Event at UK library features discussion of Kentucky food traditions, how they are changing and how to capitalize on them

Story and photo by Melissa Landon
Kentucky Health News

Local food experts gathered at the University of Kentucky April 9 to discuss how Kentucky food tradition is changing and how to develop local food culture through businesses and other means.

“From Plows to Plates: A Journey Through Kentucky Foodways” was an event sponsored by the UK Libraries Special Collections Research Center. It included a panel discussion, book signings by local food authors and food samples. Panelists included anthropology professor John van Willigen, author of Kentucky’s Cookbook Heritage: 200 Years of Southern Cuisine and Culture; Ouita Michel of Midway, chef and proprietor of several restaurants; Tiffany Thompson, horticulturist and manager of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment‘s Community Supported Agriculture program; and Kristy Yowell, marketing manager of the Good Foods Co-Op in Lexington.

“I want to elevate Kentucky food culture way above restaurants,” Michel said. “Restaurants are not food culture.” She said Kentucky is known for its chain restaurants, such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, but she wants to focus on helping young chefs and small businesses succeed.

Emma Yetter talks about vegetables via community supported agriculture.

Yowell said, “We want to make affordable, healthy food for everyone. That shouldn’t be a privilege.”

Thompson said Kentucky’s history has had a lot to do with tobacco, which is becoming less prominent. He said community supported agriculture, in which local residents agree to buy produce in advance, has much potential. “What can Kentucky agriculture do to positively influence health? Make more vegetables! CSA is growing, and I’m really excited about it.”

The college’s CSA Vegetable Program allows people to sign up to receive weekly seasonal vegetables throughout the spring, summer and fall. It costs $19 per week for the smallest “share” of vegetables, which is enough for a single person or a couple, said Emma Yetter, who works events and does deliveries for the program.

Associate Dean of Libraries Deirdre A. Scaggs, author of The Historic Kentucky Kitchen, said at the event that her inspiration for the book came from working in the Special Collections Research Center. She found old recipes, many of which were hand-written, and decided to try them out. She collected over 100 recipes, tested them and modified some of the instructions so a modern audience could understand them.

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