Charles Wright

Charles Wright

Members of the Southern Tennessee Ladies’ Society recently enjoyed a refreshing program by University of the South Executive Chef Charles “Rick” Wright.

Chef Wright demonstrated the preparation of a simple recipe for a fresh cranberry relish naturally fermented with honey and ginger which he said would complement other fixings for Thanksgiving dinner.

Wright has served as executive chef at the university since 2010 as well as food activist, culinary educator and, most recently, as the executive director of Sewanee Dining.

Wright said he is proud of the great accomplishments made in transitioning the university from a corporate-run food service program to a fully self-sustainable dining and catering program operated by the university. 

This change not only saved money for the school, he said, but it also allowed the university full control to create a diverse menu with a wide variety of freshly prepared, more-nutritious options and a host of additional learning opportunities for the students.

Professionally trained chefs prepare recipes from scratch each day with locally sourced foods, vegetables and meats.


The 13,000-acre campus has its own farm which provides organically grown vegetables.

A new project is now underway with students researching the sustainability of raising cattle on a nearby farm for fresh meats.

Most of the food is sourced through the South Cumberland Regional Food Hub, which includes growers and food providers within a 100-mile radius of the Cumberland Plateau.

Wright said: “Sewanee Dining believes that locally sourced food supports both a healthy community and a healthy body. Not to mention, fresher food just tastes better.

“Buying and eating from the surrounding community allows us to make connections, nourish ourselves with seasonal foods and decrease the amount of pesticides we are consuming.” 

Dining at the University of the South is open to the public, seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

In addition to the McClurg Dining Hall, the campus has two coffee shops, Stirling’s Coffee House and the Cup and Gown Café.

Sewanee Dining also offers a robust catering service. More information can be obtained at

Guiding principles

Wright believes in the four principles that are guiding Sewanee’s sustainability efforts:

1. To menu and purchase seasonal and local ingredients to the full extent possible, which includes creating partnerships with local farms and businesses.

2. Prepare food efficiently and with care to maximize appeal, minimize production waste and wisely use gas, electricity and water resources.

3. Collect and share data to educate ourselves in order to prepare and consume responsible quantities of food with minimal waste.

4. What waste that is produced should be safely returned to the earth through composting and other reclamation efforts to minimize their environmental footprint and support local food production into the future.

Food literacy

Wright has been in the hospitality industry for more than 44 years, and as a chef and an educator, he feels obligated to share his knowledge and effect change in as many ways as possible.

He explained that food literacy is understanding how food choices will impact your health, the environment and the economy.

Wright is conducting a food-literacy project on the campus in an effort to bring back communal meals.

Studies show that nearly one out of four people don’t cook at home and will eat out.

Highly processed foods with lower nutritional values are consumed with high calorie totals.

Wright pointed out that the country’s entire food system is made up of what people eat, how they eat it, how it is grown, transported, packaged and so on.

Food choices can be linked to a host of problems like obesity, climate change, unhealthy diets, lack of food access, food safety concerns, workers’ rights and more.

In addition to buying from local food sources, the university has educated students on healthy eating choices and has monitored food consumptions and calculated food production to eliminate unused portions.

Food items are delivered in recyclable or reusable packages and food refuse is composted on campus.

As stated on, food literacy invites people to be conscious, healthy individuals who play an active role in creating a sustainable food future.

One’s relationship to food becomes a place to stand, a place to act, and an expression of core values.

Food-literate people and communities serve as agents of change.

The university is also involved with an important summer program funded in part through a USDA grant which feeds over 9,000 students during the summer months.

Food insecure

Wright said that on a national level, one out of eight people are “food insecure” but in the local area, that number jumps up to one out of four people.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.

A person may have a meal (sometimes for school children it is a school lunch), but they don’t know if or when there will be another meal.

The term “hunger” refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort while food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the household level.

According to Feeding America, extensive research reveals that food insecurity is a complex problem that doesn’t just affect people living near the poverty line.

Other factors such as medical problems, lack of affordable housing, low wages, social isolation and available food sources all contribute to the inability to have an adequate food supply with proper nutritional value.

People living in remote areas are an example of having limited access to fresh produce and other items offered by large grocery stores.

Small convenience stores have limited supplies of higher-priced goods. Reliable transportation is necessary to get to the bigger stores.

STLS members agree that during this holiday season, which kicks off this week with Thanksgiving, everyone should be mindful of several things.

That includes thinking of ways to help others secure an adequate supply of nutritional food, being conscious of what we eat as well as the environmental impact our choices make and also putting down the electronics and being present with those gathered around the table.

Upcoming events

The STLS will host their 10th annual Wine and Spirit Tasting event on Jan. 25 from 7–9 p.m. at the Franklin County Country Club in Winchester.

The event features an evening full of spirited samplings complemented with a wide variety of heavy hors d’oeuvres, live entertainment and a silent auction. Tickets for this fun night out would make a great holiday gift or stocking stuffer. This fundraiser contributes to the ongoing STLS Scholarship Program.

Stones River Total Beverages from Murfreesboro will bring a wide variety of wine to sample, Prichard’s Distillery from Kelso will provide an assortment of rum, whiskey and liqueur products and Jackson Morgan Southern Cream will offer several hand-crafted flavors of Tennessee whiskey cream liquors to sip and indulge one’s senses.

Experiment with some innovative drink recipes as you enjoy a hearty sampling of fine foods, provided by the Franklin County Country Club.

This event is open to everyone over 21 years old. All are invited to attend and reminded to drink responsibly.

Tickets are available now for $40 per person or $75 per couple. Contact Tina Roth at 931-967-4813 or Tickets are also available from other STLS members and at the Animal Care Center on Sharp Springs Road in Winchester.

About STLS

The Southern Tennessee Ladies Society (STLS) is a not-for-profit women’s club with members who are interested in social activity with other women in the community.

Members make a difference in the lives of graduating high school seniors by awarding scholarships each year. More than 70 scholarships have been awarded since inception in 2009 with a total of $209,000 being given in scholarship money.

The 2020 scholarships will be awarded on May 6, 2020, to students from Franklin, Coffee, Moore, Lincoln and Grundy counties. Applications are available in the guidance office of each high school.  The application deadline has been changed to Feb. 1, 2020.

The next STLS meeting is Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at the Franklin County Country Club. Kenny Barrett will set the mood for the holidays with Christmas carols.

Call 931-967-4813 or send an email to for reservations

Membership is open to the public. For more information, visit

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