This week we traveled to North Carolina to talk with Scott Romine, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, about moon pies, grits, and soft drinks. Returning to one of the central questions guiding this podcast, we also talk with Scott about what we might mean when we talk about the “real South.”
We began this podcast with three questions: What is the South? Is it real? And what’s so special about it? Given that Scott wrote a book titled The Real South: Southern Narrative in the Age of Cultural Reproduction, we thought he might be able to provide us with an answer to our first two questions or at least point us in the right direction. While he describes the South as an intersection between an idea and a social reality, he also says that he tends to approach the South as more of an idea, or an “imagined community.” He describes how people generally have a positive or negative idea about the South, and he asserts that one’s opinion can lead to a confirmation bias where new information is filtered out and the extraordinarily complex region is oversimplified.
Scott describes how current projects related to southern food relate to his work on the South as an idea. He notes that Southern Living started the year after the Civil Rights Act was passed. He accounts for Southern Living as an attempt to find a new, noncontroversial way to consume the South. After all, as he points out, no one is really going to fight a Civil War over barbecue, sweet tea, or grits. However, while publications like Southern Living successfully make the South more palatable, they also presented distorted representations of the material realities of actual people. For instance, romanticized images of the “Great Southern Table” in southern periodicals obscure the stark racial divisions and inequalities characterizing domains of food production and consumption domain. In many southern households, labor is distributed across gender lines as well, where women are primarily responsible for preparing and cleaning up after meals.
We end this week’s episode with a conversation about moon pies, a fairly new (first introduced in 1917) mass-produced, but still somehow quintessentially “southern” dessert. Scott says he started researching moon pies after Bill Ferris made the odd claim that moon pies anchor southerners to their culture and history. According to Scott, Ferris’s connection works because of an ability to invoke a southern imaginary. Ferris’s comment also highlights the fact that “authenticity” and “tradition” are always changing and demonstrates the necessity of meeting “authenticity” claims with skepticism.
We would like to thank our special guest this week, Scott Romine. Scott is a Professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. His second book, The Real South: Southern Narrative in the Age of Cultural Reproduction continues to be a core text in the field of southern studies. He recently co-edited Keywords for Southern Studies with Jennifer Rae Greeson.
Scott's book suggestions: