“A Seat at the Table:” A Social History of Savannah Foodways!
By Lauren Della Piazza Hartke
Culinary history and the history of foodways has held a fascination for me for several years now. I love cooking (and eating) and come from families where sharing recipes and food-related experience is a large part of how we understand ourselves and relate to each other. I was eager to incorporate my family’s culture into my public history work. This phenomenon is also true on the macro level. Food is central not only in the barest rudimentary sense (as calories needed to maintain life), but as a means of cultural expression, and how they people relate to each other and reinforce cultural values and social structure.
In recent years, Savannah has fashioned itself as “the Hostess City,” which carries implications of hospitality and Southern culture, as well as cooking and gender expectations. The city now boasts a vibrant restaurant scene with James Beard award-winning chefs, and a diverse array of eating and drinking establishments. Yet this did not happen in a vacuum. Clearly, Savannah’s food history began somewhere, and has changed over time to become what it is today. There are several Savannah food tours that take people around the city’s main spots while sampling Leopold’s Ice Cream and Byrd’s cookies. There are even “food history” tours that guide tourists around historical sites in addition to restaurants. However, I wanted to do a tour about food history – the events, people, and traditions that determined how people in Savannah have eaten over multiple generations. Mine is not just a history of foodstuffs or the agricultural, climatological, and economic factors that affect the food supply. Nor is it simply about the evolution of cooking technology and techniques. What makes my tour unique is the emphasis on people. As the title states, it is a social history of Savannah’s foodways, and how people from different classes, races, backgrounds, and skills relate to food, the land, and each other.
For further reading on this topic see:
Stu Card and Donald Card, Savannah Food: a Delicious History, (Charleston, SC: American Palate, a division of The History Press, 2017).
Angela Jill Cooley, To Live and Dine in Dixie: the Evolution of Urban Food Culture in the Jim Crow South, (University of Georgia Press, 2015).
Anthony J. Stanonis, Dixie Emporium: Tourism, Foodways, and Consumer Culture in the American South, (Athens, GA: Univ. of Georgia Press, 2008).