|Everett Spruill — Chitlin Circuit|
What is your idea of a food fight? Do you picture something playful, maybe like the food-flinging in sitcoms and movies? What if I told you that some people have fought over food and not lived to tell about it?
John T. Edge was the Guest Editor of the Spring 2005 Southern Food Issue of Oxford American. John is a regular contributor and he is the author of Fried Chicken: An American Story and Apple Pie: An American Story. It was natural that he would head this food themed project.
In his editorial notes, John mentioned a November 4, 2000 front-page story in the Alabama Register: COUSINS IN AX FIGHT OVER CORNBREAD. Connie Baggett reported the heated dispute between cousins — Henry Peters and Tracy Randolph — and how their conversation about "cornbread, jelly, and chitterlings" went awry.
The argument — details of which were unclear — grew heated, and Rudolph left the room, went to a woodpile outside, and returned with a bush ax. (Bush axes have broad, crescent-shaped blades attached to long wooden handles, and are typically used to clear brush from fencerows.) Rudolph apparently attacked Peters, chopping him with the farming tool in the neck. Peters then took the ax, struck Rudolph in the face, and fled from the house to his car, taking the ax with him.
Peters wrecked his car about 12 miles away, near the hospital in Evergreen, then ran to the emergency room. Rudolph arrived at the hospital by ambulance soon after, and was treated for a severe facial wound. Meanwhile, officers arrived on the scene of Peters' wreck, found the bloody ax, and followed Peters' trail to the emergency room.
Conecuh County Chief Deputy James Taylor said both men appeared to have been drinking, and neither would cooperate with police or sign warrants against each other. "The doctors had to clamp off severed arteries in Peters' neck and in Rudolph's head," Taylor said. "They'll probably be laughing about it next week."
John also referenced other situations. One man tried to assault a restaurant owner with a chair because his tea was served unsweetened, while another gentleman was fatally shot based on the strong opinions he had about sweet-potato pie. Apparently, runny grits, dry pork chops, or turnip greens sprinkled with sugar are also cause for murder. John wrote, "And any folklorist worth his salt can cite the meter and verse of early-twentieth-century Appalachian murder ballads that pivot on the swing of a cast-iron skillet."
These are extreme cases, but they do expose underlying truths. Food culture is territorial and often has it's genesis in lack, not social station. In the old South, the well-to-do had surplus and help, whereas the impoverished had only themselves and imagination. The kitchen was a refuge, a gathering place, a haven for exploration. Food spoke to the soul and defined families. Hence, an argument over food could be very personal.
So much of Southern history is blood spattered, violent, divisive; our food is an antidote, a balm, a diversion. It calls us to the table and invites us to linger and share, to sup and be restored. It may well be our most reconciling force.
-John Egerton, Oxford American
I have always looked at food squabbles as either playful or in terms of fairness and portion control. Earnest disputes had more to do with deprivation, not preparation. Yet, we all have emotional connections to food. It seems like food roots run deeper in the South. Very deep.