Remember,” Southern Foodways Alliance founding member Nathalie Dupree once wrote to me, “Food is power.”
Okra 2 Opera, which recently took place at Converse College in Spartanburg, SC, was indeed a powerful collective of female voices. Presentations ranged from case studies of Mississippi’s dwindling mom-and-pop gas stations to Carrie Helms Tippen‘s talk on the evolving narratives of state markers. Conference participant Sheila Ingle served Old Salem Moravian sugar cakes on Croatian napkins in baskets woven by Cherokee and Gullah peoples, a nod to the region’s diversity.
Dr. Marcie Cohen Ferris’ spoke on southern food and the civil rights movement as we approach the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, so that the power of food was made palpable. Conference co-organizer Melissa Walker reminded us that “Eating in an agricultural act,” offering insight on food insecurity and U.S. agricultural policy, and farmer Laura Ritch warned of the seemingly endless supply of so-called organic chicken at grocery stores. Ritch said she and her husband are among the busiest producers, yet raise just twenty thousand chickens a year. “If you want to know your food,” Rich said, “Know your farmer.”
Moving gracefully between reminders of food’s power to shape our lives and the cultural anecdotes that do just that, Okra 2 Opera was about inclusiveness at the Southern table, highlighting the plural traditions of our shared space.
Okra 2 Opera focuses on Southern foodways every other year. Our appetites are whet for 2016.