Immigrants are active Southerners. They choose to live here, to raise families, to grow businesses. Despite unfavorable odds that may, in this new age of American isolation, temporarily thwart innovation, active Southerners are reinventing the region. In the process, as an already complicated region embraces new people, and cultural nuances accrete, much is gained. Especially for eaters.
My friend Dan Philips, a wine importer, likes to drag me into discussions of the Civil War. Though he lives in California, Dan has roots in the South, eats and drinks his way through the region often, and reads voraciously. Dan is smart. And he asks great questions. But I rarely take the bait. The reasons are complicated.
An installment in Local Fare, a food column by John T. Edge.
Ten years after Julia Child swanned into American living rooms, espousing the Life Bourguignonne, Nathalie, born in 1939, emerged as a second-wave women’s libber, determined to sidestep “the problem that has no name.”
An installment in John T. Edge's Points South column, Local Fare.
“I do this to investigate complicity and interrogate white supremacy,” Tunde Wey said on a Monday night in October, standing on a chair before a dinner crowd of fifty-plus at Second Line, a midtown Memphis po-boy shop decorated with pictures of New Orleans brass bands. He emigrated from Nigeria to the U.S. on a visitor visa, which he later adjusted to student status. Now thirty-four, Tunde talks openly of his current undocumented status and broadcasts a keen command of structural racism theory.
“At first, I couldn’t come in a place like this,” Helen Summerville told me one recent afternoon as she forked into a mound of cornbread dressing and giblet gravy at Kairos Kafe on the south side of Birmingham, Alabama. “And then, for a while, I wouldn’t come in,” she said. “None of that matters now.” Prior to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Summerville, who is black, would not have been served in most white-owned dining rooms in Birmingham. Back then, Ollie’s Bar-B-Q—which was open from 1926 through 2001 and claimed three locations in this neighborhood, including the one now occupied by Kairos—was among the staunchest defenders of the Jim Crow laws and practices that dictated separate eating facilities for whites and blacks.
An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.
I was prepared to talk about the food that Southerners and Latinos have in common and the blending of our cultures at the table. My presentation focused on the very real culinary movement showcasing harmony among different peoples. My “call to forks,” if I may, is one of unity and community, one that proves we’ve already come together at the table, one that invites us all to understand each other better while we share meals.
My mother was an instinctive cook. Words and directions did not hold much for her. She was a keen observer. She learned to cook from watching her aunts; her grandmother, Maw; her own mother. She loved recipes. Clipped them from the newspaper, kept them crammed in cookbooks and stuffed in bowls around the kitchen. She read them like fiction, intrigued by the possibilities they suggested, but hardly foolish enough to take them as literal instructions for real life.