Southern Traditions: Blues and Food

by | May 17, 2018 | #feedingchange | 0 comments

From Sonny Terry’s “Custard Pie Blues” to James Cotton’s “Digging My Potatoes,” the Blues and Southern food have always been deeply intertwined.

The Piedmont Blues Preservation Society celebrates the Blues at the Carolina Blues Festival every spring, but this year they are additionally celebrating the culinary and craft legacy of the Blues by supporting regional local food entrepreneurs and artisans– while also shining a light on food insecurity in our communities.

“There are several reasons why the Carolina Blues Festival is important,” says Atiba Berkley, President of the Piedmont Blues Preservation Society. “It celebrates the wonderful legacy of the Black American music and culture we call the Blues, while promoting its future.” At this year’s 32nd Annual Carolina Blues Festival, PBPS is introducing the Blues and Foods Market, which is free and open to the public. There will be a wide variety of delicious food choices with Southern flavors… and there will be a food drive for Second Harvest.

“Because we are introducing and highlighting food– in particular Southern food– as part of Blues culture this year, we knew we also needed to speak truth about how our communities struggle with food,” says Berkley.

Food insecurity is inexcusably high throughout the United States, but it is especially pernicious in the rural South— places thick with the Blues tradition. Food insecurity is particularly rampant in rural America—and especially in southern states like North Carolina. Of the U.S. counties with the highest rates of food insecurity, 76 percent are rural, and 89 percent are in the South.

In general, rural areas are the worst affected by food insecurity—two-thirds of the counties in the top 10 most at risk for hunger were rural farm communities and small towns. The majority of the 18 counties served by Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina are rural, where problems with access to healthy food are compounded by low wages, high transportation costs, and a lack of access to markets.

An elderly gentleman in Ashe County told us he often drives with his granddaughter to Tennessee in order to go to the grocery store. A senior citizen in Allegany County says that she can’t drive and thus has to walk along a winding country road to get to the market. A mother in Alexander County says her income is too low to cover all her family’s bills, but she would have to commute to another county an hour away to find higher wages.

We would be amiss to paint only a bleak picture of the rural South– after all, it is these same areas that give us some of our richest food traditions. When we think of Southern food, we think of cornbread and collards and sweet potatoes and North Carolina pulled pork BBQ… and our mouths simply water.   

Southern food and Southern Blues music are close kin. Both draw from diverse global traditions (particularly Western European and West African)– one in its sound, the other in its flavors and ingredients.  Some of the most powerful and inspired creations of both Southern cuisine and Southern sound were born out of poverty and hardship: they share a tradition of making something out of nothing.

And we, like the Piedmont Blues Preservation Society, feel that this tradition is worth celebrating.

“We hope people will come down and enjoy both the music and the food this weekend at the Blues and Food Festival, and we hope they will honor our communities by bringing a healthy canned food item down to donate to Second Harvest as well,” says Berkley.

Might we suggest canned yams?

Bring a bag of healthy, non-perishable food items to donate to Second Harvest this weekend at the Carolina Blues Festival and you will receive a ticket to be used as scrip inside the event!

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