The Southern Foodways Alliance this past weekend honored and celebrated women working in every sector of the Southern food world: The symposium program featured lectures about Eugenia Duke, who launched a mayonnaise empire; Patricia Barnes, the Sister Schubert behind a frozen dinner roll line so successful that daily production’s counted in the millions and civil rights fighter Joan Marie Bonton Williams, an ardent collector of cookbooks who pointedly stored her Junior League cookbooks in the bathroom.
Speakers also highlighted the work of the nameless female domestic workers, farmers and restaurant servers who play an integral role in getting Southerners fed. But the highest accolade was reserved for lowcountry champion Vertamae Grosvenor, the Hampton County native who in 1970 captivated readers with her take on instinctual cooking, Vibration Cooking, or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl. The freewheeling memoir-cookbook made a strong impression on a diverse readership, including – according to presenter Tamar Alder – David Bowie and her great friend, Nina Simone.
In awarding the organization’s Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award to Grosvenor, food writer Ronni Lundy said of her classic, “It gave life to and nurtured for many of us a whole new way to come to the table and talk about race. It did so by filling the table with food, and telling that food’s story.”
Two years after the release of Vibration Cooking, Grosvenor published Thursdays and Every Other Sunday Off: A Domestic Rap. The book wasn’t a commercial success, which Grosvenor in her acceptance speech attributed to the cover image provided by her husband: The depiction of a black woman with a white child didn’t sit well with readers, she theorized. But, as Grosvenor announced triumphantly, the book now sells for $100 a copy.
As Lundy concluded, “We acknowledge her for opening our eyes to see, our ears to hear the hard, dark truth about race.”
The Southern Foodways Alliance has posted the complete text of Lundy’s tribute here.