- "It's Southern, but More":Southern Citizenship in the Global Foodscape of Garden & Gun
I bought my first issue of Garden&Gun in 2011. It was in the checkout line of a specialty grocery store where I worked while I was a graduate student. I had been reading and writing about food and Southern literature and identity for my comprehensive exams, and here was a magazine, in this gourmet food environment, representing "The Soul of the South" and telling me about "The Writers, Artists, Musicians, and Designers Who Are Redefining the Southern Belle" (Glock). It struck me as importantly incongruent that, while I was reading books with titles like The Real South: Southern Narrative in the Age of Reproduction (Romine, 2008) and The South that Wasn't There: Postsouthern Memory and History (Kreyling, 2010) in the grocery store break room, I could, in the same building, buy a magazine that would tell me exactly how to eat, drink, travel, buy, and "redefine" what was verifiably Southern. And if I hadn't spent all my paycheck on books and rent, I could buy some ingredients there and get to work on being authentically Southern right away.
I bought the first issue out of a personal and intellectual curiosity. As a self-identified Southern woman, I had to know just what was meant by "redefining" the Southern belle. Who was doing the defining? How were they doing it? Would I want be defined as a new Southern belle? As a Southern scholar-in-training, I needed to know: How was this going to respond to the conversations of Southern distinction and gender? Was there something here to study? I kept reading because the magazine was fun and artistic and cool. As a Southerner, I found much to admire in the photography, profiles, and products. As a student of rhetoric and Southern culture, I found much to study. [End Page 147]
Defining Southern Citizenship, Writing Southern Distinction
Belief in a coherent and distinct South is central to the success of any publication that claims to represent a distinct Southern cuisine, from chef-centric cookbooks to lifestyle magazines to personal blogs. Writing Southern distinction means building convincing arguments of authenticity. Food writers strategically use narrative as evidence to argue that their recipes are authentically Southern, suitable for performing an authentic Southern identity. This essay turns to narratives in Garden&Gun to examine how the magazine's writers and editors define and redefine Southern identity through instructions on how readers can perform authentic Southern foodways. As Garden&Gun delineates authentic food and foodways with recommendations and instructions for cooking, eating, drinking, and travelling in the South, the magazine argues that buying Southern products and collecting essential Southern experiences are effective methods of expressing an authentic Southern identity.
It may sound simple to sell Southernness to Southerners, but Garden&Gun asserts that its audience is not geographically bound. Garden&Gun has, from its inception, proudly targeted a nation-wide audience. After its 2007 debut, Rebecca Wesson Darwin (President and CEO of Garden&Gun, LLC) told an interviewer that "[the magazine's] biggest challenge is getting folks to understand that we aim to be a national magazine with a regional focus. This impacts where we are positioned on the newsstand, how media buyers view us, which ad campaigns we get considered for, and on and on" (qtd. in Greenfield and Barnes). Though the magazine may have initially been hard to classify, it has since defied industry expectations with its national success. Media Industry Newsletter headlines like "The Five-Year-Old 'Garden&Gun,' like the South, Is Rising Again," "'Garden & Gun' Is Having More 'Yankee' Success than Robert E. Lee," and "'Garden & Gun' Has a Longer 'Growing Season' than Dixie" demonstrate the magazine's growing appea to readers in and out of the South. The recurring Dixified jokes in these same headlines may also confirm good reasons for Darwin's articulation of the tension between the magazine's national goals and its regional identity.
In a 2012 feature for NPR's Weekend Edition, Debbie Elliot reports that forty-five percent of Garden & Gun readers at the time were living outside the South. In 2014...