Over the weekend, I spent some time at home celebrating my dad’s birthday when he started reminiscing about the food traditions on his side of the family. Most notably, he told me about a meal his dad used to eat called “cornbread and buttermilk”. What is this dish you ask? Sheila Newton seems to think it is a one of the “most southern of culinary concoctions“. This meal is exactly what is says, cornbread and buttermilk, however a better name would be cornbread IN buttermilk. That’s right. In order to properly eat this dish, according to both Newton and my Dad, you have to crumble your cornbread up into the buttermilk, effectively making a cornbread-buttermilk shake. At first I was appalled when I started to imagine the texture of this concoction on my tongue, but then I started to question why I was having such negative reactions to a meal that my family ate regularly only two generations ago. Has so much changed in the span of time from the age of my elders to present day that I cannot imagine identifying with a family with t
his kind of food tradition?
According to my dad the meal made of cornbread and buttermilk started with my great great grandmother who always kept food out on the table, either cornbread biscuits, for whenever family would come around or her husband would get back late at night after finishing his rural paper route that took the horse and buggy three days to complete. The cornbread was added to buttermilk because sometimes it was dry from sitting out for a couple of days and the milk helped it to soften. So the meal really originated out of care and consideration on behalf of my great great grandmother and ingenuity on behalf of my other ancestors. Why then am I disgusted by the meal? It could be that the food reminds me of a time when my family was considered poor and uneducated, or the fact that cornbread was a poor man’s food. But there are so many other positive identifiers held by this meal that I didn’t automatically think of because there are stereotypes imbedded in certain types of food, as food is a huge part of cultural capital. Something I hope to learn from this class is how food came to have such an impact on perceptions people have of each other and if there is a way to change those stereotypes. After all, Newton said that if you’ve never tried cornbread and buttermilk you can’t turn up your nose at it.