'Cornbread Nation 7: The Best of Southern Food Writing' Is American Regionalism at Its Finest

Shyam K. Sriram

A splendid collection of tales of Southerners traveling abroad and children of immigrants living in the South and reflecting on their heritage.

Cornbread Nation 7: The Best of Southern Food Writing

Publisher: The University of Georgia Press
Length: 288 pages
Author: Francis Lam, ed.
Price: $24.95
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2014-05

When I was a senior at Purdue, I took a class on “American Regionalism” with Sean “Kip” Robisch, and it completely changed how I looked at literature. From delving into Ken Kesey’s underrated classic, Sometimes a Great Notion to discovering Willa Cather for the first time, Robisch opened a door for me into a world where the physical setting of a novel or poem mattered just as much as its contents and that writing about a place was the highest form of realism.

Cornbread Nation 7: The Best of Southern Food Writing is American regionalism at its finest. It's a splendid collection of tales of Southerners traveling abroad, immigrants journeying to the South, and children of immigrants living in the South and then reflecting on their heritage. Through the meticulous efforts of guest editor Francis Lam, on behalf of the Southern Foodways Alliance and general editor John T. Edge, we have been bestowed with this gem.

This book is definitely not what it seems, and while the title may evoke the standard imagery of Southern food by way of the local Cracker Barrel, this collection goes way beyond all of that. In fact, it's a reimagining of what it means to be Southern and how we, as Southerners born and adopted, think about the foods and customs that define us.

The collection of 44 essays, excerpts, stories and poetry is divided into five sections and while each has a theme, the contents are truly diverse. My favorite section was definitely “Provisions and Providers” and in particular, the long, but powerful essay on fermented and spoilt food by Burkhard Bilger; Bill Heavey’s experiences hunting frogs “the size of a rotisserie chicken” in Louisiana; and Robb Walsh’s searing look at “exoticizing rural southern poverty.”

The weakest section “The South, Stepping Out”, which almost seemed an afterthought to the whole collection; a place to store pieces that just didn’t fit anywhere else. I was particularly puzzled by Sarah Hepola’s thoughts on Velveeta, which became a rumination on her eating disorder, and Jack Pendarvis’ “An Oyster Named Dan”. And, as much as it may be literary sacrilege to do so, I believe that the inclusion of Langston Hughes’ “Soul Food? What is That?” didn’t really fit into Cornbread Nation 7, which is probably why it ended up in this particular section.

Despite a few poor inclusions, Lam’s editorship is a success because he takes risks and goes off the beaten path. Some of the works that really opened my eyes included Sean McKeithan’s probing look at the gender and racial politics of whiskey; Rayna Green’s article on Native-American food and its continued absence in the discussion of Southern food; two selections on ethnic bakeries in the South that became homes away from home for expats looking for childhood staples; Robert Moss’s biting look at the commodification of Southern cuisine; and Todd Kliman’s descent into Szechuan madness as he stalked famed chef, Peter Chang.

In the end, Cornbread Nation 7: The Best of Southern Food Writing, will make a fine gift to not just chefs, but to anyone who appreciates American culture, history and literature. While there are little snippets of recipes and cooking tips sprinkled throughout, this book is a solid look at what it means to be a Southerner and how, unlike the stereotypes leveled on the region, we are a family of incredible diversity, shaped by common struggles, and a love for the land that provides such delectable fare.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.