HUNTINGTON - In a modest rental home here, a marriage and a book project that blossomed over a mutual love of food has begun.
Writers Brent Cunningham and Jane Black have packed up their respective lives in New York and Washington, D.C., and plunked themselves down in Huntington to research, explore and write about the city's efforts to change the way it eats.
The project sprang from Jamie Oliver's TV series, "Food Revolution," which featured Huntington because it had been named the "unhealthiest" city in America.
A working thesis for Cunningham's and Black's project could be stated as simply as "Now what?"
The British chef's six-part series highlighted the flaws in American eating habits and suggested a revolution is in order to fix the problem. And while Huntington residents showed early skepticism - and defensiveness - there have been some changes.
Schools have formulated a plan to remove processed foods from school menus. Jamie's Kitchen, begun by Oliver to offer free cooking lessons, has been renamed Huntington Kitchen, now run by a local healthcare organization.
Cunningham and Black believe Huntington is a good model for Anytown, U.S.A. Can the average American city change its eating habits and persuade its residents to focus on healthy, local food? Is it doable - and affordable - on a daily basis?
Cunningham, a former Daily Mail reporter who now is managing editor for the Columbia Journalism Review, took a six-month leave of absence from his job to work on the book. Black quit her job at the Washington Post; the two will make their home in New York when they leave West Virginia.
The book is scheduled for publication by Simon & Schuster in 2013.
They say it grew out of their mutual love of food.
Cunningham had read Black's work in the Washington Post; he later met her sister in New York, and the sister suggested she should introduce the two of them. She did and they've been together ever since.
"That's where the book comes in," Black said. She lived in Washington, working for a Washington newspaper. Cunningham lived in New York. She started looking for work in the competitive New York market and was frustrated she might not be able to secure a full-time job like the one she had in Washington.
"I had the best job in the world," she said.
One day the two of them were discussing Oliver's project in Huntington and a possible follow up to the Oliver story, which Black had covered for the Post. They wondered if Huntington would - and could - continue to change.
"And Brent said, 'There's kind of more there than a 1,200-word article," Black said.
They secured a book deal in enviably fast manner this past summer. They married in September; she quit her job and they began making plans to move to Huntington, where she jokes they are living like 23-year-old college students again.