The rest is Gravy

Read more Raskin via the Southern Foodways Alliance

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This past Monday, The Food Section published an oral history of Charleston’s softshell crab fixation, which is what reporters call it when they get out of the way and let sources speak for themselves. Journalistic oral histories—whether of Black Twitter or the Blue Man Group—read more like radio plays than news articles.

But there’s also a serious discipline of oral history, which is slightly different. Pioneered in the 1940s by a Columbia University professor who was worried about witnesses to historical events calling up friends to tell them what they’d seen instead of writing letters that would last, oral history involves recording people’s recollections of the past and preserving them for the future.

Oral history of that kind has been central to the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) from nearly the time of its founding. The organization in 2005 hired its first oral historian and has since collected hundreds of interviews with food workers across the region, ranging from flour millers to boudin makers.

As a reporter, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve tapped into SFA’s oral history archive. As losses of beloved people and places mounted during the pandemic, my visits to the website weren’t always happy occasions. But the firsthand accounts I found there were invaluable as I tried to tell important stories on deadline.

Fortunately, you don’t need a professional excuse to check out SFA’s oral histories. I’d highly recommend picking a state or topic of interest and seeing where it leads.

Of course, oral history is just one part of SFA’s work to document, study, and celebrate the diverse food cultures of the South. SFA also publishes Gravy, a collection of Southern food writing. I’m proud to serve as Gravy’s resident columnist this year, starting with the issue being published today.

Because SFA is scrutinizing barbecue at its fall symposium, I’m taking up the topic in each of my columns. Specifically, I’m looking at what barbecue can yield, such as money, power, and cultural change.

To read my first essay, an exploration of barbecue and fame, get yourself a copy of Gravy from Hub City Press.

Based on the table of contents, I can guarantee it’s worth the price: In addition to my column, the issue includes Kayla Stewart’s coverage of Indonesian food in the Atlanta suburbs and John Kessler’s reflections on QR coded menus, along with an update on SFA’s oral history project focused on Southern bakers.

And speaking of baking, chag Pesach sameach to those in the market for matzo right now, Easter greetings to folks planning celebrations for Sunday, Ramadan Mubarak to readers whose holiday is already underway, and best wishes for a great weekend to everyone. See you next week!

Take care,


In addition to the softshell crab feed, here’s what else you missed this week if you’re not paying for The Food Section:

  • If there’s any doubt that competitors in Occoquan Peep Week like to keep their marshmallow candy landscapes current, last year’s January 6-themed display ought to clear up the confusion.

  • A couple in Northwest Arkansas has some newfangled steakhouse ideas involving copious greenery and mezcal drinks.

  • Barley cakes and salted plums are excellent wartime rations–unless they’re wrapped in paper, according to the Atlanta institution which studied the samples.  

    Why keep missing out? To get the news first—and to support independent food journalism—join The Food Section as a paid subscriber.



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