John T. Edge - SFA Founder and Director
What we realized is that we want to document the South, and it’s the South of this moment, and it’s the South of this moment with a tether to the past. So it’s an old guard barbecue pitmaster who is four generations deep in the South. You want to tell his story, but you also want to tell the story of the new Mexican immigrant who is cooking barbacoa in southeast Texas. It’s not preserving a South of the past. It’s documenting a South that has a past.

John T. Edge

John T. Edge

John Thomas Edge, Jr. grew up as an only child in the small town of Clinton, Georgia, with civil servant parents whose worldview taught him to look beyond the accepted. They were practicing Methodists, but when John T. was 12 years old, his mother took him on a tour of churches and religious services so that he might decide for himself which religion suited him.

They lived “in a white world,” but John T.’s father tried to start an integrated country club. Perhaps this effort stirred something in John T., something that many years later impelled him to leave a corporate job in Atlanta and pursue a degree in Southern Studies—with a special interest in race relations—at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.

At the University of Mississippi, John T. discovered a common thread between food, social justice, politics, and fun. His dissertation was titled The Potlikker Papers. And it was through university connections that John T. met the well-established journalist John Egerton, who quickly became John T.’s mentor, and with whom he formed the Southern Foodways Alliance in 1999. As he was from the beginning, as the organization’s only employee, John T. remains the SFA’s director. At the time of this writing, his staff numbers six.

In addition to his work with the SFA, John T. has written seven books, appeared on dozens of television shows, and built a life in Oxford with a woman (Blair Hobbs) who stalked him with pig ear appetizers in hand at the very first foodways symposium in 1998.

Date of interview: February 13, 2012Interviewer: Sara Roahen, SFA Member