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What Southern Food Means to Me

Feb 1 2013

by Amber Wilson

This isn’t a blog about a lovely dish I created or a poetic exposé of a season; this is a honest-to-goodness post about me putting my foot in my mouth.

While attending the Food Blog South conference this year, I had the pleasure of meeting old and new friends. The conference was wonderful, full of informative and funny guest speakers and fellow bloggers. All was going swimmingly, that is, until lunch.

During the midday break, I piled my plate full with Saw’s barbecue (local Birmingham barbecue joint), coleslaw, vinegar marinated veggies and grits. My plate was teetering close to peril as I attempted to balance it on top of my Coca-Cola can. Alas, I made it to my seat, gathered, and ate with friends. Then, we had an unexpected visitor. A woman asked if she could sit next to us to chow down on the local fare. We invited her with zeal. “Of course you can sit with us,” I shouted. And so it began.

“So, what is the name of your blog?” I asked the newbie to the group. “Oh, I don’t have a blog, I am a food editor for Oxmoor House Publishing.” I felt my face grow an intense shade of red, a trait I wished I grew out of in the 4th grade.

I flubbed and floundered and almost dropped my lunch all over the poor lady. “I’m For the Love of the….I’m Amber. Ryder. For the Love of the South. Amber Ryder. I like your earrings. Forks as earrings, who knew?”

She was full of grace and poise and kindly asked me, “What does Southern food mean to you?” Still shillyshallying, I began talking about cliché Southern things. I believe the words table, memories, family and love were skipping right out of my mouth in no certain order. I was flummoxed, and I blame the distraction of mouthwatering food and consuming way too much coffee as part of my momentary collapse.

Later, I thought about it though. “What does Southern food mean to me?” Here I am, a year into blogging about Southern food and I haven’t clearly defined what it means to me. So, here’s my list that I jotted down in the session after my lunch break (or lunch breakdown, as I like to call it.)

What Southern Food Means to Me:

1) Simple– the ingredients are easy to find, nothing fancy or expensive and recipes must be simple enough to where anyone can cook the dishes.

2) Seasonal– Southerners were cooking with seasonal ingredients before being “seasonal and local” was “in”. We live off the land, so that means we eat tomatoes in summer and collards in the winter because they are in season and they taste better!

3) Sharing– The South is a community. Sharing dishes, meals, ingredients and recipes is what we are all about.

4) Satisfying– Southern food makes you feel good. That doesn’t mean I eat fried chicken all day every day (goodness, I could audition as a Chik-Fil-A cow if I did that.) I think people confuse comfort food with food that’s unhealthy. Comfort food is familiar. Eating sautéed collard greens and a wedge of cornbread is one of the most comforting dishes to me because it brings me back to Louisiana and my childhood.

So, I stand under the header of “For the Love of the South” and all of these listed items “bring Southern memories to the table.” If only I could reintroduce myself to the lady with the tiny fork earrings.

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