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Contemporary Food Studies of the American South: A Guide to the Literature (July 2019): Foundations

by Skye Hardesty


Although southern food studies is a young academic field, there are three core texts that are continually referenced in nearly all contemporary southern food studies works and are essential foundations in the discipline. Sam Bowers Hilliard’s Hog Meat and Hoecake: Food Supply in the Old South, 1840–1860, Joe Gray Taylor’s Eating, Drinking, and Visiting in the South: An Informal History, and John Egerton’s iconic Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History. Each of these works uses foodways as a defining aspect in the history of the American South. Hilliard takes an economic and historical approach by examining the complex relationships between food supply patterns, agricultural specialization, and socioeconomic conditions to argue for the importance of food in defining the culture of the South. Taylor’s work is a history of southern food culture beginning in the southern frontier and ending with a look at contemporary southern food at the time of the book’s publication. Egerton’s book is often pointed to as the seminal work for the contemporary era of southern food studies. Egerton uses the food of the South to examine its diverse and complex history and challenges the view of the South as a monolithic and monocultural region.

John Egerton’s establishment of Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) organization in 1999 led to the creation of the Southern Foodways Symposium, which gathered food studies and southern studies scholars and writers to present the latest research in southern foodways. These articles, as well as other food writing about the South, were collected in the “Cornbread Nation” series, which began in 2002 and was published biannually until 2014. Each volume has a different editor and topic and serves as an excellent collection of food writing about the South as well as an introduction to the research of the major scholars in the field. Cornbread Nation 1: The Best of Southern Food Writing was edited by Egerton and contains not only articles presented at the SFA symposium but profiles of figures in southern food, writing on various southern food traditions, and opinion pieces on topics such as iced tea and green beans. The next two collections focus on dedicated topics—Cornbread Nation 2: The United States of Barbecue, edited by Lolis Eric Elie, and Cornbread Nation 3: Foods of the Mountain South, edited by Ronni Lundy. Cornbread Nation 4, edited by Dale Volberg Reed and John Shelton Reed, returned the series to the best of southern food writing, offering essays on a variety of aspects of southern food culture. Of note in this series is this volume’s set of articles on Louisiana and Gulf Coast food culture before and after Hurricane Katrina. Cornbread Nation 5, edited by Fred William Sauceman, is more wideranging but contains a chapter devoted to the beverages of the South; Cornbread Nation 6, edited by Brett Anderson, contains chapters explicitly about food and southern identity as well as the diversity of foodways in the “global south.” The final series installment, Cornbread Nation 7, edited by Francis Lam, contains several chapters from chefs and cooks who came to the South and made its food their own; it also includes native southerners’ perspectives and reminiscences of their foodways.

The “Cornbread Nation” series provides ample evidence of the growing interest in southern food and the depth of scholarship in southern food studies. The Larder: Food Studies Methods from the American South is an indication that the field of southern food studies has arrived as an accepted area of academic inquiry. Editors John T. Edge, Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt, and Ted Ownby assembled this collection of scholarship to outline methodologies for those undertaking research in this interdisciplinary area. The essays are arranged around four methodologies: cookbooks and ingredients, people and communities, spaces and technologies, and material cultures. Each of these methodologies is discussed in the context of the research articles collected under each methodology. Cookbooks and ingredients provide examples of research using cookbooks as primary source material, especially around issues involving identity, gender, and authenticity. People and communities covers oral histories and anthropological approaches to understanding the breadth of southern food cultures. Spaces and technologies use geographical, scientific, and nutritional approaches. Articles in material cultures examine material goods in order to construct food histories and stories from the past. In addition to serving as a southern food studies intellectual framework, The Larder—like the “Cornbread Nation” series—introduces the major southern food studies scholars working today, and many of the works from these collections resulted in the full-length books discussed later in this essay.

Works Cited