Forkways #4: Mutating Interests

It is weird how subjects of interest move through me. I think for some around me it is even uncomfortable. Sometimes it feels like every week I am on to a new thing. Sometimes I am on to a new thing every week.

When I am researching something I have to make up these little rules to keep myself on track. Everything is so interesting to me. It can be particularly difficult to stay focused, even for something like a school assignment. One of the rules that I made for myself when I started studying food was that my primary interests had to stay within the scope of American continental history and stay within the geography of the United States as much as possible. This reasoning was twofold, 1. Because my language skills are terrible I knew that I would have more access to sources and documents of need and interest if I didn’t have to worry about the limit of foreign language and 2. Culture is much like language, sometimes it can be difficult to understand the nuanced perspectives of other countries. For a while academics have looked at the other as an attempt to understand the self. I felt that it was important to begin the look at the self to understand the self. I am not the first one to have this idea. I am not even suggesting that it doesn’t come with its own bias and possible ethnocentric concerns. But it is this precise latent ethnocentrism that pushed me to looking at American society and culture.

Primarily I was looking at the history of food and the culture, practices, and etiquette surrounding this history. I was looking at a broader perspective but reserved speciality ingredient in depth research for items that were either naturally occurring in the United States or made a big impact on the culture or economics of a region in the United States. Though I looked at various parts of the United States, the south has a particularly easy thread to find and follow on almost any type of food you want to learn about.

The south was always the land that separated my home from Disney World. Therefor in my youth it did not have much to offer me. When driving to Florida is was a stretch of too hot to not be at the beach climate. When flying it was too far below me to consider. Though I did go to North Carolina every summer, my experiences were more about fast food and movie theatres than any kind of transformative experience. The land in between was just space. Space that was between me and a good time. South Carolina and Georgia were the victims to my single minded youth.

But one person single handedly sparked my interest in southern cuisine. Before watching Sean Brock on Mind of a Chef, I thought southern food was overrated and over represented in history books, on menus across the country, and in backyard barbeques. Chef Brock was raised in the Southern Appalachian region of West Virginia and the work he has done exposing me to the seed saving ways of the south has inspired me. Through him I found out about Glenn Roberts and BJ Dennis. And my feels about southern food did a 180. I went from apathy to passionate curiosity. It is in this way that the thing you are trying to resist becomes the thing you are trying to study.

Another shift just presented itself. I was determined to study food and food preparation, meal times, and manners. And less seeds, heirlooms, and soil science. But it is so hard to divorce the produce from the ground that grew it and the seed that it sprouted from. And now I am thinking about seed saving again and reading Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste: Heirloom Seed Savers in Appalachia. I purchased this book ONLY because Sean Brock talked about seed saving in this region as part of his only background and tradition. I started reading it in part because I am in taking part in a class that is considering starting a local seed library and seed exchange. I wanted to participate in such an effort, and my teacher suggested I do it for my final project.

But I did not believe that a seed saving project would mesh with my major. Until I read the introduction of Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste written by Howard Sacks. Dr. Sacks and my major have something in common, Sociology! I had been wrong, not only could they tie together there was academic evidence of them doing so in the past. I am not sure what this means for moving forward with the seed project, but I do know what it means for my research. Even though I was trying very hard to leave the historical research on seed preservation to others, it is getting absorbed into my ever growing sphere of interest. Why do I even resist these things in the first place?


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