On October 13 at 6:30 p.m., in the Tupelo Room of Barnard Observatory, the Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, will stage the second annual Viking Range Lecture. The event is free and open to the public.
This year’s Viking Range Lecturer, Warren Belasco, Professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, is author of Appetite for Change: How the Counterculture Took on the Food Industry; Meals to Come: A History of the Future of Food; and Food: The Key Concepts. He is the editor of the journal Food, Culture, and Society.
Each year the Viking Range Lecture, underwritten by the Viking Range Company of Greenwood, Mississippi, brings scholars, writers, and artists to the Ole Miss campus. Each lecturer, regardless of discipline, uses food as a vehicle for a greater understanding of self, community, and culture.
Food studies is booming on college campuses across the country. Yet many academics who work in the field labor under a debt of pleasure. As nineteenth century botanist, Jean-Henri Fabre wrote, “History celebrates the battlefields whereon we meet our death, but scorns to speak of the plowed fields whereby we thrive; it knows the names of King’s bastards, but cannot tell the origin of wheat. That is the way of human folly.”
Belasco will ask the basic question, "Why study food?" And he will answer, in part, that “food is the first of the essentials of life, the world’s largest industry, our most frequently indulged pleasure, the core of our most intimate social relationships.”
The SFA’s mission is to document, study, and celebrate the food cultures of the American South. That mission is grounded in the notion that food is a lens through which a region as vast and diverse as ours can be seen and understood. Simply put, what and where and how a Southerner eats speaks volumes about who he or she is.
In Food: The Key Concepts, Warren Belasco argues that food is more than just a device for understanding a culture. Food is the culture. Belasco knows that to fully understand food requires a complex interdisciplinary understanding of anthropology, sociology, economics, politics, and agricultural science.
Understanding food is more than just an academic exercise. It requires that consumers recognize the food choices they make are governed by the competing considerations of identity, convenience, price, and, increasingly, responsibility.
It’s that last consideration Belasco finds so compelling. He asks students to think about food, not just in terms of monetary value or emotional significance, but in terms of global consequences. In an increasingly global-focused American South, such questions resonate.
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