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We're going coastal in this issue. Coastal food politics, cultures, and economies have always been a complicated mélange of people competing to utilize changing lands, waters, plants, wildlife, fish, and climates. Defining—and sometimes divisive—issues of race, class, gender, and ethnicity undergird all histories and narratives in the South, and so it goes with our region's evolving coastal foodways. A talented collection of writers and documentarians explore these issues in the pages that follow. A critical theme that these essays reinforce is the volatility— and vulnerability—of traditional seafood and fishing industries and cultures in the American South.
For the past several years, I have led a seminar on North Carolina's food cultures. My students and I have been privileged to learn from coastal leaders whose passions are focused on educating North Carolinians about their coastal food resources. [End Page 1] One message resounds most loudly. Karen Amspacher, director of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center on Harkers Island, tells us, "North Carolina fish is your inheritance as a citizen of this state. It belongs to you." In truth, our conversations begin with the knowledge that these coastal ecosystems are the cultural inheritance of Native Americans who first fished these waters with a deep understanding of and respect for their fragility and balance.
Amspacher imparts a quote from Sir Walter Scott, "It's not fish ye're buying, it's [people's] lives." We hear the stories of these lives and the complex tug-of-war shaped by climate change, coastal development, overseas competition, and tourism in four essays on the region's distinctive but endangered oysters—Diane Roberts in Apalachicola, Florida (sturgeon, mullet, and Tupelo honey figure here, too), Rebecca Bond Costa in Louisiana, Sara Wood in Virginia, and André Gallant in Georgia. Georgann Eubanks examines the annual ritual of harvesting soft-shell crabs in Dare County, North Carolina. After reading about their labors, it's no surprise that Murray and Brady Bridges's Outer Banks seafood company is appropriately named "Endurance." The Bridges are of the North Carolina coast, from "the convergence of Currituck, Albemarle, Croatan, and Roanoke Sounds" to the "southern tip of Roanoke Island." They deeply understand the challenges of its maritime occupations. Brady's friend and colleague, crabber Willy Phillips, tells Eubanks of a childhood memory of Hurricane Hazel barreling toward Wilmington in fall 1954. Thousands of small fiddler crabs marched from the salt marsh onto the shore, and eventually the exterior walls of his family home, "to find purchase on the roof." The crabs' behavior indicated a dire storm decades before the sophisticated weather technology that warns coastal residents today.
In Vennie Deas Moore's striking ethnographic essay, we experience another moment of the southern coastal past, caught in time and space as Deas Moore captures the proud black and white fishing heritage of McClellanville, South Carolina, in image and word. The impact of Hurricane Hugo (1989) and its aftermath, and the rapidly shifting global fishing economies and politics in McClellanville, make for a very different scene today in the once-thriving fishing village.
In their photo essay rising, documentarians Baxter Miller, Ryan Stancil, and Barbara Garrity-Blake examine the changing ecology and economies of the North Carolina coast, including Hatteras Island, where Baxter's grandfather—a descendant of fishermen and lighthouse keepers—turned down an opportunity to purchase ocean-front property over sixty years ago. "Last fall, after Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm, battered the Gulf, and with Hurricane Maria, the strongest one on record, barreling toward the United States," writes Miller, she stood on that very same section of the beach and "wondered what my grandfather would have thought."
Emily Roehl and Jeannette Vaught take us to another shifting southern coastal landscape—the Gulf of Louisiana—where...