- “Eat It to Save It”April McGreger in Conversation with Tradition
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It’s not every woman who renders her own lard, or cries over Kentucky Wonder beans. April McGreger, however, dwells in vital, dynamic realms of southern food, past and present, and sees things differently than most. Her kitchen is home to a deep love and respect for the food and people that nurtured her as a child in tiny Vardaman, Mississippi, but it is also an increasingly cosmopolitan political space that houses strong commitments to season, environment, producer, and community. While those overt ideological commitments may seem new and progressive—even trendy, at this point—they stem directly from the past, perhaps skipping an industrial generation or two. McGreger is reclaiming a version of past and place where she sees value, functionality, pleasure, and dignity. It is a place where she sees community as the end goal. In a true community—one of interconnected, interdependent people—neighbors take care of each other, whether that means something local and specific like bringing over food when there is a death in the family (as neighbors have done for generations), or something larger and more anonymous like taking care of the planet on each other’s behalf when we grow our own organic vegetables. On a much greater scale, McGreger is recreating the sense of community she lost when she moved away from her small hometown and her entire family. She is creating the world in which she wants to live, and she is doing so through food. She is not alone.
McGreger’s broad and sometimes conflicting allegiances exemplify the changes taking place among her generation of southerners, born in the mid-1970s to mid-1980s, who gravitate toward places like Carrboro, North Carolina. A former mill town located a couple of miles west of the University of North Carolina, it is a place where southerners from across the region mingle with a large contingent of southerners from around the country and the globe, as well as a few Yankees exiled for jobs, school, or love. In Carrboro and other places like it, intricate webs of small-scale food production and consumption are thriving, thanks to a significant number of eaters, growers, purveyors, and restaurateurs who believe that eating well means eating locally and seasonally. Acts of consumption—specifically, choices of ingredients, suppliers, recipes, methods, cookware, dining companions and locations, stories, and even restaurants—are intimately tied to identity, place, and politics. These acts, however great or small, embody certain philosophies about food, life, community, and environment. Most importantly, they connect people to each other.
In some of America’s most progressive communities, among which I include Carrboro, there is a visible contingent that seems to believe that newer is not always better, and that older, more traditional ways have their advantages. Whether “old” means a more sustainable way of doing things, a more personal one, or a way somehow more authentic and meaningful, many young people are turning to the past. For them, there lies the solution to environmental degradation and global [End Page 94] warming, an anonymous food system that appears increasingly irresponsible and unsafe, a corporate-dominated economy that does not value the homemade or the handmade, a disconnection from nature and seasons, the absence or decline of community, and more.
If the abundance of organic, family-run farms and farm-to-table restaurants, as well as the presence of a thriving, nationally known farmers’ market, are any indication, one thing that ties together the people of Carrboro is a common love of good, fresh food. Much of the produce is local and seasonal, and...