Meet Charles Reagan Wilson of Southern Foodways Alliance

Watch our Q&A with one of the founders of SFA and preserver of Southern food culture.


My name is Charles Reagan Wilson. I'm a professor of history and southern studies at the University of Mississippi. I'm the former director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, where I've been since 1981. My family is from middle Tennessee, from Nashville, where I was born. But I grew up in west Texas. You know? El Paso. I have been in Mississippi since 1981 teaching the writing about the Sox. I think the SSFA is important because it celebrates and documents southern food. It brings together so many people, from so many different backgrounds from the food industry to academia. To just people who love food. And I think the time period in which the SFA emerged from the 1990s til now was a period when the south underwent so many dramatic changes. And we were in danger of losing our history, as we have been And the Southern Foodways Alliance help to preserve the food aspect of our heritage. I think corn is such an interesting food ingredient because the story it tells is of sustenance for southerners over generations and centuries beginning with the Native Americans. And that green corn ceremonial-ism is the key part of not only their social life, but their religious life. Corn is a kind of sacred ingredient. After them Africans and Europeans came and they, they used corn to feed themselves to make corn bread. Which is something, that, that people if they didn't have much else, they made corn bread. But we use corn meal to batter our cat fish, and, and our other foods that we fried. We Southerners have used corn to feed livestock, and to prepare our chickens and our hogs for us to eat as well. So I think that that's been a, an ingredient that has, that has, sustained and nurtured Southerners of every group and class for generations. Food was important when Southerners had to deal with the crisis of death. It is an ultimate comfort food. A way to show caring. A way to let people to know without words. It is so often hard to find the words in the face of family members who die. Or friends who die. But bringing a casserole this is the way you do it. People know that you've gone to trouble and prepared food that can be served as we as we have our wakes or the gatherings after the funeral. I think it would be a wonderful opportunity for storytelling for Southerners to remember important moments in their family life. When they had to deal with a sorrowful occasion, but found friends and family that were helping them do it through food. [BLANK_AUDIO]
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