Ali McGhee is a journalist, creative writer, and academic. Her work has appeared in The Edgar Allan Poe Review, Romantic Circles, Symbiosis: A Journal of Anglo-American Literary...
If you find yourself battling traffic down Hendersonville Road and start to look around while your engine is idling, you will likely see a sea of fast food and chain restaurants, tucked into strip malls or standing on their own like temples to fried food. But while the landscape looks bleak, there are some important shifts taking place in the way that South Asheville eats. A huge influence on this evolution is Medea Galligan, owner of Medea's Real Food Cafe in South Asheville.
Galligan had a mission to bring a community together through healthy food, fresh juices, and education. "When we had the idea to open, we wanted to have not just quality food but also community space, a place in South Asheville. When we moved down here from Kenilworth in 2010, all of a sudden we were like, 'There's nothing to eat.' Everything that makes Asheville great is mostly downtown."
So she brought the values of downtown Asheville to the Southside. "I can say out of 100% selfishness that I wanted access to organic food. I was very surprised: there's a different demographic on this end of town that can afford better food and it didn't exist.
"In Asheville you could kill yourself on pub food," says Galligan. "I wanted big fresh salads and juices. And I wanted to make as much as I could here." Her vision, rooted in her own passion for eating and living healthfully, infuses the cafe. Light-filled and spacious, with local art hanging on the walls and abundant, colorful foods in glass cases for your perusing pleasure, it feels like an antidote to much of what's available on that side of town. And much of what isn't made in house is sourced locally.
"We make everything except the bread (which is from Annie's Bakery) and the baked goods. We're the largest retailer of Silver Moon Chocolates, and we carry Dr. Cacao's and Dolce di Maria. I get items directly from 40-50 local vendors."
This goes beyond just food and ingredients. The supplements that Galligan stocks are from MG12, a company out of Tryon.
The fact that a cafe is stocking supplements may come as a surprise, but for Galligan it's all part of her larger goal. She's offering more than just food, but that's one very important piece of her plan to help people heal. Galligan has an MA in Nutrition, is a Certified Holistic Health Coach (CHHC), and is a member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP).
"The main idea is to show people that healthy food can taste good and that getting healthier is not about denial, deprivation, or discipline, but rather that this transition occurs: when you eat better you feel better, and when you feel better you want to continue. That's what I teach as a health coach."
Along with the well-stocked cases and extensive meal choices, one of Medea's primary focuses is providing fresh cold-pressed juices. "The juices are amazing. There are 2 pounds of organic produce in each juice that are instantly bioavailable. It's bioavailable, nutrient-dense food. That's our mission here.Medea's Juices. Photo: Erin Fowler
Why is this so important? "It's not that we are what we eat, it's that we are what we absorb," says Galligan. "That's where the enzymes come in and that's where we can strengthen the digestive system and the body can actually use nutrients."
The seven offerings on the juice menu run the gamut from sweeter, root-based juices to green juices. The newest addition is Doctor Green, which Galligan developed after many of her customers had cancer. "One of the most well-known ways of treating cancer is a very low-glycemic diet with no fructose (and no apple, which is an ingredient of many of our juices). We can do custom juices for a 10 bottle minimum but we wanted something on the menu without apple." The response has been overwhelmingly positive. "It's the second most popular juice on the menu," she says.
I tasted all the juices, which were delicious. There was a delicacy to many of them, the result of the cold-pressing technique, that allowed all of the flavors to shine. I also had a Turmeric Wellness shot--zing!
Another important offering of the Real Food Cafe is bone broth, renowned for its healing properties. Medea's makes theirs from pastured poultry and grass-fed beef. "A lot of people don't want to make it at home," says Galligan. "It's not easy to make. We sell it three ways: you can have it hot like a coffee, have it in the bowl here, or take it home frozen in 16 oz containers. We sell out as quickly as we make it."
The final health offering is fermented green apple kvass. Galligan is a fermentation whiz and teaches workshops throughout the year (check the website for details on upcoming workshops). "We developed the kvass here," she says. "Kvass is traditionally made with beets, and our version of it is with green apples. You can ue any fruit and any spice We make a holiday kvass with cranberry, apple, and cinnamon. And we stock three varieties of kvass regularly. One is made with green apple and cinnamon. Another uses a Rishi peach blossom white tea as a spice. We also have a ginger lemon flavor."
I had the opportunity to taste the kvass and it was delicious. Lighter and less funky than kombucha, it was a refreshing taste of cool green apple and spice. The white tea-flavored kvass was my favorite, but you can't go wrong with any of them.
One of Galligan's goals through her workshops is to share her knowledge with her customrs. "I do fermentation workshops 3-4 times a year. It's a three hour workshop. I use a lot of Sandor Katz's work as my foundation, also Donna Gates, and the Weston A. Price Foundation. Participants get recipes and we sample ten ferments at three different tables." These include kvass, water keffir, cultured vegetables, sauerkraut, cococnut and almond milk keffir, creme fraiche, buttermilk and butter.
The cafe hosts other workshops as well. In the past they've held sessions on kombucha making, essential oils, cranial-sacral therapy, and others. Galligan doesn't charge for the space. "When people come in to do workshops it's been a win-win to cross market," she says. "These folks have a place that supports what they're doing in terms of the health and wellness topic they can present," and participants often eat or drink from the cafe. "Classes are usually evenings or weekends," says Galligan. "We now have a front table that's an eight-top with a tv that we can do presentations on. It's worked great."
Galligan is always looking ahead to the future. "It took a while for people to know we were here the first year. I've had the opportunity to get to know a lot of business owners through the Rotary of South Asheville [for which she volunteers as a speaker and coordinator]. Lots of people moving in to Asheville. We've been launched into this mini-San Francisco. People make money and businesses grow. Our next step is rolling out home delivery. We have a commercial kitchen on Sweeten Creek and we're in the process of moving our juicing equipment and kettles there. That's where we'll also be doing more catering."
The home delivery plan also includes taking food and other items to businesses. Galligan is also hoping that some of her products will be included in things like spa packages and other gift baskets.
Ultimately, though, it all comes back to people feeling better and enjoying fresh, healthy food in a comfortable, welcoming space with friends and loved ones. "Even if you're born and bred on sweet tea, you'll find something here to love," she says. "Folks meet here for business, families come in after school for smoothies. All of that's been really great."
The next fermentation workshop is coming up on Saturday, August 20th from 6-9 pm and costs $35 to attend. Find more information on the cafe's website.