Meals Is Us

A Letter from the Editor

Devoted to Julia Reed, Randall Kenan, and Marie Dutton Brown


Southern meals fact: We eat one of the best meals with household and associates. And cook dinner one of the best meals for household and associates.

Lucky are we who with household and associates cook dinner, serve, eat, then clear.

Quiet as it’s saved, and broadly because it has change into forgotten, those that do the cooking and the farming know that those that solely eat what’s cooked for them and served to them by no means eat as nicely, measured by taste on the tongue or justice on this planet, as those that pattern straight from the pot with a clear tasting spoon.

On August 28, 2020, the world of letters and the world of meals—the world of truth-telling concerning the South—misplaced the 2 individuals who knew this finest: Randall Kenan and Julia Reed. And I misplaced two associates.

Julia was born in Greenville, Mississippi, on September 11, 1960. Randall was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 12, 1963. There have been barely a few years between them. Neither lived to see their sixtieth birthday. They died on the exact same day, every of them forsaking a legacy of extraordinary meals writing.

Julia wrote with swagger and verve about what I name the “pool and patio South”—the white South of nation membership dinners and backyard events, sure, but additionally raucous throw-downs studded with wit, wild ladies, outdated whiskey, and regret. I nicely keep in mind how in November of 2010, she took me for a basic eat-well-drink-much-talk-loud dinner at Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville, which she first visited in utero.

In Randall’s South, households fished collectively to fill the freezer with good issues to eat. Writing about visits to Topsail Seaside in North Carolina, Randall wrote for Backyard & Gun: “Croakers, mackerel, pompano—our freezers could be stuffed for the 12 months. Catch and launch was by no means a factor for my household.” He additionally described how the “black people have been confined to 2 piers.” About this de facto Jim Crow, he commented, “Although the toilet and bathe services have been subpar, I warrant the fried shrimp, fried flounder and mullet, coleslaw, hush puppies, and scorching canines have been simply pretty much as good, if not higher.”

The very first time I dined with Randall Kenan it was in my household residence in Nashville, a home that has entertained John Egerton and which shelters chairs which have held Malcolm X and Adam Clayton Powell, a four-square that’s residence to 6 thousand cookbooks, together with one my daughter and I wrote collectively, Soul Meals Love. Our cookbook features a recipe for candy potato broth that’s introduced as a tribute to Randall Kenan and his first novel, A Visitation of Spirits, which is ready in rural North Carolina and studded with meals reminiscences. That first dinner, I fed him pepper jelly cash, cornbread madeleines, and a stew of black-eyed peas, kale, and candy potato.

Randall Kenan liked candy potatoes. He liked to eat them, discuss them, and skim them. He was happy with the truth that fifty % of the nation’s candy potatoes got here from the place he known as residence, North Carolina. One 12 months at an occasion for his beloved Southern Foodways Alliance, he proclaimed that Invisible Man was arguably the good American novel and that the “meat” of the story was an “edible root”—the candy potato, known as in Ellison’s textual content a yam. He drew a parallel between Ellison’s line, “I yam what I’m,” and God’s response to Moses in Exodus Chapter 3, the chapter that talks of supply from a spot of slavery right into a land of milk and honey, with these phrases within the King James model: “I’m that I’m.” 

He ended his speak with a clarion name that serves as a high-quality epigraph for this subject of the Oxford American, a difficulty dedicated to exploring intersections between meals and artwork and identification:

For me, the hallmark of meals in literature, raised to the extent of artwork, is meals interacting with character. Meals as character. Meals doing stuff. Meals being stuff. Simply because it occurs with our flesh and blood, our mouths and our bellies and our reminiscences. The most effective writers, the higher writers, know that meals is identification. Meals is alive. Meals is us.

Randall was such a high-quality author. In his last publication, If I Had Two Wings, a group of quick tales, he writes of Howard Hughes coming to North Carolina to beg a lady to cook dinner for him as her mom had as soon as cooked for him. She refuses. She refuses to promote her providers and doesn’t provide her recipes. “The Everlasting Glory that’s Ham Hocks” is a surprising work of fiction that conveys fact about what can and can’t be purchased and bought in America.


When considered one of my very favourite artists, a younger man I had liked since he was three years outdated, Justin Townes Earle, was discovered useless on August 23, 2020, the identical brutal week Randall and Julia died, chef Tandy Wilson, proprietor of Nashville’s Metropolis Home, introduced meals to my residence. It was rooster roasted within the open wooden hearth, the meal Justin liked to eat at Metropolis Home on a Sunday evening. Chef didn’t cost me for the repast. On this subject, Tandy affords an exquisite meditation on giving freely meals, adopted by a recipe from his pastry chef, Rebekah Turshen. Her Candy Potato Chess and Meringue Jar-Lid Pies are cooked in mason jar lids, a concession to COVID that’s each a triumph of culinary bricolage and a candy kitchen mashup.

The essay and recipe spherical out our particular part introduced in tribute to candy potato pie, which additionally consists of Tiana Clark’s story of two pies—the candy potato pie that just about killed her, and the one which healed her—and Ayana Contreras’s riff on the illustration of the candy potato in popular culture. (Search for her playlist of candy potato songs, which jogs my memory once more that whereas the South’s politics and economics give us causes for disgrace, the area’s music and meals make us proud.) In her quick story “Candy Potato Pie,” initially printed virtually a half century in the past, Eugenia Collier serves up basic brilliance. Her story is a sly, feminist, and female commentary on eating-while-Black and feeling shamed and shameless.

The entire writers on this subject assist us see the unseen and listen to what’s unsaid. Lokelani Alabanza and Donna Battle Pierce shine a lightweight on forgotten Black ladies meals entrepreneurs: Alabanza brings us Nashville’s Sarah Estell, who made and bought ice cream via enslavement to the onset of the Civil Warfare, when some have been starting to say their freedom, and Pierce brings us Missouri’s Annie Fisher, profitable purveyor of the crushed biscuit within the early twentieth century.

Kali Grosvenor and Michelle Lanier share a dialog that loops the previous into the long run, a dialog that could be a mannequin of what occurs at a Southern welcome desk, a dialog began by names which might be typically known as and should be known as once more, together with so many names that haven’t been known as typically or loud sufficient—names which have been erased, names which have been obscured, names we decide to uncovering.

Studying their dialog, I considered Marie Dutton Brown. As a literary agent, Marie has championed important Black culinary voices, shepherding into print titles that embody: B. Smith’s Entertaining and Cooking for Associates, Sallie Ann Robinson’s Gullah Residence Cooking the Daufuskie Method, and Valinda Johnson Brown’s Succulent Tales. As one of many first Black editors in mainstream publishing, Marie edited two soul meals classics which have each discovered their approach into this subject, Vibration Cooking, by Kali’s mom, Vertamae Good-Grosvenor, and Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine, by Carole Darden and Norma Jean Darden. Scholar Psyche Williams-Forson, creator of the wonderful ebook Constructing Homes Out of Hen Legs, pays homage to the Dardens in her essay “A Weary Traveler in a Acquainted Land,” which can also be a soufflé of journey remembrance and reckoning noir on the Jap Shore of Maryland.

I’ve by no means met the restaurateur Brad Johnson, however I’ve eaten at his restaurant Georgia in Los Angeles, and I grew up listening to great tales of writers, musicians, and on a regular basis people consuming at his father’s restaurant the Cellar, on Manhattan’s Higher West Aspect. As a younger lady out and about in New York with the likes of Religion Ringgold, Marie Brown often discovered her approach into the Cellar, and he or she introduced Brad to my consideration. I’m so glad she did. In Brad’s masterful function essay, we get a glimpse of the methods during which the worlds of movie and music swirl into the world of meals, and extra considerably, what’s and isn’t “peasant meals”—and why that issues. Echoing Donna Battle Pierce’s reflection on Annie Fisher, Brad writes of how significant it will have been had he discovered of Black culinary trailblazers earlier in life: “With extra inclusive documentation, maybe future generations of aspiring entrepreneurs can be impressed by their tales.”


At Vanderbilt, I educate two programs on soul meals. One among my missions as a instructor is to introduce my college students to authors and visionaries I need to have a good time. An surprising consequence is that typically my college students uncover new causes to have a good time their very own dad and mom or their classmate’s mum or dad. Through the years, quite a lot of of my college students have had a mum or dad who paid no less than a part of the coed’s approach via Vanderbilt whereas working in Southern meals. I’ve taught a scholar whose mum or dad owned a meals truck, one whose father catered to males working off oil rigs after they have been again on shore, one whose household owned an African-Caribbean restaurant in New York, and others. These are just a few of the authors who helped my college students contextualize and exalt the artwork and craft of cooking down South, up South, and west South: Rufus Estes, Edna Lewis, Vertamae Good-Grosvenor, Freda DeKnight, Norma Jean and Carole Darden, Maya Angelou, Michael Twitty, Bryant Terry, Jessica B. Harris, Caroline Randall Williams, Anne Bower, John Egerton, Toni Tipton-Martin, Adrian Miller, John T. Edge, Francis Lam, Julia Reed (for a sophisticated article on B. Smith), Randall Kenan, and Kevin Younger.


112 Randall Greene 03


In her poem “That Soul Meals’s on My Thoughts,” Tarfia Faizullah desires of setting a “luxurious seasonal desk” for a “leisurely supper” with family members. As I write, COVID numbers are rising every day and such a meal is depressingly out of the query. Maybe this subject can function its personal type of leisurely supper, with every providing its personal thought of course.

To start, Crystal Wilkinson offers us a strong memoir of grocery procurement in Kentucky through the pandemic. How many people can say, “We nonetheless have cans of meals that we will now not establish as a result of the labels have been destroyed from washing an excessive amount of”? I can. How many people know like Wilkinson that the unusual present of COVID has been that we cook dinner higher now as a result of we have now begun cooking a lot greater than earlier than? I can be cooking her recipe for tomato soup quickly.

Too many in COVID occasions are consuming an excessive amount of. Julia Bainbridge offers us a recipe for a really subtle Southern whole-tini—which she claims tastes a bit like North Carolina. The recipe for Maitake Mushroom Tea is cause sufficient to purchase this journal.

Chances are you’ll not comprehend it, however pimento cheese offers a window into understanding the interaction between race-based Southern labor discrimination and evolving Southern class distinctions—learn Cynthia’s R. Greenlee’s “Pimento-cracy” to get the view.

Mark Powell’s “After Apple Selecting” reveals how altering labor circumstances and local weather change led to the decline of the South Carolina apple trade.

Amanda Little, identified for The Destiny of Meals, weighs in reporting on the historic theft of Black farmland. My daughter Caroline Randall Williams affords “A Sustainable Name and Response.”

In “The Artwork of Being Eaten Alive,” Channing Gerard Joseph offers us with a brilliantly transient meditation on the genius embodied in an iconic plantation dance. If this weren’t feat and feast sufficient, Joseph engages dance, poetry, and meals together with a big and transatlantic world, reframing Frederick Douglass by calling in his most radical observations about what some folks will eat. 

Ashanté M. Reese searches for sweetness in an anti-Black world and walks us via the fraught historical past of the Imperial Sugar Firm, reflecting on the interaction of “life and loss of life, mourning and celebration, previous and current” as she makes an providing to the useless.

And together with his quick story “Flashlight,” J. Shores-Argüello reminds us that the again porch of the South slips far down to incorporate the situation of this story, Costa Rica. A ghost story based mostly on actual occasions, “Flashlight” was impressed by the final time the creator made an olla de carne, “a confluence of quick rib, chayote, yucca, and plantain.” As Shores-Argüello writes, “Like most Costa Rican meals, it featured delicate elements, magic hidden within the method.”


Food has the capability to deal with all 5 senses. The artwork on this subject was chosen to have a good time the methods during which foodstuffs, particular person dishes, and complete tables delight and shock the attention—in addition to the tongue. COVID has (quickly or completely) stolen from so many the flexibility to style and scent. These photos are provided into this second and into the bigger historical past of the down South, up South, and west South desk as each a gesture of mourning for what has been misplaced, and as a salute to what abides, what persists, regardless of.

112 Randall CookbooksThis {photograph} was taken on January 20, 2021—Inauguration Day—by Caroline Randall Williams, whose poem seems on this subject. Alice Randall, visiting her daughter’s residence, is standing atop a raft assembled by the artist Herb Williams from cookbooks gifted by Mimi Oka (of Orphic Fodder). Randall is sporting pearls and Harlem Toile Chuck Taylors to honor Vice President Kamala Harris.


Black Lives Matter. Say Her Title. Sedition. These seven phrases, one for every day of the week, have been the phrases excessive in my thoughts as we labored on this subject in January. Reckoning comes earlier than reconciliation and infrequently begins on the desk. Studying the getting-to-final drafts of the articles and tales and poems on this subject, I used to be astounded to find, another time, how the sweetness of the desk can ease our most bitter hour. There may be pleasure in that. And pleasure for the desk is the place artwork and historical past enter our our bodies and thru our our bodies our lives, via meals and dialog.

One among my very favourite spirituals is “Welcome Desk.” It’s a beautiful music concerning the energy of telling your story over milk and honey. Speak and meals. Carry the great meals and invite the conversations that change issues for the higher. It’s laborious to lie with a mouth that has been nicely fed.

The writers on this subject have been extraordinarily nicely fed. They’ve tasted straight from the pot with a clear tasting spoon. They inform the reality and convey the great recipe.

View the Situation 112 Desk of Contents.

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