Editor Gina Smith reflects on Asheville’s 2019 food scene

APPLES AND ORANGES: Food editor Gina Smith had a lot on her plate (and head) in 2019. Photo by Thomas Calder

What trends did you observe in covering Asheville’s food scene in 2019?

Bubble tea. CBD. Plastic straw angst. Food halls. Ramen — so much ramen. All those trends were evident this year in Western North Carolina, but in 2019, Asheville also stepped into a couple of national conversations in a meaningful way. In August, we recognized the problem of addiction and substance abuse in the service industry when local restaurant employees Jonathan Johnson and Brian Rea partnered with Asheville Independent Restaurants to launch a local chapter of Ben’s Friends, a support group for industry workers. And WNC addressed the issue of food waste with a number of small workshops and larger events, including the three-day Use Food Scraps symposium in Transylvania County and the Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council’s Food Waste Solutions Summit. 

What were some of the most notable food events of 2019?

The biggest food happening of the year — both in its sprawling geographic footprint and its impressively ambitious scope — was Chow Chow: An Asheville Culinary Event. It’s unlikely that attendees will soon forget the inspiring speech made by Nobel Peace Prize-nominated chef and humanitarian Jose Andres as he took a quick break from his work feeding Hurricane Dorian survivors in the Bahamas to join his friends Katie Button and Felix Meana at Pickled in the Park. And, as always, I loved the exciting variety of pop-up concepts that kept things lively from week to week, including Mukase, Agya Boakye-Boaten’s West African dinner event at West End Bakery in February, and Love Songs, Silver Cousler’s and Cherry Iocovozzi’s Filipino dinner series at Gan Shan West in October.

What story changed your life a little?

The multiple stories I did in 2019 on local struggles with food insecurity have impacted me forever. The resilience, compassion and courage evident in the dozens of people who shared their experiences with me gave me hope that we can eventually heal and strengthen our food system.

What story really surprised you? 

I’d say this one’s a tie. In June, I interviewed Chris Smith about his book The Whole Okra: A Seed to Stem Celebration and discovered that not only could this erroneously maligned vegetable help feed the world as the climate changes, but crafty DIYers can also use okra to make things like holiday lights, biodegradable drinking straws and hair conditioner — seriously! And for a September story about figs, Alison Arnold of the N.C. Cooperative Extension and Clara Curtis of The N.C. Arboretum helped me wrap my head around the unexpected intricacies of this incredibly bizarre fruit (which is not a fruit). Read it for all the juicy details (avl.mx/6rn).

What issues will you continue to follow in 2020? 

I will definitely be doing more deep dives into the realities of local individuals struggling with inadequate food access. I’m also planning to dig into more aspects of the food waste conundrum in WNC.

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