Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Writing in the Kitchen: Essays on Southern Literature and Foodways

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Writing in the Kitchen: Essays on Southern Literature and Foodways

Article excerpt

Writing in the Kitchen: Essays on Southern Literature and Foodways. Edited by David A. Davis and Tara Powell. Foreword by Jessica B. Harris. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014. Pp. [xii], 245. $60.00, ISBN 978-1-62846-023-0.)

In the last two decades the study of food in U.S. culture has gone from a small subgenre of cultural history to a major site of exploration for historians interested in the cultures of everyday life. What could be more "everyday" than food? And perhaps because food seems so evocative of place and so imbued with regional identity, many of those who have chosen to work in foodways have focused on the American South, a region where foodways may be more ingrained and local than in other places. Whether or not this statement is accurate, both academic and popular writers seem drawn to southern foodways in larger numbers than they are to other regions. Writing in the Kitchen: Essays on Southern Literature and Foodways extends southern food scholarship by considering the ways that food appears in literature. The book, which emerged from a conference on southern literature, aptly demonstrates that food is indeed central to understanding not only everyday life in the South but also cultural representations of it.

The editors do not attempt to carry a single argument throughout the essays. Instead, they allow the diverse collection to demonstrate the rich, eclectic tapestry of food writing in the South that spans from the seventeenth century to the present. Food is symbolic, but more often in this book it serves as an entry point into discussions of region, class, and especially race and gender that always linger just below the shiny patina of southern kitchens and dining rooms. We learn of Thomas Jefferson's interest in agricultural writings, representations of the "mammy" in cookbooks after Reconstruction, narrative cookbooks, Native American foodways, and the effects of the civil rights movement on domesticity, among many other topics.

The essays are of uniform high quality and written accessibly with a noticeable lack of jargon. The style should appeal to academics interested in the South, food, or social and cultural history as well as nonacademic readers who are interested in food and the South more broadly. Endnotes are kept to a minimum. Each essay comes with a short bibliography that offers additional material for readers interested in the specific topic. …

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