East Lansing is not well known for its healthy lifestyle. Football Saturdays leave the campus covered in beer cans and pizza boxes. The delivery guys frequent the dorms more than some of the students who live there. But a new East Lansing business is offering an alternative to the unhealthy food college students are accustomed – food that doesn’t come loaded with grease.
The Green River Café specializes in healthy and organic coffee and food. It’s different than other eateries because it caters to those who normally have to search for food of their liking. It’s different than other coffee houses because the entire selection of coffee is fair-trade and organic. And it’s different than other businesses because the owner not only makes the fruit smoothies to order, but he went and picked the fruit from the trees they were grown on.
Jim Jabara opened the Green River Café shortly before students arrived back on campus for the fall. He owns the business with his wife, Josephine, and friend, Karen Schlagel. Although they’ve been open only a short while, Jabara has already seen his business grow. “A lot of young people come in the café,” he said. “There are a surprising number of young vegetarians and an extremely surprising number of vegans. They come in and say, ‘I’m so glad some place has vegetarian and vegan options on the menu.'”
Organic food differs from regular food in that it is grown without pesticides or herbicides and made without any synthetic ingredients. Nutrition sophomore Nevin Cokdegerli said she tries to eat organically as often as possible.
“I cut out white bread and complex carbs and stuff like that,” she said. “I stick to vegetables and try to avoid canned food. I try to eat food in the most natural form it comes. If I have to choose between canned fruit and fresh fruit, I eat fresh fruit.”
Cokdegerli said that without going to specialty grocery stores, eating all organic food is difficult. However, most grocery stores do have a section of all-natural foods that contains some organic food. There are also a few places like Green River that are all natural.
Green River is located at 211 M.A.C. Ave. in the space last occupied by The Dog Pit. Going from all different kinds of meat (because really, what is in hot dogs?) to organic and mainly vegetarian wasn’t as difficult as one might think. The interior is coffee house chic with adjustable track lighting, hand-me-down furniture and counter space from The Dog Pit. There’s even a fireplace with sofa chairs and a couch surrounding it.
It has already become home to Amnesty International and other social groups who hold their meetings in the spot. Jabara hopes more people will use the café as a place both for meetings and relaxation.
“Once we expand the menu, add some shows and some activities, that will probably make us more of a destination around here,” he said. “Right now, people just stumble upon us and sometimes they come back and sometimes they don’t.”
Currently, the Green River Café has a book club that meets one Monday each month. And every Thursday evening, a group of jazz musicians plays for fans, friends and anyone who happens to be walking down M.A.C. Sunday night is open-mic night where students can show off their voice, their guitar or their poetry and spoken word.
Jabara’s other business, a film production company called Our Small Planet, is not far from the café. He has produced documentary work that aired internationally and even taught a class at MSU with environmental journalism professor Jim Detjen. “I’m planning on doing a documentary night once a week,” Jabara said. “We have a screen and a projector so we can show documentaries.”
Recent MSU telecommunications alum, Ben Meden, works for Our Small Planet and helps out at the café when needed. He praised Jim and his wife for how they live their lives. “They’ve always been there for the community,” Meden said. “This is a small thing compared to what else they’ve done.”
Besides the Café and documentary work, Josephine Jabara is the president of a non-profit organization called United Cerebral Palsy of Michigan. The couple also does some volunteering for United Way. Their broad-based work and taste show at the café.
Meden is particularly interested in the environment and tries to eat organically whenever he can. “Large scale factory farms are bad for livestock and for the community. Organic food helps out the local farmer and small businesses. And MSU is so close by – it’s nice to have a co-op here.”
Although eating organically seems like the logical choice, some people are turned off because organically grown and produced foods tend to be on the expensive side. Synthetic ingredients can be produced in larger quantities for less money.
“Prices are always higher for health food,” Meden said. “This place is a good outlet. Prices aren’t too bad for what you get, too. I think I even lost weight eating the food.”
When considering the extra cost of organic food, one could also consider the extra cost of not eating healthy. “Organic food is defintely more expensive,” Cokdegerli said. “You’re going to be paying a buck or two more for organic food, but in the long-run [you’ll be] paying a lot more for hospital bills if you aren’t healthy.”
And locals are helping the café get some of the more expensive organic products. MSU’s student organic farm donated food to the café when they first opened.
Green River Café’s menu consists of your obvious coffee shop fare with different sandwiches and soups. Coffee and tea, all fair-trade products, usually run about $2. Although everything in the café is all natural, not all of it is organically-grown.
“We use organic products wherever possible,” Jabara said. “Our cheeses and some vegetables and some fruit are organic. But everything is natural. No preservatives or added flavors. This place is really about healthy. Organic is just a bonus.”
Aside from the organic food and used furniture, the café is even more environmentally friendly by using real dishes instead of disposables, even though it takes time to wash them.
“Our waste goes into one 20-gallon garbage bag every night, as opposed to all the paper and plastic we could waste,” Jabara said. “We have recycling, too.” Where most restaurants would have garbage cans, the Green River Café has a place to put plastics, paper and glass. They also recycle their cardboard.
A resident of the area, Jabara thinks it’s important to develop strong ties with other local businesses as well as campus. When he can, he uses local organic companies. “We’re trying to do as much locally as possible,” Jabara said. “We use the local organic free-trade coffee. ‘Think globally, but eat locally.’ That’s my slogan.”