Each fall and spring UNCW’s literary magazine, Ecotone, releases an edition of thoughtful, provocative, and insightful poetry, short fiction, essays, and art. During the autumn, as part of UNCW’s Writer’s Week, they release a themed edition—many of which have hailed writers like Mark Doty, Natasha Trethewey, Rick Bass, Ron Rash, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Beth Ann Fennelly, and Annie Proulx. On November 7, The Sustenance Issue will make its debut in conjunction with local nonprofit Feast Down East—an organization that bridges the distance between farm and table by connecting small farmers with restaurants, schools, grocers, and hospitals. Ecotone and Feast Down East will host a release party with a farm-to-table supper, prepared by the chef of UNCW Campus Dining, Ryan Andress.
Andress sourced all ingredients for the three-course dinner through some of Feast Down East’s farmers, including Black River, Cottle, Powell, Thomas, and Triple-J farms. Andress’ menu comes as inspiration from reading the submissions to Ecotone.
“These are roots of the traditional rural Southern cuisine,” he says. “They learned to extract the most flavor from everyday ingredients, using every part of plant or animal, basically being as resourceful as possible. I like to say this makes our job easy as chefs: using what is local, is seasonal, in turn tastes better, needing little or no heavy additives. Let the season speak for itself.”
Ecotone’s 200 pages include numerous writings, like poet and essayist Alison Hawthorne Deming’s “The Pony, the Pig, and the Horse.” Deming writes about Vermont farm life in her 20s, where, in between doing odd jobs as a single parent, she worked the land and even slaughtered her own pig.
“As a reader, I worry with her over thin resources, uneven work, the possibility that the pig slaughter will ruin her daughter’s fifth birthday—and yet the bacon they consume together that winter offers not only literal sustenance but also nourishes the relationship between mother and daughter,” Ecotone publisher and art director Emily Louise Smith says. “Deming writes, ‘No meat was ever sweeter than the pig I raised by hand, the texture somehow more defined, flaky, tender, the flavor redolent with every sweet bite of corn the pig had savored, that alchemy of the flesh continuing in my cells.’”
Deming will be speaking at the dinner as part of her nationwide book tour to promote “Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit” (Milkweed Editions 2014). Also speaking will be Duplin County author Randall Kenan. Kenan has written an essay, “Greens,” about his mother’s tending house while cooking a pot of mustard greens fresh from the family farm in Chinquapin.
Likewise, chairperson and professor of sociology, as well as executive director of Feast Down East, Dr. Leslie Hossfield, will speak on agricultural heritage and traditions of southeastern NC. More so, she will tell about the nonprofit’s programs, which strive to increase healthy food to low-income communities.
“In a time when eating local is back in vogue, and when food security for many people is shaky at best, we wanted to see [submissions] that explore how we are sustained,” Ecotone editor Anna Lena Phillips says. “Inevitably, we couldn’t cover every aspect of sustenance that interests us, but I’d say we have quite a spread, with greens to chicken legs to chocolate.”
Ecotone features poems about cooking dinner, butchering a deer and bombs made of chocolate. From Mathew Gavin Frank’s “Spoon Bread,” which focuses on eating, living and dying, to John Egerton Prize-winner Toni Tipton-Martin’s essay about breaking the “Jemima Code”—or whitewashing Southern culinary traditions—to Catherine Meeks’ “Like I Told Nancy,” about a husband and Florida coast pier operator, there are historical, quirky, heartfelt, and compelling reads aplenty. It will be celebrated Friday night with a cocktail and hors d’ouevre hour, followed by a family-style dinner, including autumn greens salad, cheddar chive biscuits, apple-cider-brined chicken, smokey-citrus Carolina shrimp, a butternut squash vegan dish, as well as dessert.
“The family supper concept is based on the gatherings I remember from my own childhood—reunions, pig pickings, and oyster roasts, long days spent putting up corn,” Smith explains of the dinner’s goal. “I hope this community celebration brings back the lost art of supper, those rich conversations and stories that always accompany shared meals. On a much humbler note, I hope the meal offers us a chance simply to slow down amid our hectic, busy lives and notice the food we’re eating, the work and energy that go into bringing it to us, to sit down with friends, old and new. It’s one of many reasons I’m excited to share this with Feast Down East and hear from farmers such as Stefan Hartmann of Black River Organic. What better occasion to bring the conversation home and learn from leaders of the movement toward local and sustainable food in North Carolina—to listen, talk and build community?”
Feast Down East and Ecotone Sustenance Farm-to-Table Dinner
Tickets: $50, includes dinner, beer, wine, and newly released Ecotone edition, The Sustenance Issue
Kenan Hall Courtyard, UNCW
601 S. College Road