Appalachia’s Own Revolutionary Cuisine

Jamie Oliver, the British culinary guru behind ‘Naked Chef’, has brought his revolutionary ways to Huntington, WV. The mission is noble; Oliver states “I believe that every child in America has the right to fresh, nutritious school meals, and that every family deserves real, honest, wholesome food. Too many people are being affected by what they eat. It’s time for a national revolution. America needs to stand up for better food! “

Oliver’s effort to embed himself in the city and culture of Huntington is being televised on ABC weekly, and includes an open invitation to the community to show up at a retail/practice kitchen space known as Jamie’s Kitchen in Huntington itself.

Reactions from the people of Huntington thus far have been mixed, including some tremendous support and some significant trepidation about what this Brit is cooking up in town. But one aspect that has not yet been addressed by Oliver and the producers of his show is the culinary legacy and historical context of Appalachian cooking.

Grist’s April McGreger throws out a challenge to Oliver, tracing the history of outside critiques of traditional Appalachian diets based on (then) new “modern” ingredients such as partially hydrogenated oils, bleached white flour, and margarine–each of which turned out to be worse than traditional ingredients and cooking practices. To avoid making temporary changes or worse, well-intentioned mistakes, Oliver might do well to consider rooting his food revolution in the culinary history of the place as he looks to reconnect the people of Huntington, and by extension the people of America, back to their food culture and history and away from highly processed food-like dishes.

McGreger says “The real ‘Food Revolution’ starts with healthy Appalachian cornbread” and gives a sample recipe to back up her claim. Here’s to hoping Chef Oliver is listening!
Kristin Tracz

About Kristin Tracz

Kristin Tracz served MACED’s Research and Policy team from 2009-2012 working on clean energy policy, energy efficiency programs and the Appalachian Transition Initiative. She joined MACED after finishing her Master of Environmental Management degree at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. She now lives and works in Washington, DC.