Academic journal article American Studies

THE EDIBLE SOUTH: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region

Academic journal article American Studies

THE EDIBLE SOUTH: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region

Article excerpt

THE EDIBLE SOUTH: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region. By Marcie Cohen Ferris. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 2014.

In The Edible South, Marcie Cohen Ferris uses food as a historical lens into the politics and culture of the South. By looking at the cultural and social meaning and influence of food, she sets out to deepen our understanding of Southern history. In a broad sweep from the early plantation South to contemporary Southern cuisine, Ferris tells stories of foodstuffs and cuisines, of food reformers, slaves and planters, sharecroppers and landowners, civil rights activists, restaurant owners and patrons, as well as cooks. Her central argument is that the diets of Southerners, over the centuries influenced by race, gender, and class, shaped Southern life and power relations as well as a distinct understanding of the South.

Ferris's book is divided in three parts: Part I explores the food history of the plantation South, looking at personal papers, cookbooks, and slave narratives of planters, slaves, and Northerners traveling through the South. Here, Ferris takes up contradictions that have characterized the South in the eyes of historical actors as well as historians: the sharp contrast and coexistence of abundance and scarcity, of the excesses of planters' diets and the brutal poverty of slaves as well as Civil War deprivations.

Part II examines the New South by discussing the lives and diets of sharecroppers, interventions of Progressive home economists, Works Progress Administration portraits of Southern foodways, and the dynamics of branding Southern food that fueled (culinary) tourism and deepened an understanding of the South as a distinct region. Malnutrition and hunger, as Ferris shows, were the results of racism as well as an industrialized agriculture that shaped black and poor white people's access to food. …

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