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Food is such a crucial part of the human experience

that organizers of a recent Winthrop regional food conference had no trouble coming up with multiple angles for participants to explore.

Organized by the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, the Feb. 21-23 food conference involved more than 170 academics, culinary professionals, food activists, gardeners and brewers who spoke about our fascination with, and dependence on, food.

Not only did participants talk about food but they sampled Southern dishes, attended an Ethiopian dinner, experienced a vendor fair and walked a trail to several local breweries.

John T. Edge, food writer and director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the

Edge follows in the food steps of Bill Neal, the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, chef who helped lead the New Southern Cuisine movement of the 1980s. “More than a quarter of a century after his death, I struggle toward a similar goal, toward yet another reinvention of this beleaguered and beloved place,” Edge said. “I embrace my role in the active conception of this newest of New Souths.”

Conference panels covered the role of food in agricultural production, tourism and travel, literature, global issues, nutrition and health, and topics of local interest.

For instance, senior environmental studies and political science major Mikayla Mangle presented on gentrification and how it relates to food. She discussed how environmentally friendly grocery stores tend to move into already gentrifying neighborhoods. Te development of these types of stores raises the property value of a neighborhood and pushes out longtime residents, thus erasing their culture, according to Mangle.

customs, the conclusions they draw are the same, said Scott Huffmon, political science professor and center director.

“If we want to preserve the traditions of Southern food, we need to find a way to make them healthier, less processed, organic and available to the younger generation,” he said. “If younger generations are not preparing and eating typically Southern foods, the culture, recipes and traditions of the region may be foreign to the generation of Southerners yet to be born.”

With 30 sessions that ranged from the impact of food and nutrition on health and chronic disease to a farmer’s perspective on the challenges in modern farming to food and poetry, the conference had something for everyone

Conference organizer Ginger Williams, a professor of history, said the events were successful because 20 Winthrop



Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, delivered the keynote address. He has worked to explore the diversity and ever-changing face of Southern food culture.

“Traveling from Texas through Alabama, it’s now common to see banh mi, those colonial-inspired sandwiches on pate- smeared French bread, marketed as Vietnamese po’boys ...Tese active Southerners now coin their own takes on traditional foods,” Edge said about the fusion.

Above: local goods were available at the vendor fair; at right, Betty Plumb displayed a plate at the Ethiopian dinner.

Another session provided data about food choices.Te Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research cited results from its Winthrop Poll that examined how the definition of Southern food is changing. While 8 percent of Baby Boomers and 9 percent of Gen Xers list grits as the first food that comes to mind as Southern food, only 2 percent of millennials and 1 percent of Gen Zers list grits as the first food.

Whether younger Southerners are less likely to name grits because they are looking for healthier foods or they are simply less likely to uphold Southern culture and

departments and programs contributed.

Te Department of English folded its annual undergraduate/graduate student conference into the conference. Other collaborations occurred with the N.C./S.C. Consortium of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs, Visit York County and Te Olde English District.

“We consider the conference a wonderful success, and all came away with a deeper understanding of food and its power to connect people,” Williams said.


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