The flavor of southern activism


Lauren Odum, Volunteer Writer

 Outwardly, the Southern palate seems to thrive on lack of refinement. Save for the new crop of pseudo-fusion restaurants appearing south of the Mason-Dixon, the crowning glory of southern cuisine is that of simplicity. However, the classic dishes that we’ve all come to know and love are anything but. For a moment in time, the sordid reality of how poor and marginalized communities managed to sustain their families were buried. Or so we thought. As time has progressed, the conversation has shifted. The stories of those once forgotten have become illuminated and celebrated. In the wake of this revival is an open dialogue in which patrons enjoying deep south delicacies inevitably dig into discussions of race, class, gender, and ethnicity. 

Food and social commentary go hand-in-hand. Be it a dinner table conversation, or a complete culinary revolution through a global pandemic, food can be an excellent probe of social climate. As southern states become more socially aware, culinary talent otherwise overlooked have been given a platform to use food as a medium for a greater purpose. Take, for example, chef Paola Velez, of Washington D.C.’s Baker’s Against Racism movement. Following the murder of George Floyd, Velez spearheaded a grassroots movement that encouraged professional and amatuer bakers to set up local bake sales in support of social justice causes worldwide. Queer and black chef Deborah VanTrece of Atlanta’s Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours is a southern visionary in a straight, white, male-dominated field. Her establishment serves as a reclamation for a woman’s place in the industry and redefines the meaning of “Soul Food” 

The southern foodways we know today come from lands reaching far and wide. Native American culinary techniques, African agriculture, and Latin American influence all played a role in the birth of our Nation. As cultural dynamics continue to shift, exciting prospects in the hospital industry continue to change the paradigm for how we approach social action. Although racism and LGBTQ+ issues can be far from palatable, the beauty of culinary activism lies in that food is the ultimate common denominator. Thus, a beautifully plated southern fried chicken plate makes tales of America’s complicated past a much easier pill to swallow.