Pimento Cheese and Podcasts: Producing and Consuming Stories About Food in the Contemporary U.S. South Open Access

Rawson, Katherine Elizabeth (2013)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/jq085k47c?locale=en


This dissertation examines the relationship between food, cultural construction, and narratives. It asks: What work can food do as a subject for cultural production? What social and economic effects do stories about food have? How do they affect cultural identities and practices?

To answer these questions, this dissertation focuses on the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA), a nonprofit organization that "documents, studies, and celebrates" food culture in the U.S. South. SFA members are from across the United States and hold a range of beliefs about "the South." They coalesce over the production and consumption of not only food, but also discourses about southern food. They are storytellers--creating films, oral histories, lectures, and essays. Since they have different goals and backgrounds, examining how they tell and circulate stories reveals strategies, tensions, and impacts of cultural production.

This dissertation explores the production and use of SFA oral histories, films, cookbooks, and events, based on interviews, participant observation, and media analysis. It considers sensory, intellectual, and social modes of knowledge production. This dissertation argues that presenting individuals' stories, particularly in social and sensory modes, encourages intellectual, emotional, and financial investment by audiences. This investment can, in turn, grow and maintain cultural practices, foster social and economic networks, and challenge perceived ideas of place and culture. However, this dissertation also reveals conflicts between wanting to produce celebratory stories and wanting to catalyze difficult discussions about cultural history and experience, especially in the contemporary U.S. South. It investigates the SFA's failures and successes as they attempt to use stories told by subjects in the food industry to simultaneously promote critical dialogue and support local businesses.

The SFA's role as an organization that tries to promote social discourse and culinary tourism is not unique. It is part of a trend that has important implications for how cultural organizations form communities and act ethically in a complex, globalized society. In a context where politics and economics are often intertwined, studying how and why a group produces media based around celebratory stories will allow scholars to better understand, and organizations to better navigate, cultural and commercial discourse.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


CHAPTER ONE. Producing the Southern Foodways Alliance: Values, Activities, and Organizational History 20

CHAPTER TWO. "We Give Voice": Intention and Connection in Southern Foodways Alliance Oral History 55

CHAPTER THREE. Food Production, Knowledge Production, and Film Production in the Southern Foodways Alliance 100

CHAPTER FOUR. "Not with that Jack Daniel's in your hand": Consumption, Experience, and Learning at Southern Foodways Alliance Events 132

CHAPTER FIVE. "Honest Stories" and "Aspirational Tales": Community Cookbooks and Authoring Identity in Southern Foodways Alliance Cookbooks 178


APPENDIX A. Positionality in the Southern Foodways Alliance Oral Histories 225

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