Following are a few highlights from the two part post Southern Foodways Alliance Wants to Complicate Your Meal and Unlocking the Rusty Gates, The Bitter Southerner’s fascinating feature about the University of Mississippi program founded as a project of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture in 1999 and headquartered in Barnard Observatory.
Written by Chuck Reece with photography by Tamara Reynolds.
Read full features Part I: Southern Foodways Alliance Wants to Complicate Your Meal and Part II: Unlocking the Rusty Gates.
“The SFA staff….every single one of them will tell you the same thing: that their work isn’t about food. It is, instead, about capturing the stories of the people who grow, harvest, cook and serve the food we eat in the South.”
As founder and director, John T. Edge explains: “You know, food is just the way we get there,” he says. “Food on the table is a catalytic converter: reaching for the country ham and talking about the Appalachian roots of your grandfather, or reaching for the okra and talking about the African roots of this whole place. Those foods are facilitators of dialogue and touchstones of culture. They’re just a way to get you into the conversation.”
“The primary output of the Southern Foodways Alliance is stories. On the SFA’s website are dozens of short films. In its 15 years of existence, the SFA has collected more than 800 oral histories, complete with photographs, of men and women who tend barbecue pits, rake oysters, cure hams, catch fish, grow crops, mill grains and pretty much anybody else who concerns themselves with what our ancestors ate — or what we eat today. The SFA has created what John T. refers to as a “crazy quilt of stories and ideas and pictures and images.”
“It’s a quilt you can roll around in for days. Dig into the SFA’s archives on the web, and you might find yourself binge-watching short films or listening to oral histories and looking at pictures for hours. If you grew up in the South, the odds are good you’ll stumble on a story or two about somebody you actually knew from your local barbecue joint or fish shack.”
Reese sums it up: “It occurs to me now, after immersing myself in the work of the SFA for weeks, that I probably haven’t heard a statement that better captures the essence of the alliance’s work. The SFA’s job is to help us do better by the South and by our common man … which requires speaking truth to power … which in turn is easier to do over a glass of bourbon and a homemade biscuit.”
“Not infrequently, Southern food now unlocks the rusty gates of race and class, age and sex. On such occasions, a place at the table is like a ringside seat at the historical and ongoing drama of life in the region.”—John Egerton, founder, Southern Foodways Alliance