Festival of Dionysus in the Mountain South: Melding Local and Ancient Foodways

In Winter 2017, an interdisciplinary faculty team hosted the 4th Festival of Dionysus in the Mountain South at UNC Asheville featuring a feast for the commons prepared by students from a course on Ancient Foodways. Festival feasts in ancient Greece would have used nearly all local or regional ingredients - fresh foods available seasonally and those that could be stored. (Beer, 2010) In designing the menu, students had to navigate using a list of ingredients available locally in December, ancient (or traditional) Greek dishes, cost, modern palates and individual food preferences, while keeping true to an ancient, simple but celebratory, menu that could be made for, and enjoyed by, the masses. The resultant menu included traditional Kalitsounia - Cretan Spinach Pies and adapted Kalitsounia – Southern Sweet Potato Pies, as well as ancient Homeric olive relish. (Dalby & Grainger, 1996) In an effort to assess the festival’s impact on participants’ interest and knowledge of ancient Greek food and culture, student researchers collected participant emails (n = 136) and emailed them a survey addressing their interest in local food, food preparation, and ancient Greek culture and cuisine. Survey respondents (n = 41) indicated that as a result of their participation, they would be very likely to want to learn about the history of food cultures (41%), and nearly all respondents (98%) indicated that they would be somewhat or very likely to attend similar events in the future. The impact of experiential learning through planning and cooking was explored using reflection papers.