I have just returned from the Southern Foodways Alliance grad student conference in Oxford, Mississippi–as nice a little college town as Halifax. My purpose in going was, of course, related to my Big MFA Adventure and my manuscript-in-progress, working title Glory Foods: A Soulful History of the First Food Company to Target the Southern Palate.
The theme of the conference was “Between the Disciplines,” so it seemed the right place to bring my interdisciplinary question: As a book, the history of Glory Foods is packed with inspiring examples of black success, practical business lessons, and Southern food culture. But who is the audience for such a book? An SFA conference seemed the perfect place to test the waters (or potlikker) regarding the appeal among foodies of a book on the first company to put seasoned collard greens in a can.
And it was. My presentation was well-received; the questions I got were helpful in answering my authorial questions. Turns out they groove on the history, even though they hold the typical foodies’ disdain for the humble can.
The conference was fascinating, if occasionally over my head in its academic-speak. Of the roughly 20 students presenting, some were bent on tenure-track academic positions, and learning to sling the lingo required. I learned to use “troubles” as a verb and to insert “contextualize the narrative” whenever stumped for a response, in case I should ever need to speak like an academic.
Other attendees were foodies, or documentary filmmakers, or farmers, or activists, or… in other words, cool peeps to hang with! Their topics ranged from tomato festivals across the South to the Pure Foods Act of 1906 to Hurricane Parties as a cultural phenomenon–and beyond.
We met in a little railroad depot dating from the 1840s, nicely restored into meeting space.
After the conference ended, I visited the library at Ole Miss, where the archives of the Southern Foodways Alliance are housed. There were collaborations between Glory Foods and the SFA in the 2000s, and I was looking for documentation. Living the dream, nibbling on a pencil while diligently digging through banker boxes of files in the cool hush of the archives room!
The high point of my visit to Oxford Mississippi came Wednesday morning, when, with time before my flight back to Madison, I went to Rowan Oaks, home of William Faulkner. There I found shady Adirondack chairs waiting for me! I read Faulkner in Faulkner’s side yard and communed with spirits that wished me well on my writer’s journey, until it was time to drive to the airport. Happy moments, stolen out of time.