- A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender and Southern Food by Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt, and: Stirring the Pot: The Kitchen and Domesticity in the Fiction of Southern Women by Laura Sloan Patterson (review)
- Mississippi Quarterly
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 65, Number 2, Spring 2012
- pp. 333-336
- View Citation
- Additional Information
333 Book Reviews no admirer from owning it, and it would make a lovely gift. Cheers to Kelly Gerald and to all who aided her. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Joseph M. Flora A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender and Southern Food, by Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011. 248 pp. $69.95 cloth, $24.95 paper, $24.95 ebook. Stirring the Pot: The Kitchen and Domesticity in the Fiction of Southern Women, by Laura Sloan Patterson. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., 2008. 240 pp. $39.95 paper. FOODANDTHEKITCHENARENOTQUITENEWTOPICSINSOUTHERNLITERARY criticism. A special issue of the Southern Quarterly edited by Peggy Prenshaw in 1992 contained important essays by Patricia Yaeger, Minrose Gwin, Mary Ann Wimsatt, and other critics that set the terms for recent discussions of food and literature. Foodways studies have developed over the past few decades as an area of inquiry within both the social sciences and the humanities with a distinct interdisciplinary methodology that uses food to examine social organization and cultural values. More recently, Southern food has taken on scholarly significance as the focus of the Southern Foodways Alliance based at the University of Mississippi and as the subject of several cultural studies. Critical works have emerged in the past few years that incorporate the methods of foodways study into the analysis of Southern texts, such as Psyche Williams-Forson’s Building Houses out of Chicken Legs and Andrew Warnes’s Savage Barbecue. A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender and Southern Food, by Elizabeth Engelhardt, and Stirring the Pot: The Kitchen and Domesticity in the Fiction of Southern Women, by Laura Sloan Patterson, combine foodways analysis with feminist theory to develop nuanced and revealing interpretations of twentieth-century women’snovelsand,perhapsmoreimportantly,Southernwomen’slives. Elizabeth Engelhardt begins A Mess of Greens with an extended meditationonanidealizedSouthernmealfromherchildhood,amemory based on summers spent with her family in the North Carolina mountains, where fresh tomatoes, fried chicken, potato salad, and homemade peach ice cream covered picnic tables. Her nostalgia gives 334 Mississippi Quarterly way, though, to an interrogation of regional definitions, normative gender roles, and food preparation technology. This shift from imagination to analysis is crucial to her text because, as she explains, “people talk about food even when they are not intending to—in letters, diaries, photographs, novels, short stories, and poems—and they talk about themselves when they intend to talk about food—in advertising, recipes, advice manuals, and cookbooks” (15). She uses feminist theory and interdisciplinary American studies methods both to further this conversation and to examine the conversation itself, which reveals the relations of power inherent in food as a form of social relations. Engelhardtmakesherargumentbyexaminingsomespecificinstances when food was the subject of social discord. For much of Southern history, for example, cornbread in its various incarnations was the region’s staple food, but in the early twentieth century, it was the subject of class antagonism. During the progressive era, a group of collegeeducated women promoted the use of white flour for sliced bread, biscuits, and beaten biscuits as a sign of improved hygiene and elevated morals, thereby projecting negative associations onto cornbread. Thus, an item as innocuous and commonplace as corn pone became a signifier of social class. Another group of women activists developed tomato clubs to empower young women by teaching them to grow, can, and market tomatoes from their family gardens, encouraging them to develop entrepreneurial skills and financial agency. In addition to these uplift movements, Engelhardt also explores the role of pellagra in novels about the Southern textile industry. In the early 1900s, the South experienced an epidemic of pellagra, a sometimes fatal nutritional deficiency that makes its sufferers listless and irrational. She describes the disease’s resonance in novels by Olive Tilford Dargan, Grace Lumpkin, Myra Page, and Marie Van Vorst, and she argues that “in the radical or social activist mill stories, the grotesque pellagrin triggers a class awakening for working-class characters and readers who identify with them” (161). A Mess of Greens approaches an extremely fertile topic, and it offers a flexible methodology for examining the relations between food and women in Southern texts. Engelhardt attempts to develop an écriture feminine of Southern food that will...