Director’s Cut: The SFA as Source

Michael Pollan (r) with pitmaster Ed Mitchell.
Michael Pollan (r) with pitmaster Ed Mitchell.

I first met Michael Pollan, the journalist and food systems advocate, on Madison Avenue in New York City. He was there, during the annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, to cook pigs and pick pig carcasses with Ed Mitchell, the famed North Carolina pitmaster. I shook Pollan’s greasy hand that day and reminded him that he had a standing invitation to come down to Oxford.

Back then he was still researching Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, now out in paperback. Read that book and it’s clear that Pollan spent a good bit of time traveling to capture the tales and techniques of pitmasters like Mitchell and Sam Jones of Ayden, North Carolina.

It’s also clear, I’m proud to say, that Pollan spent a lot of time browsing the SFA pitmaster oral histories that Amy Evans and her colleagues have collected through the years, and watching the barbecue films Joe York has made for the SFA.

The SFA oral history archive now exceeds 800 interviews. We’ve made more than 50 films. You could measure our collection in hours of tape, if you like. But I think the real measure will come as the years roll on, as smart writers like Pollan leverage that primary source material to tell nuanced stories of our nation’s foodways.

I hope you’ll come out to hear him talk on Wednesday the 21st at 6:30 at Nutt Auditorium on the University of Mississippi campus. In addition to a smart presentation by Pollan, you’ll glimpse a few illustrative clips from Joe York’s barbecue films. There are rumors of hickoried pigs, too.