A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender and Southern Food

A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender and Southern Food

Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt

Language: English

Pages: 280


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Combining the study of food culture with gender studies and using per­spectives from historical, literary, environmental, and American studies, Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt examines what southern women’s choices about food tell us about race, class, gender, and social power.

Shaken by the legacies of Reconstruction and the turmoil of the Jim Crow era, different races and classes came together in the kitchen, often as servants and mistresses but also as people with shared tastes and traditions. Generally focused on elite whites or poor blacks, southern foodways are often portrayed as stable and unchanging—even as an untroubled source of nostalgia. A Mess of Greens offers a different perspective, taking into account industrialization, environmental degradation, and women’s increased role in the work force, all of which caused massive economic and social changes. Engelhardt reveals a broad middle of southerners that included poor whites, farm families, and middle- and working-class African Americans, for whom the stakes of what counted as southern food were very high.

Five “moments” in the story of southern food—moonshine, biscuits versus cornbread, girls’ tomato clubs, pellagra as depicted in mill literature, and cookbooks as means of communication—have been chosen to illuminate the connectedness of food, gender, and place. Incorporating community cookbooks, letters, diaries, and other archival materials, A Mess of Greens shows that choosing to serve cold biscuits instead of hot cornbread could affect a family’s reputation for being hygienic, moral, educated, and even godly.

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incidentally undercutting Anderson’s attempts to put the brakes on Kit’s adventures at the end of the novel. Anderson suggested that one of the sites of the invention of modern industrial life—Ford’s assembly line—created a powerful symbol of escape from itself and from limiting ideas of gender, class, race, and food. In 1906, Mary Mullett agreed that “To the honor and the glory of the sex be it recorded, however, that the woman in front of the machine isn’t the whole story. There is also the

as the one at the beginning of the chapter), pins, and mottoes. Using a picture of a tomato, the motto “To Make the Best Better,” and a symbol of a clover, they developed labels for their products and reputations for marketing savvy.11 The five pioneering women soon found they could not supervise every club that formed. With enrollment in North Carolina, for instance, almost tripling in the clubs’ first year of existence, Cromer, McKimmon, Powell, Agnew, and Moore looked for help. They created

they were doing the right thing by Emma, everything possible that might make her well. The doctor was kind enough to let them run up a bill for drugs at his store, so the bottles on the chair beside Emma’s bed were kept replenished.”46 Lumpkin’s sarcasm is brutal here, since the bottles cannot hold pellagra’s cure; instead, purchasing them puts the rest of the family at greater risk of contracting the disease themselves. Meanwhile, John flirts with “a young lady [who] had come to organize clubs

remained taboo and politically charged even as overtly racist chains like the Coon Chicken Inn prospered nationally. Hunger 172 chapter five and lack of adequate food continued. As late as the 1960s, in the midst of the War on Poverty rededicated by Robert Kennedy’s trip to Hazard, Kentucky, the U. S. South still struggled with economic disparities leaving people unfed.11 Promoters of the dystopian interpretation bemoan the loss of self-sufficiency and of heterogeneous food communities; they

Kentucky, North Carolina, and Georgia. Substantial enough to constitute a genre of fiction, moonshine literature heightened the stakes in the politics of food by bringing gender, place, and class into ideologies of lawlessness and vice. National debates—about New Women, rebellious teen girls, and the consumer and capitalist culture pressing on them—played out in the pages of magazines and novels as the economies of turning corn into liquor were deliberately overlooked. The moonshine debates

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