Editor’s note: Starting this week, Vegetarian Kitchen will run every other week.
Don’t hate me when I tell you my vegetarian kitchen sits within walking distance of five health-food stores. (Yes, five.) And two farmers markets. And the Public Market House.
There are so many shopping options for people like me who regularly buy tofu, organic kale and raw shelled hemp seeds that it feels like an embarrassment of red quinoa riches.
Because of this I must first apologize to all my friends, relatives and readers who live off the Portland peninsula and routinely drive (in some cases up to an hour both ways) to my neighborhood Whole Foods Market. I’m really sorry that we all don’t live in a walkable health food heaven.
When I moved to Bayside from Munjoy Hill a dozen years ago, the health food scene was among the appeals of moving downtown, but it was nothing out of the ordinary for 2004. Both the locally owned Whole Grocer and the national health food chain Wild Oats were within walking distance. The Portland Public Market was just around the corner.
Then in 2006 things began to look less rosy. The Public Market lost most of its tenants and eventually the doors closed. The architectural gem sat empty and forlorn. That was also the year the Whole Grocer was swallowed up by Whole Foods Market, which planned to shutter it once its new store opened.
It turns out these events were only a momentary setback in the rapid health-foodization of Portland.
The following year Whole Foods Market opened its megastore on Somerset Street, hiring security to help with the overflow traffic.
The Whole Grocer and Wild Oats both closed; however, no one but my downtown neighbors cared to hear me mourn their demise since I was three blocks from what (at least at the time) was the largest Whole Foods ever built.
The years ticked by, and I managed to fill my reusable, organic cotton shopping bags with weekly stops at Whole Foods and the two Portland farmers markets.
Then another watershed moment in Portland’s health food history came in 2010, when Trader Joe’s took over the former Wild Oats space and brought low-cost organic food to town. Two years later, on the opposite side of downtown, Rosemont Market and Bakery opened in a former stove shop on Commercial Street.
Suddenly I had three health food options within walking distance, two of which bake their own bread. Of course, I face no shortage of fresh baked goods, since Big Sky Bakery, Standard Baking Company, Union Bagel Company, Ten Ten Pié, Portland Patisserie and Holy Donut all sit blocks from my house.
After the Whole Grocer closed, a group of residents formed a co-op buying club that slowly grew. In 2013, I joined and began taking regular walks to the warehouse on Newbury Street where pickups took place.
Little did I know that the Portland Food Co-op would soon open a full-service grocery store. When that came to pass in late 2014, I was shocked – and thrilled – at my continued good fortune; the new storefront was only six blocks from my house. All I could think was: “Life couldn’t get any sweeter for people like me seeking organic, vegan health food.”
And then it did.
Last May, Lois’ Natural Marketplace opened a store on India Street – a block and a half from the co-op. During the past two decades I’ve bought organic produce and prepared vegetarian food at the Scarborough store. These days, every time I walk into Lois’ in Portland, I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.
Can we sustain this cornucopia of health food stores? Or will some of these markets close? Could the trend continue? Maybe a nationally owned Sprouts Farmers Market or a locally owned Royal River Natural Foods will open next. Or a Veganz. The all-vegan German supermarket chain plans to open its first U.S. store next year in the other Portland, so why not this Portland, too?
Whatever comes next, I’m embracing the here and now, where being a health food eater puts me solidly in downtown Portland’s mainstream. The challenge becomes deciding where to shop.
Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer who lives in Portland. She can be contacted at: