Prof. Jon Smith (Simon Fraser University, Vancouver)
"The Ethics and Politics of Inventing 'Southern Food'" (December 2018)
The recent (post-1980s) celebrations of "southern food" are the latest in a long line of attempts to posit a distinctive "southern culture" or "southern identity" in opposition to an allegedly inferior U.S. national or "Northern" culture. This course asked several fundamental questions about this enterprise: Why on Earth do some people feel the need to do this? What are the ethics and politics of doing so? What is at stake?
The reading included landmarks in the Agrarian tradition (which is so much about overcompensating for shame) out of which popular foodways discourse so obviously springs—including John C. Calhoun's 1837 speech "Slavery a Positive Good"; selections from the 1930 Agrarian manifesto I’ll Take My Stand and from Louis D. Rubin's 1962 introduction to its reissue; and selections from the 1989 Enyclopedia of Southern Culture—as well as lesser-known critiques of their arguments by such major American Studies scholars as Henry Nash Smith and Werner Sollors.
With a firm grounding in the dominant discourses celebrating "southern exceptionalism," the course then turned to the contemporary "southern foodways" discourses that arise out of that model, especially the popularizing work of John Egerton and John T. Edge. Students looked at critiques of that model, and at a number of southern cookbooks, to see how agrarian themes continue in an age when they are supposed to be long gone from southern studies. Finally, the class looked at echoes and modifications of agrarian thought in Black foodways talk from Edna Lewis to Michael Twitty.
Jon Smith presently works chiefly on the U.S. South from postcolonial and cultural-studies perspectives. His essays and essay-reviews have appeared in American Literary History, American Literature, Contemporary Literature, The Global South, and Modern Fiction Studies, as well as in several essay collections on topics ranging from Faulkner to alt-country. With Deborah Cohn of Indiana University, he coedited Look Away! The U.S. South in New World Studies (Duke UP 04), and, with Riché Richardson of Cornell University, he coedits the University of Georgia Press series The New Southern Studies. His own book, Finding Purple America: The South and the Future of American Cultural Studies, was published in that series in 2013. With Scott Romine, he is co-writing Against Cornbread Nationalism: How Foodways Partisans Misrepresent the South. (Homepage)