CORNBREAD NATION 2017 Key Reads, Listens, and Views

Here at SFA world headquarters, we read and listen and watch voraciously. Because we aim to stay on top of our field. For the pure joy of a good story. We share finds on Slack, our internal communications tool. Twitter and Insta, too. We read magazines and rip pages. We email newspaper editorials and podcast episodes to each other.

Team SFA admires the creative folk collected here. Compiling this roster, we recognized a defining theme for 2017: reckoning. This year, writers and documentarians asked tough questions. Of themselves. And of their audiences. Owing to our tragic history and fitful present, those questions often centered on the American South. But not all. Outside the region, F&B: Voices from the Kitchen, a storytelling project curated by La Cocina in San Francisco, inspired us, too.

Twelve smart pieces follow. We’ll spare you the alliteration. This isn’t a “dirty dozen.” Instead, the creators showcased here speak truths, clear decks, and wipe clean taints. Regard this roster closely and you’ll note that we slipped in one of our own productions. Take that inclusion as proof of our pride in SFA work. Onward Cornbread Nation….


“If You Care About Food, You Need to Care About Immigration.”

Helen Rosner, Eater

“Both authorized and unauthorized workers are affected by increasingly hostile federal attitudes to their labor. Raids and crackdowns are violently disruptive for all workers, regardless of status, as well as their families and communities. The promise (or the fear) of them will have an immediate impact on all workers’ willingness to simply show up to work. Thanks to the Obama administration’s increased scrutiny on unauthorized labor, the number of foreign-born farm workers in America has already been shrinking; the Trump administration’s position promises to compound the effect.” Read more…

The Rabbit Hunt

Patrick Bresnan, Topic

“In the Florida Everglades rabbit hunting is considered a rite of passage for young men. The Rabbit Hunt follows seventeen-year-old Chris and his family as they hunt in the fields of the largest industrial sugar farms in the US…. As much for sport and bragging rights as food and income, the rabbit hunt is a place boys learn to catch, process, market, and sell the day’s catch. We enter the rabbit hunt on Sunday morning [with] Chris, who, along with his mother, three brothers, and two sisters, all work to put food on the table.” Watch the film…


“Look to the food world to understand America’s white supremacy problem”

Tunde Wey, San Francisco Chronicle

“If the ownership and staff of Turkey and the Wolf were to be replaced exclusively with black New Orleanians, it would hardly be interesting to most food publications. Its kitsch would be deigned bad design; its off-kilter take on conventional staples would be judged too baroque and gauche; that charming laid-back service would be registered as rude and incompetent.” Read more…

“When Jack Daniel’s Failed to Honor a Slave, an Author Rewrote History”

Clay Risen, New York Times

“The company’s decision to recognize its debt to a slave… is a momentous turn in the history of Southern foodways. Even as black innovators in Southern cooking and agriculture are beginning to get their due, the tale of American whiskey is still told as a whites-only affair, about Scots-Irish settlers who brought Old World distilling knowledge to the frontier states of Tennessee and Kentucky.” Read more…


“John Besh restaurants fostered culture of sexual harassment, 25 women say”

Brett Anderson, | The Times-Picayune

“During an eight-month investigation, 25 current and former Besh Group employees told | The Times-Picayune that they were victims of sexual harassment while working at BRG or at a number of its restaurants… Taken together, they and other women described a company where several male co-workers and bosses touched female employees without consent, made suggestive comments about their appearance and – in a few cases – tried to leverage positions of authority for sex.” Read more…

“When the Kitchen Isn’t Safe for Women”

Tracie McMillan, New York Times

“In the wake of more than two dozen women asserting that the Besh Restaurant Group in New Orleans fostered a culture of sexual harassment, I have been torn. Half of me is rolling my eyes at how predictable it is. The other half is blind with outrage: At the people described as perpetrators, and the industry leaders who’ve stayed silent. But I’m most confounded by the people who have profited off the mythology of kitchens as places where, as a famous chef once said, ‘conversation tends to center on’ — to paraphrase — male genital proportions and preferred sexual acts.” Read more…


“The Epic Love Story Behind This Family’s Famous Cookie Recipe”

Nola McKey, Country Living

“‘I’ve been asked to add things like nuts and other flavors, but my creed is that you don’t adulterate Big Mama Addie Odom’s Tea Cakes,’” he says. “While Harold celebrates his grandmother’s legendary tea cakes, he also takes pride in the remarkable family legacy that brought his ancestors to Texas in the first place. His great-great-great grandparents Jim and Winnie Shankle were the founders of Shankleville, a freedmen’s community in Newton County, Texas…” Read more…

“After Oranges”

Wyatt Williams, Oxford American

“McPhee’s book about oranges in the age of concentrate production is not a screed against industrial food or agribusiness priorities… If you read it a couple of times, trying to ascertain some kind of narrative structure, you may get the impression that McPhee is simply peeling an orange, circling his subject and handing out segments of the beauty and contradiction contained within.” Read more…


“Surrounded by crops, lacking food: A health paradox in the Mississippi Delta”

Anna Wolfe, The Clarion Ledger

“Holmes County sits on the east edge of the Mississippi Delta… It’s also where one of the state’s wealthiest citizens, Jim Barksdale, owns a cattle ranch, one of the largest herds of the top-quality Limousin cattle in the Southeast. But most of what grows there isn’t for eating. Soybeans and corn, mostly cattle feed, and cotton make up 85 percent of crop sales in the county… ‘Holmes County is stunning. It’s exotic in its agricultural beauty,’ Leslie Hossfeld, director of Mississippi State University’s Food Insecurity Project, said. ‘But there’s no food.’” Read more…

“Hostesses of the Movement”

Rosalind Bentley, Gravy podcast

“They were school teachers, church ladies, and club women who were not direct in their assault of segregation, but nonetheless played a vital role in the change that was to come. While others hit the streets, marching, singing protest songs, and risking arrest, these women made their contributions to the Civil Rights Movement in their kitchens. They opened their homes to the architects and strategists of the Movement, providing home cooked meals, places to rest, and safe rooms for plotting attacks on Jim Crow.” Listen here…

“Can Local Food Help Appalachia Build a Post-Coal Future?”

Sarah Jones, The Nation

“[The] story of Appalachian food, like Appalachia itself, is a complicated one. Advocates say that both are entering a new, more optimistic era; that a resurgence in local farming, coupled with renewed interest in traditional Appalachian foodways, could help steer the region toward an environmentally and economically sustainable post-coal future. And unlike the historical attempts to develop Appalachia—imposed principally by external actors, both public and private—food and farming are located well within the region’s own history of political resistance.” Read more…

“What Do Lakewood Residents Think of Their Neighborhood’s Newest High-End Restaurant?”

Victoria Bouloubasis, Indy Week

“I didn’t want to review The Lakewood the way the INDY normally reviews restaurants. I wanted to address something else, an uneasiness that’s gnawed at me for the last several years: food is touted as an equalizer, yet the idea is rarely challenged. In Durham, food is an element of great pride, and the gateway drug for newcomers to experience a New South hallucination, free of complexities.” Read more…

The artwork featured here was created by Lina Puerta and underwritten by 21c Museum Hotels for SFA’s 2017 Southern Foodways Symposium: El Sur Latino. Learn more in this film by Pihakis Foodways Documentary Filmmaker Ava Lowrey, “A Visible Tapestry: In the studio with Lina Puerta”.