You Say You Want an Evolution

The Bureau of Urban Living. The People's Arts Festival. Now the Detroit Evolution Laboratory. If you hadn't noticed, the good people of Detroit are starting to stage a big ol' coup. But listen, it's not quite a revolution. Try thinking of it as a full-blown "evolution."

Located on Gratiot just blocks from the heart of Eastern Market, you could think that the Detroit Evolution Lab is some sort of hangout for poetic revolutionaries clutching their worn copies of Marx and Lenin. Truth be known, it is a place to chill. And, it's totally a place where the like-minded tend to converge and conspire. But the actual M.O. of this "people's party" is to unite the city behind health and happiness. And, to liberate Detroiters by doing so.  

Yoga mornings, healthy treats

If you're sitting down with Angela Kasmala and her partner Gregg Newsom, bake some time into your schedule for gabbing. Whether it's a convo about vegan living and raw foods, yoga, or your collective hopes and dreams for Detroit, you got an hour, they'll give you two. (Or three…or four.)

Their doors open at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday through Friday mornings for 7 a.m. yoga practice. No, it's not the kind of power yoga experience you see touted in East or West Coast trend mags. It's all about the mind-body-spirit connection and relaxing into your day. And if you don't know what that means 'zactly, it's yoga practice for the sake of you, your community, and everyone's improved mental and emotional state. (So yeah, it's got nothing to do with helping you into those skinny jeans, dig?)

In addition to Newsom's yoga classes, Kasmala presides over a kitchen where health reigns supreme. After a few family tragedies propelled her into discovering the connection between what we put into our bodies and our overall well-being, she's no longer got the patience for food that just fools around. Her Lab offers a daily menu of yummy vegan or raw food meals that are meant to make you feel and, well, function, great. But don't think that means a measly 8 oz. portion of steamed kale and brown rice. During auto show week, for example, she cooked up Soul Food, mile-high nachos, and even mac-n-cheese. This week she's making Detroit-Style Double Crust Pesto Pizza and spinach/artichoke pie. (All vegan, all the time, of course.)

The response to the Lab's healthy treats has been extraordinary. From locals to travelers, to transplanted Detroiters coming back home for the holidays, Newsom says, "The first time people order food from Angela, they almost always call back or email to say, "I feel phenomenal. How did you do that?" Further proof of their success is the fact that there are only a few seats left in Kasmala's vegan and raw cooking classes. So whether anyone thought it would happen here or not, Lab life is showing that not all Detroiters want to rock a burger and fries for lunch. Yay. Score one for the evolution.

Thinking local, buying local

When it comes to talk of sustainability and buying local, even Detroiters are starting to buzz, and think, and respond. "The things that are quite new or strange for Detroit have proven quite successful on the coasts," says Newsom. "Here, we're finally tuning in to those fundamental frequencies that will help us make that change toward a community-based sustainability. So we have to start with the individual sustainability first."

They use all Michigan Green Products in their kitchen and yoga space. They compost. They visit the Holden Recycle Here! facility twice a week to actually learn what they can (and can't) recycle. That's made their operation pretty close to being zero-waste. Newsom also adds that they try and spend as much as they can in the city. They buy organic goods at Goodwells. Even when their car teeters on "E," they wait to get back into the city to buy gas. That kind of thinking has put 75 to 80-percent of their spending right here in the city. And, it helps them lead by example when they chat sustainability with their students.  

"As you begin to eat better and do yoga—the things that force you to go within—you also connect more with the earth," says Kasmala. "As you start to tune into that, you automatically begin to think sustainably."

The big, evolutionary picture

Spend even more time at the Lab, and thoughts naturally drift to the bigger picture. How we got here. What are we gonna do about it?

Newsom feels it's important to know about Detroit's revolutionary traditions. What things were happening in the 1960s. What groups were being formed. Even what people were talking about down on Plum and Fourth Streets. He also thinks workshops, discussion groups, and even movie nights can only help us understand our present—and our future.

"On a political and cultural level, Detroit has been really toyed with by industry and corporations and government. So, we've kind of established a collapse of those things," says Newsom. He's also noticed that as more and more people start questioning big business and government on a national level, he appreciates Detroit even more for already having cut its teeth on and being plenty hardened to it all.

Which is why having plenty of positive plans in your back pocket is important when you're talking about a city that's far from being naïve. The dynamic duo at the Lab are currently seeking "health-conscious" investors to help build a full-scale restaurant for the Lab activities. They want to want to tackle the food kids are being served in the Detroit Public Schools. Improving hospital food is another long-term goal. Gregg even sees himself one day opening a garage that deals in outfitting cars to run on alternative fuels.  

"Detroit is hungry," Newsom adds. "For businesses, for activity, for yoga and health-consciousness." And also that very thing these two dreamers are bringing to the party: a means for evolution.

The Detroit Evolution Lab is located at 1431 Gratiot, #1. Check their web site for details on events, yoga classes and menus.

Jennifer Andrews is a local freelance writer who spends a lot of noon times eating veggie burgers at Greenwich Time downtown.


Angela Kasmala and Gregg Newsom

Yoga Mats



All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger