"To become intimate with your home region, to know your territory as well as you can, to understand your life as woven into the local life does not prevent you from recognizing and honoring the diversity of other places, cultures, ways. On the contrary, how can you value other places if you do not have one of your own? If you are not yourself placed, then you wander the world like a sightseer, a collector of sensations, with no gauge for measuring what you see. Local knowledge is the grounding of global knowledge. Those who care about nothing beyond the confines of their parish are in truth parochial, and are at least mildly dangerous to their parish; on the other hand, those who have no parish, those who navigate ceaselessly among postal zones and area codes, those for whom the world is only a smear of highways and bank accounts and stores, are a danger not just to their parish but to the planet." - Scott Russell Sanders, Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World, p. 114.

























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 Program page.

Michigan State University Press has published a series of short books entitled, Discovering 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 as 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 Michigan State University Press, 1405 S. Harrison Rd., Suite 25, East Lansing, MI 48823-5245.

Visit the Encyclopedia of Chicago online for an interesting look at the Foodways of Chicago.

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. Mexicantown’s 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" (p. 12).

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" ( Clinton 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.

Middle Eastern

"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.

African Americans

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 recipes.

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.

Polish Food


Cleland, Charles. 1992. Rites of Conquest: The History and Culture of Michigan’s Native Americans. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Clifton, James. 1986. People of the Three Fires: The Ottawa, Potawatomi and Ojibway of Michigan. Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids Inter-Tribal Council.

Divina, Fernando and Marlene Divina. 2004. Foods of the Americas. Berkeley: Ten Speed.

Frangos, Stavros K. 2004. Greeks in Michigan. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

LaDuke, Winona and Sarah Alexander. Food is Medicine: Recovering Traditional Foods to Heal the People. Minneapolis: Honor the Earth.

Lockwood, Yvonne and William Lockwood. 2000. "Continuity and Adaptation of Arab-American Foodways." In Arab Detroit: From Margin to Mainstream. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Lockwood, Yvonne R. and William Lockwood. 1990. "Pasties in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula: Foodways, Interethnic Relations and Regionalism."

Lockwood, Yvonne and William Lockwood. 2004. "Midwestern Food." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, edited by Andrew Smith. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mihesuah, Devon A. 2003. "Decolonizing Our Diets By Recovering Our Ancestors' Gardens." American Indian Quarterly 27(3/4):807-820.

Milburn, Michael P. 2004. "Indigenous Nutrition: Using Traditional Food Knowledge to Solve Contemporary Health Problems." American Indian Quarterly 28(3/4):411-435.

Montano, Mario. 1992. "Mexican Foodways in the Great Lakes Region: Prehispanic and Spanish Colonial Symbols of Greater Mexico." Festival of Michigan Folklife. East Lansing: Michigan State University Museum.

Packard, Diane P. and Margaret McWilliams. 1993. "Cultural Foods Heritage of Middle Eastern Immigrants." Nutrition Today.

Vander Hill, C. Warren. 1970. Settling the Great Lakes Frontier: Immigration to Michigan, 1837-1924. Lansing: Michigan Historical Commission.

Zubaida, Sami and Richard Tapper. A Taste of Thyme: Culinary Cultures of the Middle East." Ib Tauris.

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