,
however, and made relevant for a healthier lifestyle today. By planting
gardens, engaging in more exercise and sport, and eating traditional
foods, Native peoples can emulate the health and fitness of their ancestors.
The second half of the book is a collection of indigenous recipes, including
Summer Salsa, Poke Salat Salad, Dakota Waskuya Soup, Osage Pounded Meat,
Chickasaw Pashofa, Elk Steak, Choctaw Banaha, Comanche Ata-Kwasa, Stewed
Fruit Dessert, and a one-week diet chart. Savory, natural, and steeped
in the Native traditions of this land, these recipes are sure to delight
and satisfy. Devon Abbott Mihesuah is the Cora Lee Beers Price Teaching
Professor in International Cultural Understanding in the Center for
Indigenous Nations Studies at the University of Kansas. She is the author
of numerous books, most recently, So You Want to Write about American
Indians? A Guide for Writers, Students, and Scholars and Indigenous
American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism, as well
as the editor of American Indian Quarterly.
For more information, visit the National
Center for Great Lakes Native American Culture, Inc.'s Website.
The First Food Nations Native Food Summit took place in 2004. Here
is a report
from the summit that summarizes the event. The First
Nations Website also has other information pertaining to Native
Agriculture and Food Systems in America.
"The nations of the Middle East, which include Bahrain, Egypt,
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia,
Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen are homeland for thousands
of immigrants to the West who bring with them a rich cultural heritage
which has an impact on their food habits... although each area exhibits
unique food specialties and has its own blend of habits, citizens of
the Middle East nations share similar food habits and attitudes..."
(Packard and McWilliams 1993, p. 1) Great value is attached to cooking
and good food in the Middle East. It is a sensual kind of cooking, generously
using herbs, spices, and aromatics. Most local cuisines include rice
and wheat dishes, stuffed vegetables, pies wrapped in paper-thin pastry,
various methods for roasting meats, meatballs, thick omelettes, cold
vegetables cooked in oil, scented rice puddings, nut-filled pastries,
fritters soaked in syrup, and a variety of fruit and vegetable juices.
Some areas are known for a highly developed cuisine. Lebanon, for example,
is one of only two Middle Eastern countries to have a highly developed
restaurant tradition. Lebanese emigrant cooks and restaurateurs brought
Arab cuisine to the attention of the world. In Michigan, the majority
of Middle Eastern restaurants and bakeries offer Lebanese foods.
The term "Soul Food" originated from the cuisine developed
by African slaves, mainly from the American South. A dark and despicable
period in the history of the United States resulted in a cuisine fashioned
from the meager ingredients available to the slave and sharecropper
families. The meat used was the least desirable cuts and the vegetables,
some bordering on weeds, were all that were available for the slaves
to prepare nutritious meals for their families. From these meager ingredients
evolved a cuisine that is simple yet hearty and delicious. Information
on the cuisine is available online on Websites such as the Gutsy
Gourmet, the Soul
Food Cookbook, and others.
"Many historical and cultural factors influenced how the African
American diet evolved into what it is today, including a long history
of persecution and segregation. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries,
before Africans were brought to the United States, food habits were
influenced by New World foods such as cassava, maize, chiles, peanuts,
pumpkins, and tomatoes. African cooks adapted their cooking techniques
to American, British, French, and Spanish cuisines to develop the American
southern cuisine styles. These styles emphasized frying, boiling, and
roasting dishes using pork, pork fat, corn, sweet potatoes, rice, and
local green leafy vegetables. The traditional African American diet
includes all of the foods mentioned above, as well as sausage, chicken,
many kinds of fish, greens (mixtures of chard, collard greens, kale,
mustard greens, spinach, and turnip greens), black-eyed peas, okra,
grits, peas, tomatoes, and squash. The typical meal pattern of the African
American community included a large breakfast consisting of grits, eggs,
ham, bacon, and even fried sweet potatoes. Coffee and tea were more
common beverages than milk or juice. Lunch, which was commonly called
dinner, usually featured a boiled entrée, such as legumes or
greens with ham or a stew-type dish. Dessert was usually included. Today
few people follow this meal pattern. Sunday dinner was particularly
important to the African American culture; this is still true today
in many African American homes. The role of food in the African American
culture has traditionally been centered on social interaction. Currently,
food habits show that African Americans typically choose items such
as fried chicken, barbecued ribs, corn bread, sweet potato pie, collard
greens, and fruit-flavored drinks much more than Caucasians do. Lactose
intolerance is also more common among African Americans. This results
in a lower intake of dairy foods in the diet. While food habits have
changed throughout the years, there are still food preparation practices
that persist among the African American community such as frying foods.
Frying is more popular than boiling or baking foods" (Food
Guide for African Americans, Ohio State University Extension).
The University of Pennsylvania's African
Food section includes listings of African restaurants and African
American Food & Recipes
Greek Food in Grand Rapids
Stavros K. Frangos (2004) discusses the importance of food in the lives
of Greeks in Michigan, in the book, Greeks in Michigan. Frangos
states that foodways are "the most publicly identifiable element
of Grand Rapids Greek cultural life" (p. 37). "As in other
Greek communities, not just in Grand Rapids but across the country,
today the most public contexts for the Greek community events all center
around food: dinner-dances, the Calder Festival, the Hellenic Festival,
and the annual Philoptochos bake sale... Food, then, has become
a public medium for presenting Greekness to the American public"
(p. 38). These public events were occasions where Greek immigrants and
non-Greeks could meet and learn about each other through the sharing
of food. And this tradition, now an integral part of Greek-American
culture, evolved into such a public occasion from a fairly intimate
and private sharing of food among Greeks only. Frangos explains that
"this movement has also signaled a transformation in celebratory
space away from small, intracommunity gatherings to public celebrations
encompassing all of Grand Rapids" (p. 40).
Ethnic churches in America are very important in maintaining culinary
traditions, a role they do not usually have in their countries of origin.
Cornish-American churches hold pasty bake sales, Serbian-American churches
have summer lamb roasts, and Armenian-American churches hold regular
bazaars at which a wide range of Armenian foods are sold, both to take
home and to eat on site. The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Lansing
is no exception. Among other food events, the congregation hosts a fundraising
luncheon featuring Greek cuisine prepared by the Greek Orthodox Ladies
Philoptochos Society. Church members are now second and third generation
Americans and include a number of other ethnics united by eastern rite
Orthodox faith, as well as converts in marriage. The food, however,
is steadfastly Greek.