It’s not everyday that an aspiring food writer has the opportunity to learn from a distinguished Southern food writer such as John T. Edge. Opportunities like this one leads me to believe that the path that I’m on is where I’m suppose to be. The Masters of Nutrition Program at Meredith College has opened up so many doors in the last four years, and continues to. Last Monday night I had the privilege to be in a room full of nutrition grad students and listen to John T.’s journey in becoming an iconic Southern food writer.
John T. began by giving us a brief explanation how his Southern roots gave him the inspiration to change careers and earn a Master’s Degree in Southern Studies. This has allowed him to write about the South’s identity around food. Topics such as farming cash crops, race, poverty and power are near to John T., as his work for the Southern Foodways Alliance documents and educates about Southern foodways. Thinking about food in new ways and distinguishing food and place are crucial aspects when telling the story of the South.
A couple of John T.’s main points were that the Southern food culture continues to evolve and the South is defined by culture and the people who live it. Rather than trying to preserve the culture, John T.’s work focuses on documenting the evolution of Southern Foodways, through working class people. He discussed how a newer Southern cuisine is emerging such as fried chicken from The General Muir, a restaurant located in Georgia inspired by a New York Jewish Deli. Although Southern food is evolving, we learned a little about his own food traditions. You will never find sweet cornbread on his plate and holidays will always include pickled peaches.
As the discussion was wrapping up, I had a chance to gain a little insight on how I can work to become a successful food writer. Unique ideas, passion and practice are a few words that I took away and will remain with me as I continue to write.
After our classroom discussion, we headed over to Meredith’s Jones Auditorium to hear from an expert panel of North Carolina chefs and farmers while John T. moderated the discussion. Chefs Ashley Christensen, Scott Crawford, Ricky Moore and Andrea Reusing, along with farmers from Coon Rock Farm, Jamie DeMent and Richard Holcomb discussed how they celebrate the diverse variety of Southern foods. Agreeing with John T. that Southern food is continually evolving, they discussed the importance of discovering and re-discovering methods and techniques of Southern cooking to stimulate new interest with customers while continuing to reflect the Southern culture they love.
I walked away from this event with a new sense of appreciation for Southern foodways and am eager to continue my exploration. Thank again John T. and Triangle chefs for sharing your stories with us!