Recapping the Women, Work, and Food Graduate Symposium

Anna Hamilton presents her oral history research on the datil pepper of St. Augustine, FL. Photos by Emilie Dayan Hill.
Anna Hamilton presents her oral history research on the datil pepper of St. Augustine, FL. Photos by Emilie Dayan Hill.

Last Friday was an important and exciting first for the SFA: We hosted our first-ever academic conference for graduate students in partnership with the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies. The conference brought together more than twenty presenters to explore the topic of Women, Work, and Food. Speakers came from our home institution, the University of Mississippi, as well as from schools including Princeton, Harvard, NYU, Duke, LSU, and as far away as the University of London.

If you have ever attended our annual Southern Foodways Symposium, you know that we aim to present smart content to a general audience. This was our first major event of a formally academic nature, and we couldn’t be more energized and inspired by the scholars we met and the ideas they shared.

Ashley Young of Duke University presents her research on Lena Richard, the late cook from New Orleans.
Ashley Young of Duke University presents her research on Lena Richard, the late cook from New Orleans.

Click here to peruse a Storify collection of Twitter traffic from the conference, curated by presenter Ashley Young, a history PhD student at Duke. Keep reading for more thoughts and photos.

Panel 1: “Talking with Our Mouths Full: Women, Food, and Oral Histories,” led by SFA Oral Historian Amy Evans

Kendall Park a sociology student at Princeton University, shared her research on gender and family relationships in New York City butcher shops and bakeries.

Shayne Figueroa of New York University presented her archival research on the challenges and grievances faced by public school “lunch ladies” in the 1940s–1960s.

Sara B. Franklin, also from NYU, has worked closely with legendary Knopf editor Judith Jones (now 89) to document the stories behind such cookbooks as Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Jodi Skipper panel-Grad Conference
L to R: Theresa McCulla, Anna Hamilton, Virginia Anderson, Katie Rawson, and Jodi Skipper.

Panel 2: “Making Food, Making Identity,” led by UM Anthropology and Southern Studies professor Jodi Skipper

Theresa McCulla of Harvard University told of the Austrian-Jewish immigrant women who sold pastries and stories of European culture at Harvard Square’s Window Shop Cafe.

Anna Hamilton, a Southern Studies graduate at the University of Mississippi, spoke about datil peppers and the construction of Minorcan identity in St. Augustine, FL.

Virginia Anderson, also of the University of Mississippi, spoke of the connection between biscuit-making, religious belief, and family ties among Southern women.

University of Pennsylvania postdoctoral fellow Katie Rawson used the SFA’s Apalachicola oral history project to talk about the gendered work of the oyster industry on the Florida Gulf Coast.

Over a lunch of pimento cheese sandwiches prepared by Alexe Van Beuren of the BTC Grocery, UM Grisham Writer-in-Residence Megan Abbott and Women’s Studies professor Theresa Starkey discussed pies, ambition, and mother-love in James M. Cain’s Mildred Pierce.

Plenary Session, led by Kathy Knight, Interim Chair, University of Mississippi Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management

Desiree Hensley and Allison Korn of the University of Mississippi School of Law spoke of food self-sufficiency as a political and civil right in the Mississippi Delta, where low-income communities often prefer to share, rather than sell, their food resources.

Panel 3: “Nutrition and Activism,” led by UM postdoctoral foodways fellow Zac Henson

Nasim Mahboubi, a graduate student in sociology at Georgia State University, shared her research on attitudes about health and nutrition among Southern African American women with HIV.

Alexandra Lampert of NYU spoke of women’s roles—in the kitchen and beyond—during the civil rights movement.

Panel 4: “Consumption, Production, and Restaurant Culture,” led by SFA director John T. Edge

Ashley Young, a history PhD student at Duke University, introduced us to Lena Richard, the late African American proto-celebrity cook from New Orleans who hosted a televised cooking show in the late 1940s.

Siobhan Cooke of Georgia State University examined authenticity and Latina identity in celebrity cookbooks by Eva Longoria and Gloria Estefan.

Panel 5: “Reading and Representing the Southern Kitchen,” led by SFA Assistant Director Melissa Hall

Mariana Meneses-Romero of Goldsmiths, University of London explored notions of gender and labor in “Sharecropper,” a living installation by the artist Leah Gauthier.

Danielle Klein and Berlisha Morton of Louisiana State University challenged notions of the Creole Mammy figure and presented the Creole kitchen as an educational borderland.

Shawna Felkins from the University of Mississippi examined how the female characters in Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe find liberation through cooking.

We are grateful to all of the presenters, panel leaders, and organizers who helped the conference go smoothly (especially Kevin Cozart at the Isom Center); and to the students and community members who attended the conference and engaged the speakers with thoughtful questions.

Stay tuned for audio of the talks, coming soon.