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The Carolina Food Summit: Plates, policy, and place

3:00pm, September 28, 2016

Just past the Old Well in Gerrard Hall on this beautiful Carolina blue sky day, our food summit is about to convene. I’ll be live blogging in this article today and tomorrow.

For Nation Hahn and I, this day is years in the making. In 2014, the Legislative Research Commission’s Committee on Food Desert Zones, chaired by Sen. Tom Apodaca and Rep. Tim Moore, found “that good and ample nutrition for children enhances and enables learning and attentiveness, and improves attendance and behavior at school, and scientific research indicates that students who eat school breakfast show a general improvement in academic performance, including a general increase in math and reading scores and improvements in speed and memory in cognitive tests.”

A deep dive on access to healthy food with the Z. Smith Reynolds Leadership Council led to EdNC’s short documentary about a food exchange between students in Hatteras and Conetoe which led to Nation’s column, Healthy Ever After.

The Carolina Food Summit extends this work, exploring the big issues facing our foodways statewide.

Yesterday, the summit was featured on The State of Things:  “Chefs, writers, scholars and restaurateurs will gather over the next two days for the first annual Carolina Food Summit. By building community around food, they hope to change food policy,” says WUNC’s website.

Change makers are gathering in this space that used to serve as a chapel to ask:

How do we ensure that the lives of all North Carolinians are enriched daily by a vibrant local food economy that fosters health, flavor, culture, entrepreneurship, and justice?

How do we positively influence a climate of change around the current food system in our local communities?

From 3:30-5:30, we begin with the story of place. Here is what we have in store for you…


Jeff Polish of The Monti introduces us to our seven storytellers who will give us insight into how place roots them in their daily practice, helps to shape their values, and informs their work. North Carolina snacks and drinks are being provided by Chef John May (Piedmont, formerly Chef & the Farmer), April McGreger (Farmer’s Daughter Pickles & Preserves), Sheri Castle and Steel String Brewery.

Our seven storytellers include:

Folklorist Jefferson Currie II reminds us that southern food is native food.

April McGreger, founder of Farmer’s Daughter Pickles & Preserves, talks sweet potatoes and capturing the flavors of the South.

Sheri Castle, food writer, cooking teacher, recipe tester and developer, on her mountain upbringing.

Vansana Nolintha, co-owner of Bida Manda, shares how he has brought the rituals of daily life in Laos to Raleigh, NC.

Donovan McKnight, co-director of Ethnosh, introduces his work and invites Szechuan Chef Lan Chen and his wife You Lv of Captain Chens Gourmet China in Greensboro to talk international flavor in the Triad.

Angela Salamanca, owner and chef of Centro, on work, family, and passion.

Screening: “They Came For Shrimp & Grits: The Life and Work of Bill Neal,” a Southern Foodways Alliance film.

Chef Bill Smith, Crook’s Corner, on carrying forward Bill Neal’s legacy.

EdNC extends our sincere thanks to all of the Carolina Food Summit partners and sponsors.

3:30-5:00PM, SEPTEMBER 28, 201

Nation Hahn opens the summit honoring his Nana. Nana passed away this past weekend, and her funeral is today. He says, “Nana taught me the value of hard work, good food, and community.”

Folklorist Jefferson Currie II says he learned about place and community from his Aunt Alice. He lived with her for a year and a half when she was 90 years old, and her hankerings took them on a journey together. “Food to her was a lot of things. It was about survival, about farming, … about helping other people.”

April McGreger, founder of Farmer’s Daughter Pickles & Preserves, says her mother refused to fry food be it chicken or okra or anything else. “I am not a country cook,” her mom would say. McGreger rebelled, learning to fry chicken and make biscuits from scratch. She realized there is power in making food while visiting friends in New York, when they asked her if she learned to make her biscuits in culinary school. Along the way she learned the fine art of making preserves like her grandmother. And she realized that feminism 2.0 is about elevating women’s work, refusing for it to be seen as second best. “It is a lot harder,” says McGreger, “to make good preserves than it is to get a good sear on a steak.”

Sheri Castle talks about her upbringing in Watauga County. She told the story of a gully washer of a storm — rain so hard you can’t see outside, but you can hear it. And what she heard during one of those storms was the cabbage in her family’s garden exploding. Cabbage, as it turns out, explodes when it gets too much water at once. She knew then that some things in life would be out of her control. To this day, she carries with her a 50 pound cabbage sack, tacking it up in her home wherever that may be. And each day, when she looks at the sack, she remembers Psalm 121:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my strength.

Vansana Nolintha, co-owner of Bida Manda, shares his story of how the rituals practiced in his Laotian restaurant have taught him how we assign meaning to the mundane in life. In Laos, children honor their family narrative by taking care of land that has been passed down through their family. Van’s parents sold the family land by a river in Laos, and the proceeds from the sale became the seed money for Bida Manda. Van and his sister tend to the restaurant just as they would have tended to the land. His mother and his father are visiting for the first time in 18 years. When he picked them up from the airport, his mom wanted to go straight to Bida Manda, where she knelt down in the kitchen and said a prayer.

Szechuan Chef Lan Chen and his wife You Lv of Captain Chens Gourmet China in Greensboro talk about the stress of providing real Chinese food, and the power of an article in The Greensboro News & Record in helping their community understand the importance of authenticity.

Angela Salamanca, the owner and chef of Centro, connects work, family, and passion. She is training for the New York Marathon, which she will run on her 40th birthday. In the delusional state of the long training runs, she asks herself what she is running from. Memories of growing up in Bogota, Columbia — mom hustling, money tight. On the weekends, though, she visited affluent grandparents in a house with beautiful furniture where there was always cause to celebrate. “It felt beautiful,” says Salamanca.  “And I knew life could be different.” In 1993, Salamanca came to the States and decided to stay. Ten years later, her sister passed away and her mom fell into a deep depression. Salamanca couldn’t return to Columbia. One year later, when Salamanca became a mother herself, she could see for the first time her mother’s sacrifice, her mother’s hard work, her mother’s stress to provide. She realized she was running from the past, wishing for an ideal childhood, an ideal relationship with her mother. Now she is proud of where she came from, honoring her mother and her country through cooking and sharing and creating community…and claiming North Carolina as home.

5:00-5:30PM, SEPTEMBER 28, 2016

The Southern Foodways Alliance presents its film about the life and legacy of Bill Neal, who changed the face of Southern restaurant cuisine when he opened Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill in 1982. Moreton Neal and her son, Matt Neal, are in the audience.

Chef Bill Smith, Crook’s Corner, closes the day thinking about carrying forward Bill Neal’s legacy — and restaurants as laboratories.

At EdNC, in our visits to schools across the state, we often think about school kitchens. Often they are the largest commercial kitchens in the county. Tomorrow, as the Carolina Food Summit continues, we envision the role these kitchens can play in increasing access for students and communities to healthy food.

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.