Wednesday, March 6

Director's Cut: SFA Failures and the Egerton Prize

2012 Egerton Award winner Greg Asbed (l) and SFA founder John Egerton. Photo by Brandall Atkinson.
"Director's Cut" is a new(-ish) weekly series on our blog, chronicling the travels and musings of our director, John T. Edge. 

“We set a common table where black and white, rich and poor—all who gather—may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.” That promise comes straight from the SFA mission statement. Back in 1999, when the SFA was founded, we were buoyed by the confidence that our work might bridge race and class divides, and that SFA might be a progressive force in a long troubled region.

Over the last 14 years, we’ve worked, fitfully, to realize that mission. Membership in the SFA is still too white and too wealthy. Too many of our events offer great food and drink, but deliver too little intellectual and emotional substance. But still we try.

On Monday of this week, I met on the Emory University campus with the SFA’s Egerton Prize Committee: Ann Cashion, chef; Ashley Graham, nonprofit consultant; Reid Mizell, school administrator; Judith Winfrey, farm activist; and Kevin Young, poet. 

After SFA members send nominations for the award, which comes with a $5,000 prize, this committee researches candidates, develops a slate, vets, and votes, based on these criteria:

“For his work in chronicling and championing the cause of civil rights in America, and for his contribution to our understanding of the power of the common table, the John Egerton Prize recognizes artists, writers, scholars, and others—including artisans and farmers and cooks—whose work, in the American South, addresses issues of race, class, gender, and social and environmental justice, through the lens of food.”

I’m pleased to tell you that Monday was not a failure. As I sat in that conference room, listening to the committee discuss the 20-odd semi-finalists, narrow the candidates to two, and then vote, I saw the SFA’s promise realized. (The winner will be announced at our Oct 3–6 Symposium here at the University of Mississippi.)

As we move toward 2014, when the SFA will mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights act of 1964—which, as you know, desegregated restaurants and other places of public accommodation—please don’t hesitate to challenge me if you see the SFA doing a little too much eating and drinking and reveling, and not enough work that asks Southerners to “consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.”