The image, currently popular in the media, of Appalachia as a seething monolith of Anglo-Saxon resentment took a beating at this weekend’s Appalachian Food Summit in Berea.
Participants heard about how an Italian immigrant introduced the pepperoni roll, the state food of West Virginia, to the Mountain State; how pack peddlers from Syria and Lebanon became leading retailers in Kentucky and shared the culinary delights of the Mediterranean (and their gardens) with their mountain neighbors, and how black women from the Southern mountains and foothills advanced the science of cooking and the art of fine dining, but got no credit for it.
No one’s building a wall around the proliferation of taquerias, taco trucks and Mexican restaurants that are everywhere in Appalachia.
And while Asheville, N.C. excels in the craft beer industry, boasting more breweries per capita than any place in the country, Somerset, in south-central Kentucky, also has joined the craft-beer scene with a promising new entry in Jarfly Brewing Co. Jarfly resurrected a recipe for Kentucky Common Ale and is serving it in a rehabbed department store across from the Pulaski County Courthouse. The West Virginia University Extension Service is researching the potential for hops growing in Appalachia.
Congratulations to the organizers who put together a stellar program, including, of course, a soup bean supper and a closing feast of down-home victuals, which as keynoter Ronni Lundy, who has just published a cookbook by the same name, explained, is pronounced “vidls.”
The first Appalachian Food Summit was held two years ago at the Hindman Settlement School and last year’s was in Abingdon, Va.
Many of the organizers and participants also are deeply involved in economic transition work, searching for ways the region can rebuild from the coal industry’s decline. At a time when so many are focused on coal country’s economic plight, it’s great to also consider and celebrate Appalachia’s long, lasting and, at the same time, ever-changing cultural riches. Nothing brings people together like food.