There is SO much food for thought in this piece called ‘Salt of the Earth’ by Marcie Cohen Ferris. Being Southern American, she talks about the lens that food can be for understanding the intersection between history, memory and story of a place. She talks about terroir – the taste of place – and for me this highlighted more than ever the dangers of keeping ourselves ‘separate’ from our food. From its source, from its history. In doing so we are ignoring our complicity in, our part in the story which it tells. Marcie writes:
In studying food, you embrace everything. Food exposes the long, complex history of the South—slavery, Jim Crow segregation, class struggle, extreme hunger, sexism, and disenfranchisement. These issues are revealed through food encounters, and they contrast this with the pleasure and the inventiveness of Southern cuisine. Food is always at the heart of daily life in the South.
The food we consume, the food of our neighbours around the world, tell us a unique story about a place. A story which can perhaps be told in no other way. Marcie talks about the story which food in her place can tell of slaves and of women – peoples of whose stories we have been robbed as they were often unable to tell it for themselves. She speaks of the South today, caught in between the striving to move on from a stained and terrifying history and the need to remember – a struggle which often, she says, results in silence. Food can tell its own story of place, both now and then.
Of course this makes our association with food a deeply political and deeply unsettling one. Marcie speaks of how she deals with this in this beautiful way:
I think about what I eat every day. I try to eat as locally as I can and as healthily as I can. When you prepare a historic recipe that could as easily been eaten in the 1800s as in 2014, it is a powerful act. When you take that food and its associated memory and put it in your body, it becomes part of who you are. While most people do not think about it consciously, there is an honoring of history that happens during that meal.
Terroir—the taste of place—was important from the early South of the first Indian, African, and Europeans to the nineteenth-century South. During that time, Southerners ate far more locally and seasonally, from the ground they knew and grew up on. That idea connects back to today. You are a place. And as a Southerner, the food you place in your body speaks of your personal history, and of the broader Southern history.
As I said, so much food for thought here that I’ll be chewing on for a while…. suffice to say, read the article!