Southern Food Figure John Egerton Dies

By Eva Moore
Wednesday, November 27, 2013 |
These days, when New York City chefs wax poetic about things like chow chow and pigs’ feet and mustard greens, and lard’s popularity has peaked for at least the third time (lard = ska?), it can be hard to remember a time when Southern food was frowned upon — if it was considered at all.

Into that world came John Egerton, who’d written several groundbreaking books about civil rights and culture in the American South. In 1987, he took on Southern food, explaining its complexity, its uniqueness, and the ways it told the story of the region.

“Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History … was among the first books about American food culture to pay homage to African-American contributions,” wrote John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, which Egerton founded, in the New York Times last week. “It was the first book about Southern food to read like a social history.”

The Times-Picayune called it “a model for approaching Southern cuisine as an avenue to substantive cultural inquiry.”

As the Washington Post tells it, “Mr. Egerton rambled across the South, sampling hush puppies, grits, black-eyed peas, fried chicken and barbecue in all its savory permutations. Southern Food was not a cookbook, not a history and not quite a travelogue. It was an utterly original cultural study that made Mr. Egerton nothing less than a folk hero to people who loved the varied cuisines of the South.”

Egerton died Nov. 21 at age 78 of an apparent heart attack. The Southern Foodways Alliance is remembering him this week on its website, southernfoodways.org.

Eat and Give Sustainably
You might find it strange that an advocacy organization like Sustainable Midlands — a group you usually hear speaking up about issues like clean rivers and Walmart — would host an annual Sustainable Holiday Celebration, sort of a craft fair combined with a big party. But the event actually fits right in with Sustainable Midlands’ goal of promoting sustainability of all sorts — not just environmental, but economic, social and culinary.

To wit: Buying local stuff keeps more money directly in the local economy. The people you’re buying from pay local taxes, so your spending benefits you and the community; and you’re supporting people who’ve made the Midlands their home, so you’re fueling entrepreneurship here at home. Plus, where else can you knock off your holiday shopping while drinking a glass of wine? (OK, at home in front of the computer, we suppose, but that’s not as fun — and those gifts won’t be of the local, sustainable variety.)

Vendors at the celebration include everything from potters to jewelry makers to Sumter-based Willie’s Hog Dust, which sells rubs and a bloody mary mix, among other products; Cameron, S.C.-based Sallie’s Greatest, which makes jams; and Bee Trail Farm, which sells honey. You can also create your own food baskets from the South Carolina Specialty Food Association.

The celebration is also a great kickoff to the holiday season, with festive food ideas and assorted cheer in alcohol form. Whole Foods, Rosewood Market, Spotted Salamander, W.P. Rawl & Sons Farm and future restaurant-to-be Bourbon will be offering free food samples. (Get there early, as the lines for food often get pretty long.) Cellar on Greene will offer a cash bar.

The Sustainable Holiday Celebration runs from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 2, at 701 Whaley. Admission is $5, a donation that goes to fund Sustainable Midlands. Bring cash, as not all vendors take credit cards. Visit sustainablemidlands.org for more information.

Let us know what you think: Email food@free-times.com.

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