New Models: North Carolina Women in Food

In 2015, every 5th Wednesday of the month we’ll be serving up a “Ways with Food” piece. Today, it comes to us via the New York Times and Kim Severson’s article, “The North Carolina Way: A Food Sisterhood Flourishes in North Carolina.”

It seems that all eyes are on NC at the moment, for reasons of both celebration and struggle. As a North Carolina native, it is important to me that writing, images, and portraits that honor and reflect the complexity of the state I call home.

In this piece, Severson amplifies some amazing women voices and makes some interesting points on why this unique women-powered food scene has emerged in North Carolina, including:

  • NC’s food ecology and economy
  • the role of creativity and inventiveness
  • the reshaping the identity of “Southern” food
  • the gender dynamics of the food world, and
  • shifts from competition to models of collaboration, connection, and community.

I am ALL ABOUT celebrating these women powerhouses. YES! AND ALSO this article also leaves me hanging. Food is connected to everything, so even when we’re talking about a high-end niche market (as this article is), we cannot pretend it doesn’t impact every part of the network. How can there be no discussion about race and class when we are talking about shifts in power, particularly those related to agriculture, land, food justice, and cultural traditions? Also, where is the voice of Mama Dip a black woman who put NC on the food map almost 40 years ago? Women who are cooking in NC have not emerged out of an empty void, they are walking in the footsteps of women like Mildred “Mama Dip” Cotton Council and many others! And I just have to say it – the rich food tradition and scene in NC is not dependent on NYC transplants.

That said, this article has me mulling how we can take some of the lesson’s that have emerged from this sphere, into broader conversations on social justice, alternative models for leadership, and collaborative economies. My big question is:

How can we take advantage of gaps and opportunities to invent more just models for our businesses, our economies, our communities, and our livelihoods? And how can we ensure that as these new models grow, they don’t fall into the old power dynamics?

Rather than write and article about an article, below are a few highlights. What are your thoughts? Please share!

– – – –

“They are not beleaguered by how they will move up through
the system because they are the ones who are inventing it.”

– Marcie Cohen Ferris, professor of Southern and food studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and author of “The Edible South,” which chronicles in part the role of women and feminism in Southern food

“We definitely don’t adhere to any rules about what Southern food should look like,”

– Vivian Howard, chef and owner of the Chef and the Farmer – Kinston, NC

“There are more high-quality farmers per capita in these
50 square miles than maybe anywhere else but
Northern California. If you cook here,
you are automatically part of that network.”

Andrea Reusing, Lantern – Chapel Hill, NC

“As women have moved into positions of leadership and ownership, we began learning more about
community and how to take better care of
each other and our staff”

– Ashley Christensen, Poole’s Downtown Diner – Raleigh, NC

“This is an oddly progressive state that speaks of possibility.
We as women here embrace that naturally.”

– Eliza MacLean, Cane Creek Farm – Snow Camp, NC

“The women who cook there just own it, and they live so much better than us.”

– Alex Raij,  El Quinto Pino, Txikito & La Vara – New York, NY

– – –

Ways with Food is a place to stir up, marinate and serve up our questions, reflections  and stories about food.

2 thoughts on “New Models: North Carolina Women in Food

  1. Well said! You are so right to note Mrs. Council’s trailblazing and pathway-lighting through her enduring restaurant, Mama Dip’s Kitchen; and your point on NC-born chefs/cooks/food leaders vs. transplants is also spot on.

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