Carolina Cuisine: Understanding the History and Science Behind the Evolution of our Crops and Food

Jeff Gillman, Ph.D., Botanical Gardens, UNC Charlotte; and Ashli Stokes, Ph.D., Communications Studies, UNC Charlotte

The Carolina Garden Trail is a new garden being built on the grounds of the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens, composed of six distinct crop areas, each of which is important in the Carolinas’ history. The trail covers pre-European settlement, European settlement until the Revolutionary War, the Revolutionary War until the Civil War, the Civil War until WWI, WWI until WWII, and WWII until today. The crops in each of these areas show the evolution of science and culture in the Carolinas, the United States, and the world.

In this seminar we will examine how history, culture, and technology evolved to change what we grow in our fields, how we cook, and what we put on our plates. We will examine the origin and practice of Carolina foodways (what people eat, what it means, and why it matters) through a unique hybrid of history, communication studies, and horticulture, including some hands-on experience with propagation and other basic horticultural techniques. Plants and food supply a common fuel to launch discussion, and in class we will examine, debate, and eat to understand how crops and foods reflect regional cuisine. We will learn horticultural principles and practices while studying the region’s culinary history and the relationship between food and race/class/gender dynamics. Further, we will examine food as a sign of regional identity, examining the cultural representation of southern food. 

This seminar will be a unique opportunity to see how culture and science have worked together through history to affect North Carolina and the broader world around us. Fellows in grades PK-12th grade will be able to offer their students new ways to think about food and crops, prepared to enrich their schools’ science, historical, and communication curricula.

Sample Readings, Television Shows, and Podcast Episodes:

  • Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown: Charleston.
  • High on the Hog
  • Gravy Podcast: What is White Trash Cooking?
  • Podcast: Why Barbecue is America’s Most Political Food
  • Podcast: When Chefs Become Famous Cooking Other People’s Food