Friday, July 08, 2016

Advocates look for ways to turn Appalachian food trend into more profits for the needy region

Appalachian cuisine has become the hot new trend, but there is some concern about whether or not being trendy will boost the economy of a region hit hard by the loss of coal jobs. Some "say while this newfound attention could bolster the region’s financial fortunes, it could also play into the same 'extraction economy' that has drained Appalachia for decades, Ashlie Stevens reports for WFPL of Louisvillle. (Mountain Community Radio photo: Appalachian Food Summit)

"What we’re seeing a little bit of is folks using the ‘Appalachian’ brand and using Appalachian food as a way to market their own food and use it for their own benefit without really benefiting the region at all," Stevens heard from Ivy Brashear, a former Rural Blog writer who is now a communications associate working on Appalachian transition with the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development in Berea, Ky.

Advocates hope to change that through the Appalachian Food Summit, which draws writers, chefs, food scholars, farmers and food entrepreneurs, Stevens writes. Lora Smith, who co-founded the summit in 2013, told Stevens, “It’s focused on preserving and celebrating the vernacular cooking traditions that exist in the mountains, but it is also really forward-thinking in what will support a sustainable future." Also, the Appalachian Regional Commission every year releases "Bon Appétit Appalachia!" an online map of local food businesses and entrepreneurs operating in Appalachia.

"Smith says giving those in Appalachia the tools to grow, harvest, prepare and promote their own food would lead to demand for a more dynamic regional workforce," Stevens writes. "And that, in turn, would provide jobs in the economically depressed area. But that’s only if food professionals from within and outside the region borrow responsibly."

Travis Milton, a chef who was raised in Appalachia but now lives in Richmond, Va., told Stevens, "I thought about opening up my Appalachian-themed restaurant here in Richmond, but I kind of took a step back and really did some soul-searching, and realized that in doing so I would be a part of that problem. Me being outside the region, I would be putting that money into my pocket and the community would see no real, tangible benefit from it other than the word ‘Appalachia’ being used in an article about me, or something of that matter." (Read more)

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