What is Thanksgiving if not a meal celebrating inclusiveness—of breaking bread together and of sharing traditions?
I’m thankful for those who have shared their traditions with me. And I’m thankful for those curious to learn my family’s traditions.
Nearly fifty years ago, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawing various forms of discrimination against racial and ethnic groups and women. In the South, one effect of this legislation was the desegregation of restaurants.
This Thanksgiving, let us reflect on where we stand today.
John Egerton, who passed away last week, said in an interview with SFA filmmaker Joe York:
“When I realized how much Southern food meant to me and meant to people who wanted the South to have a more rounded image than just the violence and the racism, I began to realize that food is the great communications medium, it’s the great binder that brings us together as a people…It’s so much more than just the food.”
He challenges us to “think of the shrimpers on the gulf coast or the oyster men, (to) think of the people who raised hogs for a living and learned how to cure hams and to preserve pork meat because they had no other way to have meat through the year except to process it in a smoke house, to cure the meat, and keep it from spoiling so they could eat it all year long.”
“And think what you’d learn about those people and their history and their way of doing things just by knowing those things about them. I think it tells a lot.”
At the Southern Foodways Alliance, we study the food traditions of the changing American South. This Thanksgiving, let’s think about what we can learn from others’ traditions. Let’s consider how others’ traditions enrich our own. To name a few:
- Vietnamese fishermen and women overcoming adversity by innovating sustainable ways to provide produce and seafood to the city of New Orleans.
- Marshall Islanders working in Arkansas chicken processing plants, and the barriers they face in the United States.
- Burundi refugee farmers in Atlanta, Georgia redefining culinary links between the Deep South and Africa.
- Karen farmers in North Carolina honoring the agricultural traditions of their native Burma.
- A chef in Atlanta juxtaposing the food traditions of his native Monterey, Mexico alongside the culinary traditions of the American South, and an El Salvadorian woman blazing an entrepreneurial path with her bakery in Richmond, Virginia.
- Delta Lebanese who have made their food traditions the food traditions of Mississippi.
At the SFA, we strive to listen to and share these stories. At your table this year, we wish you the most delicious celebration of your traditions and that we will all learn something new from the person sitting next to us.