Friday, August 10

Parting Thoughts from SFA Oral History Intern Sara Wood

Notes from the field. And from the plate. (Sara Wood)


I've never kept a food journal. Field notes, but no food journals. I've always associated them with dieting, and my demise would occur around page two. During the past couple weeks at SFA World Headquarters for an oral history internship, I now have a food journal almost thirty pages wide and growing, written down alongside those field notes.

After time spent rambling around the Mississippi Delta with SFA oral historian Amy Cameron Evans, I leave with a heavy heart, a stronger sense of a connection to place through food, and the stories of the people behind that plate lunch set down in front of you. 

Watching Amy photograph Bill Lester, executive director of Dockery Farms. (Sara Wood)

Somewhere along the tamales from Gentle Lee Rainey's Delta Fast Food in Cleveland, lunch at The Senator's, the chocolate pie made by Dorothy Cotten at Chamoun's Rest Haven, the ahi tuna tacos at Oxbow in Clarksdale, a big, fat, important tip jumps out: If you ever have the pleasure of meeting Amy, follow her. Follow her blindly. She will lead you to the most delicious food you've probably ever had in your life. Then she will sit you down next to an amazing stranger to listen to their story. You walk away full. I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to watch Amy in action in the field, her gentle, patient listening habits at play with her photographic mind. Especially during her interview with Dockery Farms Executive Director Bill Lester. My own work will forever be stronger because of it.

Temptation from Ray's Dairy Maid in Barton, Arkansas. Pies made daily by Kitty Dinsmore. (Sara Wood)

I spent one day traveling along Highway 49 in Arkansas in search of stories about pie. I found Deane Cavette at Ray's Dairy Maid in Barton. She was so gracious with her time, letting me sit down with her for an interview, and then allowing me to linger to take photographs. When I finished, I sat down at her table to a piece of her famous coconut-pecan pie. “Want ice cream on it?” she asked. I nodded, just like childhood. I don't particularly love pecans or coconut. It was the story behind that piece of pie that made it taste so much sweeter, that made me eat so slowly with all the gratitude in the world after listening to Deane's story.

When Deane Cavette set this piece of coconut-pecan pie in front of me, I forgot I was there to document the whole experience. (Sara Wood)
While I arrived here with a desire to strengthen my photography muscle, this internship affirmed my love of strangers and their stories. Food has become its own character. And I learned a new lesson about field work: When you spend time collecting stories about food, it's essential to wear pants with an elastic waistband.

What you collect besides stories after a day in the field with oral historian Amy Cameron Evans. (Pictured: Tamales from Delta Fast Food, chess pie from The Dutch Oven, chocolate pie from Chamoun's Rest Haven, sweet potato pie from Drew Fast Food.) (Sara Wood)

*For the record, we definitely plan on keeping in touch with Sara to watch her work--and perhaps, due to our reckless influence, her waistband--grow.