Southern Foodways

In keeping with our fall tradition, I’m heading over to the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium this week. SFA is a great group and if you are a Southerner by birth or by frame of mind, you should be a member of this great group. I jokingly call it the Bourbon and Bacon Festival as there is not lack of either. Seriously, one year there were strips of Allen Benton’s bacon hanging from trees lining the entryway as hors d’ouevres. All that aside – it’s not just about the food. It’s more than what you might expect. Sure, there’s great food, but it’s also about fellowship and education. The Southern Foodways Alliance feeds my head, my heart, and my stomach.

The mission statement reads.”The Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. We set a common table where black and white, rich and poor — all who gather — may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.

I strongly believe in these values as a Southerner. And, as a cook, in my opinion, everything about the whole entire world can be summarized by the food that goes into our mouths – politics, race, finance, agriculture, art, religion, education, and geography. Everything. It’s more than you might expect.

Last week I taught in Ohio and Indiana. All of the classes were sold out. Some people might not expect that, but Southern food is very popular across the country. Yet, as I travel, I often find myself explaining what Southern food actually is. People think all Southern food is unhealthy. People think all Southern food is fried. I didn’t grow up eating Bacon-Wrapped-Breaded-Deep-Fried-Macaroni and Cheese or Cheeseburgers served on Krispy Kreme or Red Velvet Pancakes with Cream Cheese Syrup.

Yes, I did grow up eating Fried Chicken. But, Southern food is more than fried chicken. Frankly, to define Southern food as fried chicken is one-dimensional. That’s like saying Japanese food is solely sushi, Italian food is no more than spaghetti and meatballs, and all French food is bathed in a buttery rich cream sauce. Assumptions are dangerous, often wrong, and the truth is more than you’d expect.

Real Southern Food

NY Times Atlanta Bureau Chief Kim Severson recently interviewed Paula Deen on Times Talk. I am asked about Paula almost as much as I am asked about working for Martha Stewart. Paula has been nice to me – I’ve been featured in her magazine and she’s had me on as a guest on her TV show. When she announced her diabetes to the world I did share with the NY Times that French chefs weren’t vilified for their use of butter. However, I also said I don’t think what Paula Deen shares with the world on Food Network defines Southern food — and I’d say that to her if she were sitting down right beside me. In fact, she very well might agree with me. She’s your cook, not your doctor, as she famously pointed out. I might only add that she’s entertainment.

I’ve lived and traveled all over the world. The South does not have a monopoly on rednecks or racism, but people assume that most Southerners are racist. I do think that the South somehow lives with this menace better, but then, I am not black and I do not face the prejudice an African American faces in our society. I only say that racism is part of our daily lives in the South. That’s part of our dialogue in SFA. Racism does exist and there are people that do judge people by the color of their skin, and there are people that do not. Geography has nothing to do with it and that’s not what most people think.

SFA is filled with like-minded Southerners that celebrate the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. We set a common table where black and white, rich and poor — all who gather — may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.

Frankly, SFA gives me hope. I appreciate the work done spreading the message of the rich, diverse cultural heritage of the South. The South of the SFA is perhaps not what most people expect, but it is just as real as what is assumed to be true. This is the South that I want the world to see, to believe in, and to understand. 

And then, ungloriously heaped on  the pile of rubbish that is American television is Honey Boo Boo, a reality series about a small-town Southern family airing on a network comically called The Learning Channel.

Maybe I’ll have a slug of bourbon and a couple of slices of bacon, after all.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!


PS: In the spirit of “not what you expected”, today I’m sharing a recipe for Roast Delicata Squash Rings that will appear in my next book, Lighten Up, Y’all: 150 COMFORT FOOD RECIPES FOR HEART AND SOUL. I turned in my proposal just this week! In it I will lighten America’s favorite Southern recipes to make them a better choice for good health, while keeping the traditional flavors intact.

Roast Delicata Squash Rings
Serves 2

These tasty treats are beyond delicious. I could eat them every night. The seeds crisp up for a perfectly nutty savory crunch.

1 Delicata squash
1 teaspoon canola oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 400° F. Line a baking sheet with a nonstick silicone baking sheet. Using a chef’s knife, very thinly slice the squash, seeds and all, and place on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle over or brush with oil. ( I actually keep my canola oil in a spray bottle and 3 squirts is one teaspoon.) Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to the oven and bake until the rings are tender and slightly charred, about 45 minutes. Serve warm.

Out and About
I’ll be at Thyme in Starkville, Mississippi on Sunday 10/21 from 12:30 to 2:30 for a Reception and Book-Signing. Also, on Sunday 11/18 I’ll be in Evans, Ga with a Tailgating Demo and Book-Signing. It’s free and open to the public. You can sign up for that event here.

PS. Please take a moment and like me on Facebook or follow on Twitter. And, if you send your information to me, I’ll do the same!

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, Thanks so much.

Copyright © 2012 Virginia Willis Culinary Productions, LLC.