A Mess of Greens
Southern Gender and Southern Food

Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt

How women used food to negotiate their changing southern and American identities


“Elizabeth Engelhardt brings fresh perspective and insightful arguments to the emergent foodways field. Her work is a model of interdisciplinary accomplishment, drawing on oral histories, community cookbooks, club meeting minutes, and traditional texts alike.”
—John T. Edge, coeditor of The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook

"A Mess of Greens is a landmark text for the study of southern foodways. Engelhardt adds immeasurably to the canon of food studies by bringing the best practices of the discipline of American Studies informed by the analysis of feminist studies.”
—Marcie Cohen Ferris, author of Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South

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Combining the study of food culture with gender studies and using per­spectives from historical, literary, environmental, and American studies, Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt examines what southern women’s choices about food tell us about race, class, gender, and social power.

Shaken by the legacies of Reconstruction and the turmoil of the Jim Crow era, different races and classes came together in the kitchen, often as servants and mistresses but also as people with shared tastes and traditions. Generally focused on elite whites or poor blacks, southern foodways are often portrayed as stable and unchanging—even as an untroubled source of nostalgia. A Mess of Greens offers a different perspective, taking into account industrialization, environmental degradation, and women’s increased role in the work force, all of which caused massive economic and social changes. Engelhardt reveals a broad middle of southerners that included poor whites, farm families, and middle- and working-class African Americans, for whom the stakes of what counted as southern food were very high.

Five “moments” in the story of southern food—moonshine, biscuits versus cornbread, girls’ tomato clubs, pellagra as depicted in mill literature, and cookbooks as means of communication—have been chosen to illuminate the connectedness of food, gender, and place. Incorporating community cookbooks, letters, diaries, and other archival materials, A Mess of Greens shows that choosing to serve cold biscuits instead of hot cornbread could affect a family’s reputation for being hygienic, moral, educated, and even godly.

Page count: 248 pp.
5 b&w photos
Trim size: 6 x 9


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Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt is the John Shelton Reed Distinguished Professor of Southern Studies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Her other books include The Larder: Food Studies Methods from the American South (Georgia) and Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond the Brisket. Engelhardt is also an advisory board member for the series Southern Foodways Alliance Studies in Culture, People, and Place.