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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to

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Merline Herbert

Rice. Merline Herbert’s most memorable food memories revolve around the locally grown grain. She eats it for lunch or dinner almost every day, and insists that her customers recognize its importance. Rice is the centerpiece of every plate lunch served at the Creole Lunch House: each scoopful is treated like a daily supplement, each morsel an identity marker of localism and belonging. Food is rice, and rice is food, or according to Merline, “you can’t eat without no rice.” Since 1983, Merline has been serving her rice with gravy, meatball fricassee, stuffed baked chicken, and barbecued ribs. On Wednesdays in season, fresh okra is smothered and stewed with chicken and sausage. Merline opened the Creole Lunch House after working for over two decades in the public school system; not ready to retire and recognized as a savvy home cook, Merline risked it all on rice and gravy and, in her words, “never looked back.”

Date of interview:

Rien T. Fertel

Denny Culbert

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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