An Edible North Carolina History

Available today wherever ebooks and books are sold, Edible North Carolina: A Journey across a State of Flavor edited by Marcie Cohen Ferris shows how culinary excellence, entrepreneurship, and the struggle for racial justice converge in shaping food equity, not only for North Carolinians, but for all Americans.

Starting with Vivian Howard, star of PBS’s A Chef’s Life, who wrote the foreword, the contributors include Shorlette Ammons, Karen Amspacher, Victoria Bouloubasis, Katy Clune, Gabe Cumming, Marcie Cohen Ferris, Sandra Gutierrez, Tom Hanchett, Michelle King, Cheetie Kumar, Courtney Lewis, Malinda Maynor Lowery, Ronni Lundy, Keia Mastrianni, April McGreger, Baxter Miller, Ricky Moore, Carla Norwood, Kathleen Purvis, Andrea Reusing, Bill Smith, Maia Surdam, and Andrea Weigl.

Following is an excerpt from the introduction written by Marcie Cohen Ferris.

Edible North Carolina: A Journey across a State of Flavor is the story of the contemporary food landscape in a state deeply tied to its rural heritage and, most important, to the flavor of its distinctive regions—the outer coastal plain, the inner coastal plain or what most folks call eastern North Carolina, the Piedmont, and the mountains. What sets North Carolina’s food movement apart from others is its historic food heritage—a complex language of core ingredients and the interrelations of racism, land, and labor—the proximity of farm to table, the comradery of the present-day food community, and the powerful edible point of view expressed across the state. North Carolina’s culinary inventiveness is fostered by the state’s biodiversity (its unusual range of climate, soil, water, altitude, and year-round growing season), varied food economies, tourism, new and shifting populations, and expansive academic resources. Rural and metropolitan regions are close by, creating both challenges and opportunities for the state’s many small, diversified farms and their farmers. Dynamic as the present-day food economy appears, we witness its fragility as global forces affect our daily lives and tables. The COVID pandemic, the immigration crisis, the nation’s political rifts, and the strong storms spawned by a warming climate threaten the daily food supply and economic livelihoods of thousands of North Carolinians in ways unimaginable in the past.

“This week in North Carolina is what the menu is going to be.”

AARON VANDERMARK, chef/owner, Pancuito, Hillsborough, North Carolina, June 4, 2019

Now more than ever we viscerally understand what it means to lose local farms, entrepreneurs, food markets, food banks, school cafeterias, beloved neighborhood restaurants, and landmark food venues. In this book, twenty diverse individuals across North Carolina take us on a journey to explore this changing state of flavor and its meaning for generations to come. Through their stories, we collectively examine how North Carolinians—despite these challenging times and, for many, because of these very challenges—are passionately reengaging with, reinventing, and reclaiming the vibrant food that is theirs and ours.

A generation of small-scale farmers, sustainable food system activists, food entrepreneurs, aggregators, and chef founders of what has been called New Southern cuisine in the 1980s inspired and laid the foundations of North Carolina’s contemporary local food movement. Today that food movement is led by the next generation of young and midcareer people, some native to the state, others recently arrived from other states and countries. The movement is noteworthy for the number of women among its leaders. If the movement had a manifesto, it would proclaim a commitment to healthy, local, sustainable food for all that honors the great diversity of our people; protects our land, animals, plants, air, and water; fosters joy and flavor; tells a story of place through ingredients; and secures the right of all North Carolinians to food sovereignty, food equity, and food justice.

Agriculture and fisheries are the foundation of North Carolina’s foodways, and both sectors face contemporary obstacles. Structural racism, sexual harassment, and inequity exist from field to processing plants to restaurants. Our state’s local food systems—the sustainable, regional processes involved in feeding people, from growing to consuming, defined by place and people—have been diminished by a national diet bound to industrial agriculture and its production of refined and processed foods. North Carolina is losing farmland and aging farmers and fishers to debt and financial loss, increased regulation, globalization, industrial consolidation, and issues related to climate change and environmental pollution. Urban areas in North Carolina have prospered as rural counties have experienced economic and population decline—a “political-economic divide” reflected in the 2020 presidential election. Land loss is much worse for Black North Carolinians. From the late 1970s to the early 2000s, the number of African American–owned farms in the state declined by 70 percent. Thousands of food-insecure North Carolinians experience daily hunger and food insecurity.

Marcie Cohen Ferris, author of The Edible South: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region and Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South, is professor emerita of American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.