What We’re Reading: Delicious Foods by James Hannaham

By Jenna Mason

Delicious Foods. It sounds like the next big reality food show, in which a charismatic celebrity chef visits unexpected locales. It’s not.

James Hannaham’s most recent novel, published by Little, Brown in 2015, takes readers to a Louisiana farm where modern-day slavery still thrives. Though this farm is fictional, the novel does ask readers to confront reality. In an interview with Huffington Post’s Anna Bengel, Hannaham explained:

Everybody talks about slavery in the American South as if everybody should have gotten over it a long time ago. Slavery is one of the most hidden and yet prevalent issues facing the world right now.

John Bowe’s 2007 book, Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy had a big impact on Hannaham. That story of a Florida woman, enslaved in 1992, shocked and disturbed the author and became one of the many catalysts for Delicious Foods.

Hannaham will speak at the SFA Fall Symposium, set for October 11-13 in Oxford. His Delicious Foods follows Darlene, a mother who unravels after the murder of her husband; Eddie, her young son who bears the brunt of her downward spiral; and Scotty, the magnetic voice of crack cocaine. The protagonists are coerced into back-breaking labor for a nefarious agricultural company.

In coming weeks, SFA will situate Delicious Foods in the broader narrative of Southern foodways, asking challenging and open-ended questions. How can fiction animate activism against forced farm labor in the United States? What are the dynamics of addiction and trauma that make people targets of exploitation? How does America’s increasing fascination with farms as places of hope, health, and personal redemption square with the realities of our food system?

We invite you to read along, considering these and other questions during a five-part web series. Grab a copy of the novel from your local bookstore. We’re keen on Square Books here in Oxford. Or if your summer includes significant time on the road, I highly recommend listening to the audiobook, read by James Hannaham himself.

Upcoming topics:

Meet James Hannaham: The role of fiction in everyday life

Delicious Foods: The farm as metaphor

Meet Eddie: The politics of the racialized body

Meet Darlene: The American Dream

Meet Scotty: Addiction and Trauma

Resources on modern slavery in America:

Bowe, John. Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy. New York: Random House, 2007.

Estabrook, Barry. Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Detroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2012.

Rawal, Sanjay. Food Chains: The Revolution in America’s Fields. 2014.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Free The Slaves

Cover art by Kara Walker