Eating Appalachia: The Project

Appalachia–it’s a region that conjures up stereotypical images of hillbillies and fried possum, poverty and Walmart.  But surely there’s something more to this place, something in the air or the water or the food that keeps the area going.  While it has been characterized by many as a backwards region set in a time warp back fifty or sixty years, in the short time I’ve lived here I’ve discovered a land full of beautiful, welcoming people passionate about their culture and history.

So what is this region and why am I interested in it?

Appalachia, as I consider it for this project, is the region that stretches from Birmingham, Alabama up through north Georgia, the farthest western counties of South Carolina, eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, eastern Kentucky, western Virginia, all of West Virginia, and far western Maryland. Certainly northeastern Mississippi, southeastern Ohio, southwestern Pennsylvania, and southwestern New York could are part of Appalachia, but I’ve chosen this region because it focuses on the mountains south of the Mason-Dixon line. The area is both more proximate to my location in southwestern Virginia and more aligned to my interests of southern, mountain history, culture, and food. The specific map I use (as seen above) was drawn by John C. Campbell in 1910, and it is also the map that Mark F. Sohn uses in his seminal book, Appalachian Home Cooking: History, Culture, & Recipes.

As for how I first became interested in Appalachian cuisine, I have the food blog EatMeDaily to thank. Back in March they ran a three-part series on Appalachian cuisine and called it the one “truly American cuisine” that is “hyperlocal, community-driven cuisine.” At the time I was living in Atlanta, Georgia, and preparing to move to Roanoke, Virginia, to begin my MFA in Creative Writing, Poetry. Although I planned on writing a poetry thesis, since moving to the region, food, more than ever, has dominated my creative interests. As my attempts at poetry failed, my interest in local farmers, producers, and food artisans grew and I decided to embark on a book length project on Appalachian food. My goal is to meet as many farmers, hunters, producers, and food-oriented people in as many areas as possible and to then have a completed manuscript (that will hopefully be picked up by a publisher) by my graduation from Hollins in May 2011.

So how am I qualified to write about food?

For the past three years I’ve run a food blog called Cupcake Punk which focused on vegan cuisine.  That blog is now incorporated with this site and remains focused on a vegan lifestyle and vegan recipes.  While I have relatively little formal training in journalism or nonfiction writing, I did graduate magna cum laude from Emory University with a double major in English literature and Environmental Studies (ecology) and I am currently a MFA candidate in creative writing at Hollins University.  Not to toot my horn, but I’m a pretty good writer. I also love writing, which is a quality necessary for anyone attempting to write a book.

Vegan food blog?

Yup, you read correctly. On July 7, 2007 I decided to live a vegan lifestyle. At that time I had been a vegetarian since January 1, 2007. For the past two and a half years I’ve been living and eating dairy, egg, and meat free, and I’ve loved the lifestyle. Personally, I have no plans to go back to eating meat. However, for the purposes of this project, I intend to eat everything offered to me. As of today, November 15, 2009, I have eaten meat for the first time in almost three years. It was country ham, and, yes, it tasted pretty darn good. At home I will still be practicing a vegan lifestyle, which you can read about over at Cupcake Punk, but on the road I will be eating meat, dairy, eggs, etc. I believe there is a reason that this culinary tradition here in Appalachia is still around and I fully intend to experience it in order to understand why.

Please, if you have an qualms or complaints about my gastronomic decisions, direct them to me via email at eatingappalachia [at] gmail [dot] com.

So Where Have I Been Lately?

Deer Camp, Part I
Deer Camp, Part II
Jones Valley Urban Farm
Big Pine Trout Farm

For any other questions…

Leave a comment or email me at eatingappalachia [at] gmail [dot] com.

One Response to “Eating Appalachia: The Project”
  1. bethmacy says:

    Dang, Jes. Your project is so good and so smart, I’m kicking myself for not thinking of it first.
    But seriously, you’re seeing the valley and surrounding area with fresh eyes — which is exactly what a project like this requires.
    (And you even ate some ham. Damn, girl!)
    If your nosy landlord can be of any help at all, just let me know. I have lots of contacts in and around the region from my food-columnist days.
    You have to go to Cuz’s in Tazewell County, for instance.
    You simply must meet my sweetie pie, Ezera Wertz, owner of Wertz’s Farm Market, who’s in his mid 80s and still works a garden farm.
    You have to go sit down with Nancy Saunders, a mean-on-the-outside woman who runs a little soul food place on Melrose called The Goody Shop. (People pre-order her yeast rolls for the holidays weeks in advance, and if they forget to pre-order them, she’s sorry; they can just “sit down and shut up” (a sign on her wall).
    Anyway, there’s more. . . but you’ll hunt up even better ones yourself, I know!
    xoxo beth

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