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What We Eat, Why, and the Environmental Impact: Exploring Black Foodways at Highland

Research Location: Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
Conservation Partners: Highland Council of Descendant Advisors, William & Mary’s Highland

Student Researcher
Anna Arnsberger '25, Major: History, Major: Government
Student Researcher
Bridget O'Keefe '24, Major: Public Policy, Minor: Russian Language and Literature
Student Researcher
Josiah Tunstall '22, Major: Anthropology, Major: History 
Faculty Mentors
Dr. Dan Cristol, Dr. Sara Bon-Harper, and Dr. Fernando Galeana-Rodriguez
Project Description

The historic American plantation system established environmental and cultural conditions that are still influential today. The legacies of the plantation system appear in traditional African-American diets, which are influenced by the foodways of African ancestors, and were shaped in important ways by plantation life during and after slavery. Food traditions can be investigated through family histories as well as historical documents and archaeological findings.

Working alongside the Council of Descendant Advisors, a team of William & Mary students explored how traditional agricultural systems at Highland and elsewhere reinforced foodways, and how food traditions have been inventively interpreted by generations of creative farmers, gardeners, home cooks, and professional chefs. Conditions of plantation life drove the behaviors of keeping family gardens, gathering wild foods, hunting, and fishing among enslaved people and their descendants that have long-lasting sociological implications on contemporary communities, including self-sufficiency and the development of entrepreneurial initiatives.

With guidance from the Council, the result of this research was the development of a Highland website that hosts stories from the descendants looking back to the plantation environment of African American ancestors, considering the growth of today’s strong communities based on self-sufficiency, creativity, and connection to the land, and looking toward the future in directions such as food security, nutrition and health, sustainability, and youth interest in farming.

CRP Year-long
Project ID - Format
22-015-22 - CRP Year