Cookbook review: In pursuit of food justice in the Tar Heel state

“Edible North Carolina: A Journey Across a State of Flavor” by Marcie Cohen Ferris (UNC, $35)

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“Edible North Carolina: A Journey Across a State of Flavor” by Marcie Cohen Ferris (UNC, $35)

“Edible North Carolina: A Journey Across a State of Flavor” by Marcie Cohen Ferris (UNC, $35)

When I think about planning a road trip, North Carolina often springs to mind — partly for the scenery, mostly for the food. The rich biodiversity that extends from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Outer Banks made “farm to table” dining popular before it was cool, laying the foundation for vibrant food scenes in big cities and small towns alike.

Online tips abound for mapping out a tantalizing vacation built around James Beard Award-winning restaurants, great barbecue, bakeries, craft breweries and neighborhood gems run by old-timers and transplants from around the world.

Often left out of these tourism-based narratives, however, are some of the less savory aspects of the state’s heritage, many rooted in systemic racism and economic disparities, that have been exacerbated by COVID-19, climatic extremes and gun violence of recent years.

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Marcie Cohen Ferris, professor emerita at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and renowned chronicler of Southern food, believes an understanding of how these complexities intertwine is key to keeping its fragile food systems alive. It was during those tumultuous months of protests and lockdowns that she enlisted fellow progressive-minded journalists, scholars, farmers, chefs, entrepreneurs and food activists to help her tell a different kind of Tar Heel food story.

In essays, photographs, and recipes, “Edible North Carolina: A Journey Across a State of Flavor” (UNC Press, $35) honors contemporary efforts to chart an abundant path forward. Emory professor Malinda Maynor Lowery educates us about the hardships of her Lumbee forebears and gives us a recipe for a collard sandwich; chef Bill Smith describes the bonds formed and lessons learned from his Latino kitchen staff at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill and tells us how to make pork pozole; and baker and food writer Keia Mastrianni shares her and chef-husband Jamie Swofford’s sweet love story built around agriculture and community service, along with instructions for making strawberry pie.

These backstories explain why celebrity chef Vivian Howard chose to return to her North Carolina roots and become part of this movement. As she writes in the book’s foreword: “I can hardly think of a more exciting place to live and eat.”

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

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