'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.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.