James Beard award-winning cookbook author is first of two artists-in-residence

cookbook cover for Victuals by Ronni LundyWriter Ronni Lundy drove more than 4,000 miles in her 2005 Chevy Astro van to gather the stories and recipes of the people of Appalachia, the “home cooks and chefs, farmers and shop owners, curers and savers and preservers of both food and traditions.”

Lundy explored Kentucky, West Virginia, southern Ohio, northern Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina on her journey to dispel stereotypes and paint an honest picture of the region.

The resulting book, which integrates personal narrative with recipes, peppered with stunning photography from Johnny Autry, is Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes. In 2017, it won the coveted James Beard Foundation Award for Book of the Year.

The dictionary pronunciation and definition of victuals (“vidls”) — food or provisions, typically as prepared for consumption — adorns the cover.

Victuals is so much more than just another cookbook. It’s a marvelous travelogue and history of an underrepresented part of America, its people and culture …” wrote singer/songwriter Emmylou Harris.

Lundy, a native of Corbin, Kentucky, will visit UNC-Chapel Hill Feb. 26-March 9 as the first Caldwell Family Artist-in-Residence in the department of American studies. She’s one of two artists-in-residence who will spend time on campus this spring, thanks to a gift from the Caldwell Family Foundation. Theresa Gloster, a self-taught painter and beautician whose work chronicles her childhood in the small African-American community of Bushtown, will be in residence March 26-April 6.

“I wanted to tell the story of my people as it was, not as it had been given to us. I wanted to be able to travel the region and sit down and talk to people,” said Lundy. “I began to see that one of the things that distinguished southern Appalachia was that our foodways, our cooking techniques, had never died out.” (By the way, she still has that same van, which today boasts about 165,000 miles on its odometer).

Ronni Lundy
Ronni Lundy

Lundy’s proposal was rejected multiple times over a six-year period before she finally found an editor, Francis Lam, who understood her work and what she wanted to do. In retrospect, she said the timing worked out right.

“Rejection is a part of the process,” said Lundy, who added that she tries not to present a Pollyanna view of the business to young writers. “Victuals happened at the right time for people to pay attention to the story, and I’m very grateful for that.”

Lundy called winning two James Beard awards (for Book of the Year and Best American Cookbook) “an out-of-body experience.” Sometimes people want to introduce her as a historian or an expert on Appalachia, but Lundy attributes her knowledge to good journalistic training. A founding member of the Southern Foodways Alliance (where she first met American studies faculty members Marcie Cohen Ferris and Elizabeth Engelhardt), Lundy is the recipient of the organization’s Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award. The honor recognizes her work as a writer covering the food, music and culture of the South for more than 30 years. She is a former music writer for The Courier-Journal in Louisville.

“My skill is in asking other people to tell me their stories, and in conveying those stories so they come alive,” she said.

Lundy will participate in two public events — an artist Q&A at 1:15 p.m. Feb. 28 in Greenlaw Hall’s Donovan Lounge, and a conversation with photographer Autry and music by Joe Decosimo and Nokosee Fields at 5:30 p.m. March 1 in the Pleasants Family Assembly Room of Wilson Library.

Gloster will participate in an artist Q&A at 1:15 p.m. March 28 in Greenlaw Hall’s Donovan Lounge, and a conversation at 5:30 p.m. April 5 in the Hitchcock Multipurpose Room of the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History.

 By Kim Spurr, College of Arts & Sciences