Speaker Examines Appalachia Through Food

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March. 22, 2011) - You can tell a lot about a girl from the type of barbecue she prefers. So, do the connections between ketchup, mustard or vinegar, collards or corn — carry cultural weight beyond the calories? University of Texas American studies Professor Elizabeth Engelhardt would most likely say yes. 

Engelhardt will present the third of the University of Kentucky's Place Matters series, titled "Gathering Wild Greens: Foodways Lessons from Appalachia’s Global Past" at 3:30 p.m., Thursday, March 24 in the John Jacob Niles Gallery.  UK English professors Erik Reece and Randall Roorda will participate as discussants in Engelhardt's lecture. 

"I want to talk about how our myths of Southern food can get in the way of understanding a much more complicated story of food and culture," Engelhardt said. "We'll be taking a few of the myths apart, all while keeping our eye on the food and what it tells us."

The western North Carolina native's scholarly interests include food studies, feminist theories, ecological literature and culture, Appalachian Studies, Southern Studies, material culture studies and the intersections of race, class and gender in American literature and society.  

Engelhardt came upon this unique area of research through her studies of ecological feminism in Appalachia.

"I noticed throughout my discussions that people continued to talk about food," she said, storing the nutritional knowledge for later consumption. "It's ironic, as we are faced with this image of the groaning and plentiful Southern table, tomato-canning clubs and biscuits and cornbread, while the Southern story is equally a story about starvation and lack."

Engelhardt will begin the conversation with local Appalachian plantlife and its foray aboveground this spring — wild greens. "Local folks, especially in the mountains, would go and gather greens to make tonics, or cures, for whatever ailed them," she said. "What were these diseases, and what do they represent?"

Engelhardt has taught in American studies and at the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at UT Austin since 2004.  Engelhardt uses a variety of texts, including photographs, letters, diaries, novels, poems and recipes, employing interdisciplinary methodologies to understand them. Her newest research looks at gender, food and foodways across the U.S. South. 

"It's interesting to look at literature and see how southerners used foods or the lack of food and disease to speak of their situation," she said. "I would hope that we end up having a conversation about what this complicated history of Appalachia can teach us and about what unearthing these traditions and knowledge of place can teach us."

Most recently, Engelhardt was the lead author of "Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond the Brisket" (University of Texas Press, 2009), a book that explores the life and culture of Central Texas barbecue and is an example of collaborative scholarship and community-based pedagogy.  "Food is fun, but I really believe that we have responsibilities in the humanities right now to listen to the communities in which we're living," Engelhardt said. "We need to figure out how to learn from where we are and how we can help."

Place Matters, a four-part lecture series exploring the importance of place in research, pedagogy and citizenship will continue the global conversation, according to UK sociology professor and series organizer Dwight Billings. 

"We aim to focus on how Place Matters in Appalachian Studies, but also, how our concerns—the role of place in scholarship, teaching and citizenship—are shared across many disciplines and programs at UK," Billings said. "While the theme of connectivity can be found throughout 30 years of work in Appalachian Studies, we continue to discuss our region's connection to a wider world with its constant flow of populations, resources, and ideas."  

Sponsored by the Appalachian Studies Program, the College of Arts and Sciences, the University of Kentucky Appalachian Center and the Appalachian Graduate Research Community, Place Matters continues through April. 

The Appalachian Studies Program is an interdisciplinary program of the College of Arts and Sciences that includes faculty affiliates in Arts and Sciences and the colleges of Education, Fine Arts, and the Health Sciences. The program is devoted to promoting scholarship and teaching about Appalachia and service to the Appalachian region, as well as bringing together and augmenting our collective, universitywide strength in Appalachian research and education. 

For more information, please see http://www.appalachiancenter.org/placematters.   

MEDIA CONTACT: Erin Holaday Ziegler, (859) 257-1754, ext. 252; erin.holaday@uky.edu