Eating Outside the Box: Exploring local food markets

BY MEGAN JACOBS
Daily Arts Writer
Published January 20, 2005

There are more ways to avoid the dreaded freshman 15 or keep off that post-holiday weight than trying a trendy diet. If a healthy lifestyle is on your menu, the first place to start is the grocery store. Ann Arbor boasts a wide variety of organic and natural food stores to keep your kitchen stocked with all the essentials, plus enough specialty items to put a smile on any chef’s face.

Whole Foods Market on Washtenaw Avenue is the largest of the local organic markets, offering aisles of juices, prepared meals, herbs and vitamins, organic produce and household items. Though it does not have the homey, non-commercial feel of the others, Whole Foods is a great place for one-stop shopping, as one can find everything from cereal to dessert. Open until 10 p.m. every day, it’s the perfect college sidekick. Whole Foods can even be the ideal hors’ d’oeuvres spot or snack bar, with samples in nearly every section, including cheese, crackers and dessert.

Aside from the almost overwhelming array of food and beauty items, Whole Foods includes a restaurant within; the hot bar is a mere $6.99 per pound, and offers dishes from lasagna and beef stew to sushi, vegetarian and vegan meals. There is also a pizza bar where wood oven-baked pizzas are available ready-to-order for $11.49 per pie or by the slice for $2.49 each. The famed salad bar is $5. 99 per pound and stocked with fresh produce, seafood and cheeses.

Whole Foods is widely known for its exotic foods; only here can one find fresh coconuts and Asian melon. Additionally, Whole Foods’ deli counters can have anyone feeling like Emeril with a wide assortment of oven-ready entrees, typically under $8 per pound. Dishes include traditionally glazed hams and meatloaves as well as Mediterranean grape leaves and spinach pies. They also carry more nationalities and varieties of cheese than I’ve ever seen in one market.

The People’s Food Co-op in Kerrytown is an Ann Arbor gem, stocked with a wide variety of fresh produce, bulk food products, raw and pre-prepared meals and baking supplies. People’s Food also caters to those with strict dietary guidelines, including vegan, wheat-free, non-dairy, gluten-free and reduced fat and sodium foods.

Additionally, they host a broad selection of herbal remedies, natural body care products and environmentally-friendly household goods.

At the People’s Food Co-op, shoppers can enjoy the Fabulous Food Bar, complete with organic salad bar and a daily-changing menu of soups, meat and vegetarian entrees, vegetables and side dishes.

Whole meals can be purchased for less than $8, while side dishes cost less than $5. The organic brown basmati rice is worth the trip alone. Also, People’s Food presents cookbooks of recipes in-store and on their website, www.peoplesfood.coop.

Cafe Verde, an extension of People’s Food, recently opened on N. Fourth Street. More than just any other coffee shop, Cafe Verde serves only fair-trade brew. Plus, organic java-lovers have the option of flavoring their cup of joe with all-natural syrups. On the snack end, Cafe Verde carries vegan and dairyless pastries and sweets along with traditional bagels and scones.

Arbor Farms Market on West Stadium Boulevard is a fresh foods market featuring natural food and body products, homeopathic medicines and a deli with a takeout section. Aside from aisles of delectable and organic produce, meats and flowers, the market hosts an impressive medicinal aspect, including alternative treatments and herbal remedies. There are also a seemingly endless array of cookbooks for dieters, vegetarians and those in a hurry for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. A favorite recipe is the Mediterranean vegetable and walnut salad, easy to prepare in under 15 minutes. For the complete list of recipes, plus online coupons, herbal treatment options and featured health tips, visit the website at www.arborfarms.com.

Trader Joe’s on East Stadium Boulevard accommodates the healthy shopper with store-brand bakery and prepared goods, along with organic pasta sauces, juices and shampoos in its full-size market (for a citrus-fresh shine, try Trader Joe’s brand Citrus Refresh, $1.99 per bottle). While it does not have a salad bar, it does have daily-made sushi and ready-made salads, soups and entrees for under $5. The tomato bisque and their home brand of spicy pistachio nuts are shopper favorites. They also have a sample or two for the curious shopper; the Gala apple juice is sure to please.

Trader Joe’s is not only healthy, but also worldly. One of the most fascinating and tasty aisles is that of ethnic entrees, full of frozen Chinese, Thai, Indian, Mexican and Italian dishes. Check out the shrimp spring rolls — a package of five is available for $5. Trader Joe’s also offers a wide variety of wines and beers from around the globe, the perfect complement for much of their ethnic cuisine.