Diverse Stories: What Cookbooks Can Tell You

This is the fifth of a series of blog posts to highlight the Libraries’ efforts to build more inclusive and diverse collections, from reflecting under-represented groups and marginalized populations to acquiring more unique material from smaller publishers, to better represent our communities and their interests.

My grandmother read cookbooks like others read novels. Cookbooks can go far beyond noting the best recipes for grits, sweet tea, and congealed salads for a family reunion. I learned from my grandmother cookbooks can tell a story about people and their communities by recording a time and place. At Emory, librarians focus on purchasing cookbooks and food writing that documents food cultures in the South and around the world. Many Emory librarians work to grow this collection to support the study and teaching of history, environmental science, sustainability, anthropology, ethnobotany, and more. The books we purchase are often written by scholars including transcripts or photographs of primary sources, such as diaries and interviews of medicine women, fishermen, farmers, foragers, or local cooks.  Texts are often from specific university presses, including UNC and UGA, known for publishing cookbooks and related titles.

The Emory LibrariesCover of "Cornbread Nation 1" cookbook’ collection opened my eyes to the wonderfully diverse food cultures of the South and of my home state. I’ve spent many summers laughing out loud (and at times crying) from the essays in the 7-part series Cornbread Nation, which includes Kevin Young’s “Ode to Gumbo” in Cornbread Nation 7: The Best of Southern Food Writing. By reading various historic Native American cookbooks, I found herbal tea recipes can help document historically valued native plants for local researchers.  I learned the West African origins of the South’s beloved Hoppin’ John stew in Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking (and also a recipe for delicious creamy grits). From Potlikker Papers, I learned the true power of women and food to fuel civil rights campaigns. This year, I was heartened to read High Low Tide: The Revival of the Southern Oyster and learn of the return of the Coastal Georgia watermen after decades of job loss. You too can learn about the origins of food cultures or find a cookbook to prepare your favorite dishes by visiting the Emory Reads: Cookbooks & Food Cultures webpage. Also, we invite you to contact your subject librarian for questions and specific purchase requests.

by Kristan Majors, science librarian

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *