Food speaks, telling a story about who we are and seek to become. Appalachia’s food has a lot to say. Indeed, if Southern U.S. American food has rhetorical possibility in constituting positive Southern contemporary identities (Stokes and Atkins-Sayre, 2016), what does that mean for the frequently misunderstood people in the region’s Appalachian corner? Recent media attention praises Appalachia for being “authentic” and “distinctive” in an increasingly commercialized and homogenous American food culture, but some coverage of the cuisine reinforces stereotypes of the region’s food as male-dominated, traditional, simplistic, unhealthy, and somewhat “dying” and “backward.” This essay combines rhetorical fieldwork and criticism to examine how several Appalachian foodways associations and initiatives rely on regionally specific approaches to help create a healthy and sustainable food environment that helps combat negative media portrayals. Exploring how Grow Appalachia, Appalachian Food Summit, and various Virginia, Kentucky, and West Virginia community organizations share the region's culinary history to “connect its foodways heritage with the next generation of Appalachians” shows rhetorical possibility (AFS, 2018, para. 1). By crafting a contemporary Appalachian identity that honors women’s contributions, preserves cultural touchstones, and allows for more inclusivity and diversity, these organizations rely on foodways to fortify residents while revising perceptions of an underestimated region.
Ashli Q. Stokes (Ph.D., University of Georgia) is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the Director of its Center for the Study of the New South. Stokes writes about Southern Identity, publishing Consuming Identity: The Role of Food in Redefining the South (with Wendy Atkins-Sayre; University of Mississippi Press, 2016), for the Southern Communication Journal, and for the Smithsonian, among others. Her award-winning research also specializes in using rhetorical approaches to analyze public relations controversies, frequently concerning activism and social movements. In this work, she has co-authored a global public relations textbook and published in journals including the Journal of Public Relations Research, Journal of Communication Management, and Public Relations Review.