The third annual Michigan Jewish Food Festival gears up to be the best yet.
Everybody eats. Food is the common denominator that brings people together — from the dinner table to restaurants and occasionally to food festivals. People gather wherever good food is to be found.
There will likely be good food in abundance at the Michigan Jewish Food Festival. The festival is organized by the nonprofit Hazon and will take place at Eastern Market on Sunday, Aug. 26, from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. in sheds 5 and 6. This is the festival’s third year, and Hazon expects it to draw more than last year’s 6,500 attendees.
“Every year it becomes a challenge because more and more people want to become involved,” says festival manager Marla Schloss. “It’s very exciting.”
This year, Hazon has brought together 30 vendors, nine prepared food vendors, four food trucks, 61 Jewish organizations, 18 food justice organizations and five musical acts to make the festival exceed expectations. There will also be a kids’ tent, three guest chef demos and speakers giving 10-minute presentations in the TED Talk style.
Hazon came to Detroit three years ago, bringing with it the ethos of environmentalism and sustainability as seen through a Jewish lens. The organization’s tagline is the “Jewish lab for sustainability,” and Hazon places a strong emphasis on food.
“Hazon founder Nigel Savage realized that the Torah really is a document of food and food production,” says Sue Salinger, director of Hazon in Detroit. “All the holidays focus around Earth-based, agriculture-based events.”
Hazon is working closely with all the festival’s partners to carry this message of sustainability forward. Vendors and tables are asked to cut out plastic products, reduce any type of packaging, and provide compostable or recyclable plates and utensils. Water bottles will not be sold. Instead, attendees are encouraged to bring water containers to fill at one of the festival’s water stations.
“In terms of the food itself and what’s on offer, we have a food policy,” Salinger says. “All of the vendors are encouraged to share a vision around food sustainability, so we are asking people to source locally where they can, and to show the provenance of the food and the products that go into the food.”
The festival has also partnered with advocacy groups that share its vision. Moms Across America is a nonprofit organization that focuses on changing the way kids eat. They also strive to reduce children’s exposure to toxic chemicals found in the environment and food systems.
“Moms Across America is a natural fit for the Michigan Jewish Food Festival,” says Illana Stern, the organization’s regional leader. “We are working to move people toward supporting organic and local farming and essentially moving away from chemical industrial agriculture that is causing so much harm to our bodies and planet.”
Moms Across America will have a booth at the festival with kids’ activities and information on how people can improve their health through the way they eat.
Younger attendees will have plenty to do as well. The kids’ tent will feature activities based around sensory experiences. The Detroit Waldorf School is also leading children in activities including wheat grinding, making origami hats and weaving friendship bracelets.
Since it is a Jewish food festival, organizers have worked with food vendors to provide many kosher options as well as non-kosher. Some vendors and food trucks will have large balloons on display indicating their kosher certification and through which organization they are certified.
“Because we include everybody, we make sure that it’s identified where products are kosher. So, we not only have food vendors and trucks that are kosher, we also have some people that are selling kosher prepared food,” Schloss says.
Eastern Market Corporation is working with Hazon to provide a kosher kitchen for the day as well.
“We really wanted to make sure the Orthodox community didn’t feel like ‘what’s there for me?’” Schloss says. “We make it a point and it’s really an important part for us and what we do to have that Vaad [kosher supervision] connection to the kitchen so everyone can eat and know that it’s supervised.”
That spirit of inclusivity goes beyond Jewish attendees. One of Hazon’s principals is to help improve Detroit’s neighborhoods in its programming. Several featured speakers will discuss the food movement and food security issues in Detroit. Salinger says one of Hazon’s missions is to bring the Jewish community into relationship with Detroit’s leadership. Hazon’s volunteer committee and board include some of the city’s leaders.
There will also be interfaith groups represented at the festival. The Michigan chapter of Interfaith Power and Light will be returning for a third year. The nonprofit group advocates for a religious response to the threats of global warming and climate change. Leah Wiste is the organization’s director of outreach and advocacy in Michigan.
“Each year we’ve gone, the event has had a really impressive turnout and has had a convivial atmosphere. Some folks who stop by and chat already see caring for the Earth as a part of their religious identity; for others the concept is totally new,” Wiste says.
Salinger says the festival is all about community.
“Hazon is really about collaboration and capacity building. So we are really trying to build up and work with and lift up everyone. We built this as a grassroots event,” Salinger says. “We frequently quote our teacher Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi in his saying ‘the only way we’re going to get it together is together,’ and we’ve really got to get it together, so we’re going to be together.”
The Michigan Jewish Food Festival takes place 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26, at the Eastern Market in Sheds 5 and 6. For more about the festival, and for those looking to volunteer at the festival, visit Hazon’s website at hazon.org.
Long-time Detroit bluesman Mark Pasman leads this super group of area musicians. Pasman is an award-winning musician and had a long career as a radio broadcaster, hosting the Motor City Blues Project on WCSX-FM for more than 25 years. This iteration of the SuperSession includes what Pasman calls a “Jewish guitar triumvirate,” featuring musicians from Uncle Kracker, Mitch Ryder’s band and rhythm players who have backed Betty LaVette. The PazMan SuperSession starts at 2 p.m.
Emily Paster is one of the Michigan Jewish Food Festival’s featured guest chefs — she will discuss “Jewish Preserving in Action: Turning Matbucha into Shakshuka.” Paster will demonstrate how to make matbucha, a Moroccan Sephardic dish made from tomatoes and bell peppers, which can be preserved and then turned into Israeli shakshuka any time of the year. Paster is the author of two cookbooks, including Food Swap and The Joys of Jewish Preserving, and creator of the family-oriented food blog West of the Loop. Paster travels the country speaking about garden-to-table cooking, canning (above) and fermentation. Emily Paster’s demonstration starts at 11:30 a.m. in Shed 5.
Rabbi Moshe Givental
Rabbi Moshe Givental has a message to share. Givental saw the political climate in the country grow increasingly toxic in recent years. In an act of nonviolent protest, Givental decided to walk from Boston to Detroit, specifically to raise awareness about environmental justice. Stopping to talk with and listen to regular Americans, the rabbi is trying to start a dialogue about the destruction of the environment and climate change. In “Walking to Listen: Boston to Detroit,” Givental will share his experience at the Michigan Jewish Food Festival’s 10-mintue talk tent. A question and answer session will follow.