Fried Chicken: A Complicated Comfort Food (Gravy Ep. 16)

Photo of Waiter Carriers courtesy of the town of Gordonsville, VA.

It’s easy to love fried chicken. The light crunch of a crisped wing or leg, followed by the moist meat of the interior; it’s understandably beloved.

But there is more going on with this comfort food than you might think. Fried chicken has both been the vehicle for the economic empowerment of a whole group of people—and the accessory to an ugly racial stereotype. How can something so delicious be both? In this episode of Gravy, Lauren Ober goes from a Virginia Fried Chicken Festival to a soul food restaurant in Harlem to find out.

Fried Chicken underway at the Gordonsville Fried Chicken Festival. Photo by Lauren Ober.
Fried Chicken underway at the Gordonsville Fried Chicken Festival. Photo by Lauren Ober.
Stephanie Terrell frying up chicken at the Gordonsville Fried Chicken Festival. Photo by Lauren Ober.
Stephanie Terrell frying up chicken at the Gordonsville Fried Chicken Festival. Photo by Lauren Ober.

You can find Psyche Williams-Forson’s book “Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power” here.

Image of Waiter Carriers courtesy of the town of Gordonsville, VA.
Image of Waiter Carriers courtesy of the town of Gordonsville, VA.
Photo of Waiter Carriers courtesy of the town of Gordonsville, VA.
Photo of Waiter Carriers courtesy of the town of Gordonsville, VA.

Karen Cox’s book “Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture” is here. And here’s Karen’s blog post about that ad campaign for Glory Foods.

The town of Gordonsville, VA, home to the Waiter Carriers that Lauren describes in the story is here.

Gordonsville, VA fried chicken pride. Photo by Lauren Ober.
Gordonsville, VA fried chicken pride. Photo by Lauren Ober.

Melba Wilson’s restaurant in Harlem, Melba’s, is here.

Melba Wilson. Photo courtesy of Melba's.
Melba Wilson. Photo courtesy of Melba’s.
Melba's Fried Chicken and Eggnog Waffles. Photo courtesy of Melba's.
Melba’s Fried Chicken and Eggnog Waffles. Photo courtesy of Melba’s.