- Front Porch
Some years ago, I participated in a frank and comradely exchange of views on the late unpleasantness with a nearby chapter of the Military Order of the Stars and Bars, the society for male descendants of Confederate military officers and government officials. Everything went smoothly. I don’t think anyone changed his mind that evening, but I do think we all came away with deeper respect for the strength of honest disagreements and our love for our native region.
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What I remember most about the occasion happened in the parking lot as I was leaving. A previously quiet member buttonholed me for more conversation about what he loved about the South. It wasn’t the Lost Cause, the history, or the Southern Way of Life. It was food.
My new friend told me about his service in the army, and how he and his black messmates loved to get together and cook for each other. His eyes glowed as he remembered the biscuits, the ham, the grits, the cornbread, and the lemon pie they shared together. Obviously, there was more to this than recipes. He was trying to tell me that neo-Confederates get a bad rap from college professors, and there was more to his own sense of southernness than the testy political issues that came up in the meeting. For him, at least, maybe politics was just a great excuse to get together and eat. And as he rhapsodized, I couldn’t help noticing that his physical proportions corroborated the sincerity of his enthusiasm.
We parted in warm, brotherly agreement about the ambrosial qualities of great down-home cooking, and I drove off shaking my head over people who could share so much around the table yet struggle so bitterly over other things. If love of the South were more about food than the War and its baggage, we would be able to clear up a lot of things pretty quickly. The only thing missing would be a mouth-watering recipe for perfectly healthy fried chicken.
There’s more to southernness than food, of course, and even Mama’s biscuits can’t blot up all the tangled leftovers from history and popular memory. But food is certainly something to agree about among people who have needed it badly, and it’s a great relief these days to see southern food finally getting the respect it deserves.
A food issue of Southern Cultures is long overdue. We are deeply indebted to Marcie Cohen Ferris, associate professor of American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for serving as our guest editor. The prize-winning author of Matzoh Ball Gumbo, Marcie is a pillar of the Southern Foodways Alliance, a superb cook, and an outstanding expert on food and the South. She’s brought us a sumptuous dinner-on-the-grounds’ worth of articles and features that come at this subject from every possible direction. Contrary to custom, I won’t say more about the contents here because her introduction provides that foretaste, along with a discussion of food’s grand place on the table of southern life and history. So dig in. [End Page 2]