2020 Fall Southern Foodways Symposium: Future of the South

Saturday, October 3, 10, 17, and 24, 2020
9 a.m. – Noon CT

In 2020, the Southern Foodways Alliance looks forward. We use food to imagine, construct, and interrogate the futures of the American South.

This year’s Symposium will look and feel different, because our moment requires it. Instead of staging talks and meals over one October weekend in Oxford, and on the campus of the University of Mississippi, our 23rd fall Symposium goes multi-media. We broadcast filmed presentations and menus over four Saturdays in October, with digital and print companions, podcast amplification, and local gatherings to complement.

From a smart TV or laptop, see contemporary photography that reframes our image of the South, guided by teacher and essayist Ralph Eubanks. Visionary poet Ada Limón shares original verse invoking chocolate sunflowers, cast-iron cornbread, and scrapbook recipes heavy with intent. Journalist José Ralat maps the topography of Sur-Mex, the integrated cuisines of the American South and Mexico. Cookbook author Chandra Ram asks how a celebration of Indian and Southern food connections might move beyond hard questions to inspire real action. And more. Lots more.

Two chefs carry these themes from page to plate. Oscar Diaz, the James Beard semifinalist behind Raleigh restaurants Cortez and Jose and Sons, offers new ways to meld traditional Southern cooking with his family’s Mexican cuisine. You’ll never cook a kettle of Brunswick stew the same. As chef and owner of Virtue in Chicago, Erick Williams connects the South, the Black diaspora, and the future of national foodways. Think Tabasco-brined Cornish game hen and cucumber salad with biscuit croutons.

SFA augments these presentations with digital question-and-answer sessions. And a special print issue of Gravy that features text from the talks. The first 200 registrants also receive a Symposium in a Box, delivered to their doorsteps, filled with ingredients, tools, recipes, and more, to bring the Symposium experience home. Finally, after the month of presentations wraps, we aim to facilitate a series of safe, local, in-person gatherings and guided discussions in early November using Gravy texts as prompts. 

Symposium illustration by Lauren Beltramo.


SFA invites members and non-members to attend the Fall Symposium. All may purchase tickets at the price of $50, which includes early access to all Symposium programming, the opportunity to participate in Q&As, a customized discussion guide, and the Symposium in a Box delivery.

Registration opens Tuesday, September 8 at noon CT.

The Symposium will begin on Saturday, October 3, and continue on October 10, 17, and 24. If you purchase a ticket and are unable to watch the live talks, recordings will be archived and made available to you.

We wish we could greet you in person. But from our couches to yours, we welcome you to the 23rd Southern Foodways Symposium. Pajamas welcome.


2020 Southern Foodways Symposium Schedule

October 3 – Visions

Ada Limón

Paulette’s Gibson, Colette’s Julep & Jeremy’s Cooler
Claire Sprouse

We Must See the Truth
Ralph Eubanks

A Letter to My Unborn Child
Caleb Johnson

11:00 a.m. CT
Live Q&A moderated by Sara Camp Milam


October 10 – Sustenance

A Crowded Table: “I loved to dance and refused to squirrel hunt.”
Silas House

What It Means To Be Brown in the  South
Chandra Ram

Lodge Cast Iron BrunsMex Meal
Oscar Diaz

11:00 a.m. CT
Live Q&A moderated by Mary Beth Lasseter


October 17 – Exemplars

Food as Weapon and Salve: The Legacies of Georgia Gilmore
Safiya Charles

Tabasco Keynote UpSouth Meal
Erick Williams

Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame Award Film
Honoring Hanan Shabazz and produced by Joe York

11:00 a.m. CT
Live Q&A moderated by John T. Edge


October 24 – Family

How We Imagine Ourselves
Brian Foster

The Rooting of the Sur-Mex Family Tree
José R. Ralat

2020 John Egerton Prize Film
Honoring Ashtin Berry and produced by Zaire Love

11:00 a.m. CT
Live Q&A moderated by Olivia Terenzio








2020 Future of the South Bibliography

Square Books, Oxford’s independent bookstore, has created a website where you may order books online. Click here to shop. Symposium ticket-holders will receive a code for free shipping.


(Forthcoming) W. Ralph Eubanks. A Place Like Mississippi: A Journey Through a Real and Imagined Literary Landscape. Workman, 2021.

(Forthcoming) B. Brian Foster. I Don’t Like the Blues: Race, Place, and the Backbeat of Black Life. University of North Carolina Press, 2020.

Silas House. Southernmost. Algonquin, 2018.

Caleb Johnson. Treeborne. Picador, 2018.

Ada Limón. The Carrying: Poems. MiIkweed Editions, 2018.

José Ralat. American Tacos: A History and a Guide. University of Texas Press, April 2020. 

Chandra Ram. The Complete Indian Instant Pot® Cookbook: 130 Traditional and Modern Recipes. Robert Rose, November 2018.


Ashtin Berry as told to Hilary Cadigan. “Ashtin Berry Takes a Hard Look at the Restaurant Industry—and How It Can Be Better.” Bon Appétit, October 2019.

Safiya Charles. “After nearly 80 years, Brenda’s is a beacon of hope and great food in an underserved community.” Montgomery Advertiser, January 2020.

Safiya Charles. “Pamela Rush exposed the injustice of poverty in rural Alabama. Ultimately it stole her life.” Montgomery Advertiser, July 2020.

(Claire Sprouse profile) Reynolds, Lindsey. “This Bartender Wants to Lower Your Cocktail’s Carbon Footprint.” Treehugger, May 2020.

(Claire Sprouse profile) Babür, Oset. “How Claire Sprouse Built a Zero-Waste (and Un-Preachy) Bar in Brooklyn.” Food & Wine, April 2019.

(Erick Williams profile) Eligon, John. “16 Black Chefs Changing Food in America.” The New York Times, July 2019.

(Erick Williams profile) Sula, Mike. “Virtue Restaurant’s Erick Williams confronts a dusty dive-bar standby.” Chicago Reader, May 2020.

  1. Ralph Eubanks. “The Dimming Mystique of Mileston.” Oxford American, August 2020.
  2. Brian Foster. “Cedric Burnside: As Real as the Mississippi Hills.” Bitter Southerner, November 2019.

(Hanan Shabazz profile) Khoury-Hanold, Layla. “An appetite for Asheville: North Carolina mountain town’s food reaches new heights.” Chicago Tribune, February 2020.

Caleb Johnson. A Way Back: E.O. Wilson’s Big Ideas for Saving Nature and Humanity Along With It.” Bitter Southerner, April 2020.

(José Ralat profile) Langer, Andy. “José Ralat Believes the taco is Pandemic-Proof.” Texas Monthly, May 2020.

Ada Limón. “The End of Poetry.” The New Yorker, May 2020.

(Oscar Diaz profile) Arellano, Gustavo. “How Southern Food Has Finally Embraced Its Multicultural Soul.” Time, July 2018.

Chandra Ram. “Who Gets to Take Credit for Recipes?” Plate, July 2020.


(Ashtin Berry interview) “Food Without Borders Presents: At the Table with Ashtin Berry.” Heritage Radio Network, May 2020.

(Claire Sprouse interview) “Sustainable Cocktails with Claire Sprouse.” Bartender at Large, March 2020. 

(Hanan Shabazz profile) Orris, Jen Nathan. “Southside Kitchen Feeds Hundreds of Seniors in Need.” Blue Ridge Public Radio, April 2020.

Hillbilly Solid with Silas House, hosted by Silas House.

(Oscar Diaz feature) “Mexico Meets the South at the North Carolina Farmers Market.” Somewhere South, March 2020.

Symposium Swag

Click here to purchase your symposium shirts, sweatshirts, or coffee mug, and you’ll have it in time for the event.

Event Presenters

Safiya Charles reports on race and ethnicity for Montgomery, Alabama’s Montgomery Advertiser, where her stories have examined racial justice, poverty, and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on local lives and businesses. She previously covered news and politics in the New York metro area and Southeast Asia, and her work has also appeared in The Nation and The New Republic.

Oscar Diaz trained in West Coast kitchens before landing in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he’s now chef of Cortez and Jose and Sons, two restaurants that meld his Mexican heritage and new Southern home. In 2019, the James Beard Foundation honored him as a semifinalist in the Best Chef: Southeast category. When he’s not in the kitchen, you can find Oscar sipping a Fin Du Monde at his favorite beer shop.

Ralph Eubanks, a writer and essayist, is the author of three books, including the forthcoming A Place Like Mississippi (March 2021), which guides readers through the real and imagined landscapes of the Magnolia State. His memoir Ever Is a Long Time was named one of the best nonfiction books of 2003 by The Washington Post. A former editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, Ralph is currently a visiting professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi.

Brian Foster teaches sociology and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi, where he studies race, culture, and inequality with attention to post-1970s Black cultures in the rural South. His forthcoming book I Don’t Like the Blues: Race, Place, and the Backbeat of Black Life (December 2020) explores the attitudes and sounds of Black life through the homes, memories, and worlds of Black folks in contemporary Mississippi.

Silas House is the bestselling author of six novels, including 2018’s Southernmost, which grapples with the limits of belief and infinite ways to love in a small Tennessee town. The book was a long-list finalist for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and appeared on numerous “Best of 2018” lists. In 2016, Silas wrote the play In These Fields: A Folk Opera with Sam Gleaves for the Sunday performance of SFA’s 19th fall symposium. 

Caleb Johnson is the author of the 2018 novel Treeborne, a celebration and reminder of how the past tangles with the future that received an honorable mention for the Southern Book Prize. An Alabama native, Caleb has worked as a newspaper reporter, janitor, middle-school teacher, and whole-animal butcher. He currently teaches writing at Appalachian State University.

Ada Limón has authored five books of poetry, including The Carrying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry and was named one of the top five poetry books of the year by The Washington Post. Her book Bright Dead Things was a finalist for the National Book Award. She teaches in the Low Residency M.F.A. program at Queens University of Charlotte and splits her time between Kentucky, California, and New York.

José R .Ralat holds the title of taco editor for Texas Monthly and is sought after for his authoritative and expansive knowledge of local, regional, and national taco scenes. (The New York Times called him “an expert on the folklore of the taco.”) His book American Tacos: A History and Guide, which explores the evolution and diversity of the U.S. taco landscape, was published in 2020. 

Chandra Ram edits Plate, an award-winning food magazine for chefs, and has authored cookbooks including The Complete Indian Instant Pot Cookbook. After studying journalism, culinary arts, and wine, she spent years bouncing between writing, cooking, serving, and bartending jobs. Her writing has earned her nominations from the James Beard Foundation and the IACP, as well as an Association of Food Journalists award.

Claire Sprouse grew up in Houston, where she began mixing cocktails for extra cash. In 2014 she formed the Tin Roof Community with Chad Arnholt to spotlight green bar initiatives, earning the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation “Sustainability Spirit” award. Four years later, she launched Hunky Dory, a low-waste, all-day café and bar in Brooklyn. Her latest project is Outlook Good, the organization behind Optimistic Cocktails, a collaborative e-recipe book featuring drinks that utilize food waste.

Erick Williams is the owner and executive chef at Virtue Restaurant & Bar in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, where he combines fine dining, Southern cuisine, and his studies of the Great Migration. A Chicago native, Erick previously worked as executive chef at mk The Restaurant. Virtue has received national recognition since opening in 2018, and in 2019 The New York Times named Erick one of “16 Black Chefs Changing Food in America.”

2020 Egerton Prize Winner Ashtin Berry is an advocate and educator in the hospitality industry. She organized RadicalxChange and its complementary symposium, Resistance Served, that focuses on the contributions and history of the Black Diaspora across food, beverage, and agriculture.

2020 Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame Honoree Hanan Shabazz is an Asheville, North Carolina, native. An activist in her youth, she has led a life of bold service. A former restaurateur, she has worked with Benne on Eagle and the Southside Community Kitchen, where she teaches the art and history of soul food and inspires new generations.

SFA thanks Zaire Love, Charles Mitchell, Ethan Payne, and Joe York for creating the films that are shared during this virtual symposium.


The Southern Foodways Alliance values the time and talent of all presenters who are part of the symposium and, in accord with our values statement, we believe that their work should be compensated. We thank these donors for supporting the Southern Foodways Alliance throughout the year, and making it possible for us to offer affordable tickets for the virtual symposium as we adhere to our values.

Blackberry Farm Taste of the South
Brook and Pam Smith Fund
Cockayne Fund
Dorothy Pihakis Charitable Foundation
Lodge Cast Iron
Maker’s Mark
McIlhenny Company, maker of Tabasco® Brand pepper sauces

21c Museum Hotels
AC Restaurant Group
Alabama Tourism Department
Anson Mills
Cathead Distillery
Deborah MacAbee and Byron Morris
Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau
The Indigo Road
Jim ’N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q
Karen Barker Memorial Fund
Lynne DeSpelder and Albert Strickland
Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint
The Mountain Valley Spring Water
Order of the Okra
Randy Fertel
Rebecca and Roger Emerick
Ruth U. Fertel Foundation
Simmons Farm Raised Catfish
Taqueria del Sol
Tony Chachere’s
Virginia Wine Board
Visit Oxford

Alabama Chanin
Brown in the South Dinner Series
The Do Good Fund
Zingerman’s Community of Businesses