“A beautiful ode to a grande dame of Southern cuisine.”—Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original, Now in Paperback

Guest blog post by Sarah B. Franklin, editor of Edna Lewis: At the Table with An American Original

Edna Lewis: At the Table with An American Original is a collection of 20 essays by chefs, food writers, and scholars that examine and celebrate the life, legacy, and boundary-breaking politics of chef and cookbook author, Edna Lewis, considered the Grand Dame of Southern Cooking, one of the progenitors of Black food writing, and an early advocate of sustainable agriculture and farm-to-table practices. Much has been written about Lewis in recent years—some excellent, some misinformed (Lewis’s legacy is, in truth, shrouded in mystery, as her papers still haven’t been made public), but there’s still much to say and a lot of fresh framework that can be applied to Lewis’s story and her relevance today.

Some thoughts for how this might fit into current cultural journalism:

Part of why I believe there’s a chance to renew interest in the book is because of its form; it’s, in effect, a conversation (its format became the basis for the Splendid Table episode on Lewis, which has become one of their most listened-to episodes of all time), which means it’s ongoing; given the chance, I could easily add another 20 essays from another 20 individuals to the book, and it could go on like that forever.

In terms of pegs to the moment, I’m particularly interested in plugging this book into conversations around 2020’s events raising awareness around the urgent need for reparations, land redistribution, and the limitations of capitalism to address systemic racism. Lewis was raised in a community that attempted to reject the cash economy as its basis of survival and, thus, its measure of self-worth. She was an early advocate for food sovereignty, an idea that, as you know, has gained a ton of traction in recent years. She is (quietly) known as a lifelong communist, who dipped in and out of official politics. Her stance on food is borne of these experiences and beliefs. 

I firmly believe we’re only beginning to see the fallout of this past year’s disruptions, uprisings, and awakenings, and that this book speaks right into the radical possibilities that have long been experimented with, and cultivated by, marginalized communities who have been denied opportunities within more conventional, white-supremacist capitalist systems and structures.

2020 also brought into stark relief how critical developing local and regional food systems is as an urgent matter not only of dealing with food access in the here and now, but preparing for future disruptions in supply chains (pandemics, natural disasters, socio-political conflicts, and, of course, the steady march of climate change). The past 10 months have brought rapid and innovative responses in food distribution, and have highlighted the importance and exceptional nimbleness of smaller-scale regional food growing and distributing operations, as opposed to industrial-scale, centralized ones. 

On a more personal note, I’m going to be donating 100% of proceeds to three organization that do direct-impact work around immediate and long-term food security in communities of color: Soul Fire Farm (Upstate NY), Alma Backyard Farms (Los Angeles CA), and the Black Feminist Project (Bronx NY).

Sara B. Franklin is a writer and food studies scholar teaching at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study.