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Appalachian food study examines food in the region

Those wanting cook traditional Appalachian recipes will soon be able to find what they’re looking for by just opening up a book.

Emma Zgonc, an honors tutorial junior studying sociology, is conducting a study that collects data on traditional Appalachian culture and food. The untold stories and recipes from the region will be compiled into a published story and recipe book. 

Appalachia is a cultural region in the United States made of 420 counties across 13 states. 32 of Ohio’s counties are considered Appalachian – including Athens. 

For Zgonc, it’s her way of giving back to the region. 

“(The idea came from) going to school (at Ohio University and) getting to know the community,” Zgonc said.

Zgonc also has a personal relationship with Appalachian food. Some of her family is from the region. When she thinks of Appalachian food, she thinks of biscuits and gravy, but she realizes not everyone else does. 

“Appalachia is a really large region,” Zgonc said. “It goes from Georgia to Ohio, so it depends on where you are.”

Though Appalachian food has some of its roots in Scott-Irish immigrants who came to the region, Zgonc explained that a lot of Appalachian cooking is rooted in the natural landscape. 

“(It’s) a mixture of a lot,” Zgonc said. “(It’s) very based off what was around, off the land (and) what they could grow. Local foods are very important for people. They can use what's available.”

Linda Lindsey, a state licensed massage therapist from Hocking Hills, described Appalachian food as “Hearty food for hearty people.”

Food in Lindsey’s family has been a major tradition for generations. Her grandparents influenced a lot of her cooking, she explained.

“One of the recipes that I remember most...was green fried tomatoes,” Lindsey said in an email. “They were my grandpa's favorite summertime snack.”

Lindsey, a hopeful participant in Zgonc’s study, noted several other recipes, like navy beans and dumplings. She also mentioned black magic cake, a food cake which uses coffee or espresso in place of water, a Sunday dessert often enjoyed after church. 

For Lindsey, cooking traditional food is her way of honoring her passed grandparents.

“(Since) our family misses them, we eat these recipes to remember them and because we like them,” Lindsey said in an email. “I am now teaching them to my son and I hope to make that impression as well. I have my own recipes that I use and are famous in the family for.”

Zgonc also pitched this study to showcase Appalachia in a positive light. Many believe the region is famously stereotyped for being impoverished. Press attention following Joe Burrow’s famous Heisman speech has thrusted food in Appalachia into the spotlight. 

The Southeast Ohio Foodbank & Kitchen in Logan is promoting Zgonc’s study on its social media. The foodbank serves all of Southeast Ohio, David Keller, development coordinator of Sutheast Ohio Foodbank & Kitchen, said. 

“In a given year, (we serve) 22,000 unique individuals and five million pounds of food,” Keller said. “(We) offer a lot of different programs empowering local organizations to fight hunger in their community.”

The foodbank saw Zgonc’s study as a perfect opportunity to communicate with the people it serves. 

“It sounds like a really cool project (that) facilitates action that helps us understand people's access to food and what food means to them,” Keller said. 

The foodbank strives to meet the needs of people in Appalachia, Keller explained. It’s important for the foodbank to provide both shelf-stable foods, as well as fresh ingredients.

“It’s a mix of shelf-stable items, refrigerated items, fresh produce,” Keller said.  

If you are interested in participating in this study or would like more information, please contact the researcher below to check eligibility or schedule an interview time. To participate, you must be 18 years or older, currently live in the Appalachian region, have a personal recipe you are willing to share, and have lived in the Appalachian region for at least 15 years.

Ohio University Researcher: Emma Zgonc

Contact Information: or 770-557-7103

IRB number: 19-X-191


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