Skip to content

EdNC. Essential education news. Important stories. Your voice.

Personal sustainability within the N.C. food industry

Editor’s Note: During the week of Thanksgiving, we wanted to take a look back at the inaugural Carolina Food Summit. The Food Summit explored the intersections of food and policy, hunger, nutrition, school lunch, family ties, and other topics that will arise as we gather around our Thanksgiving table this week. In addition, our co-founder Ferrel Guillory invited some students from one of his journalism classes to cover the Food Summit. Given our belief that first person perspectives and nurturing young voices matter, we wanted to spotlight their work as well. Enjoy your Thanksgiving.

Situated in a small, rustic barn down a country road, farmers, restaurateurs, professors, botanists, and the like from all over North Carolina gathered to share the one thing they have in common: a passion for food. In late September, the first Carolina Food Summit kicked off in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with UNC-Chapel Hill American Studies Professor Marcie Cohen Ferris presenting insights on the cultural significance of food in North Carolina.

A panel followed with presenters such as Wyatt Dickson, a pit master at Picnic in Durham, and Ricky Moore, head chef at Saltbox Seafood Joint, discussing how their love of flavor and sustaining the craft of making “good food” got them into the industry. Reverend Richard Joyner furthered the theme of sustainability when he soberly announced that Conetoe, where he serves as a reverend in a local church, was a food desert.

“I first noticed the lack of food because lots of people would show up to funerals to get the food,” Joyner said. “People that didn’t even know the family that was holding the funeral.”

He began the Conetoe Family Life CSA farm as a way for the community to sustain themselves not only physically, but also psychologically.

“Everyone needs to eat, getting food should not be shaming or make someone feel guilty…having food that they grew themselves led to character, dignity, and healthy relationships,” he said.

Scott Crawford, now the head chef at his own restaurant, Crawford and Son, supported the importance of “the sustainability of people,” with a telling story of his own experience working in the restaurant industry.

“I found a sense of belonging in the restaurant industry. They welcomed me with open arms…and it really gave me a sense of belonging and purpose,” Crawford said.

Things soon changed for Crawford as he discovered the true underbelly of the restaurant industry, “I fell into a dark place when I realized that the life that surrounded such a beautiful craft was so wretched.”

Crawford was overworked in the restaurant where he served, working 24-hour shifts and months at a time with no days off. This led to extreme levels of psychological and physical damage for Crawford, leaving him depressed and even hospitalized.

That experience led Crawford to a new perspective.

“I tried to find places in the food and beverage industry that had sustainable people practices, and I learned that it would be easier to locate a unicorn,” Crawford said. “Balanced, healthy people perform better, and we (the food industry) are one of the last industries to recognize that.”

A sobering thought on an industry whose literal existence is, in essence, to provide sustenance.

Natalie Roush

Natalie Roush is pursing a masters of visual communication degree at UNC- Chapel Hill where she is a Park Fellow and works as a graduate assistant for the North Carolina Scholastic Media Association. Roush previously lived in Thailand and worked as a photojournalist for the Asia Office of the International Mission Board, an international NGO.