Food writing: A sneaky way to serve up big issues

John T.  Edge, right, with writer and cookbook author Ronni Lundy during lunch at The Emporium during the first day of the Southern Food Writing Conference.

John T. Edge, right, with writer and cookbook author Ronni Lundy during lunch at The Emporium during the first day of the Southern Food Writing Conference.

That’s what John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, told 85 or so food writers and others gathered in Knoxville this month for the Southern Food Writing Conference.

Edge, a prolific writer himself based in Oxford, Mississippi, didn’t mince words in telling the food writers to quit being so nostalgic when writing about Southern food. “Dial back the romanticism,” he urged. “Food writing is a sneaky way to get at big issues: class, race, gender and sexuality. You have a responsibility to hook them with a biscuit and then hit them with a sucker punch.” Edge said our nostalgia for the South is a result of rapid change in the region.

Edge has been on the forefront of confronting racism through his writing. The theme for the whole year for the Southern Foodways Alliance has been looking at changes in Southern culture and Southern food since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was 50 years ago.

Edge sees a shift in writing about Southern food. “We are now focusing on our natural resources — our human resources,” he said. “It’s a complicated region with a tragic history. We’ve told the wrong damn stories for a long time.” Edge urged the writers to profile busboys and home cooks instead of chefs and mixologists. “We need to pay down the debt of pleasure to generations that came before,” he said. “Cooks and farmers weren’t appreciated because they were poor or black or female.”

On the bright side, Edge said that the South is “hot” in the food world right now with the majority of James Beard Award winning chefs coming from Southern eateries in recent years and Southern cookbooks receiving wide acclaim. “This is our moment,” Edge said. “I knew that when a hoecake was on the cover of Bon Appetit!”

Edge offered a series of dos and don’ts to the authors:

  • Do put faces on the region.
  • Don’t call sweet tea the house wine of the South.
  • Don’t call pimento cheese the pate of the South.
  • Don’t call gumbo the bouillabaisse of the South.
  • Do read the books of John Egerton. Start with “A Mind to Stay Here.”
  • Do write about new immigrants as Southerners. “It’s a dynamic, evolving South,” he said.
  • Do travel somewhere other than France to have your epiphany. (Ha!)
  • Do write about sexuality and food. He used the book, “You’ve Put Worse Things in Your Mouth,” by Billi Gordon, as an example.

Tomorrow: other highlights from the Southern Food Writing Conference.

Click here for an overview of the 2014 Southern Food Writing Conference by my friend Mary Constantine of the News Sentinel.

Lunch crowd at The Emporium.

Lunch crowd of food writers at The Emporium. This lunch was sponsored by Visit Knoxville.

Lunch caterer Holly Hambright of Holly's Eventful Dining, left, with Mary Constantine, food editor of the News Sentinel.

Lunch caterer Holly Hambright of Holly’s Eventful Dining, left, with Mary Constantine, food editor of the News Sentinel.

 

How Southern is this offering, which was on the buffet?

How Southern is this offering, which was on the buffet?

 

Fiery pimento cheese deviled eggs were another offering.

Fiery pimento cheese deviled eggs were another option.

This is curry pork pie that Holly created from a recipe of chef Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Kentucky. It was amazing. Warm with spices and full of flavor.

This is curry pork pie that Holly created from a recipe of chef Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Kentucky. It was amazing. Warm with spices and full of flavor.

 

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  1. Pingback: Blue Streak » Biscuits, soul food and ‘coming out’

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