The Southern Foodways Alliance, an 800-member organization that's stimulated serious scholarly discussion of barbecue and pinto beans; produced dozens of movies on edible topics ranging from Sazeracs to pig ear sandwiches; rebuilt a New Orleans fried chicken shack devastated by Hurricane Katrina; and collected hundreds of oral histories from oystermen, boudin makers and hot tamale shop owners, got its start with an invitation.
In 1999, writer John Egerton beckoned 50 Southern food folks to join him in Birmingham, Alabama, to puzzle out the mission and meaning of the organization he'd been contemplating. This year, former Houston Press food critic and cookbook author Robb Walsh decided to do the same.
"With the blessing and the assistance of the SFA, we are holding a similar organizational meeting this summer," Walsh, seafood dealer Jim Gossen, chefs Bryan Caswell and Alan Lazarus and Texas A&M meat science professors Jeff Savell and Davey Griffin wrote in an e-mail sent last month to 50 Texas ranchers, chefs, food writers, chuckwagon cooks, restaurant owners and academics. "We would like to invite you to join us in creating a group we are calling Foodways Texas."
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Texas is a Southern state by Southern Foodways Alliance's reckoning. But the state's vast size means few Texans can participate fully in the organization, which is based in Oxford, Mississippi. And Texas has plenty of its own food traditions to study, few of which are found anywhere else. Ergo, Foodways Texas.
I was among the FTX members who gathered in College Station this week to elect a board and hammer out a mission statement (and, since we were in Aggieland, take a crash course in cow anatomy and drink flaming Dr Pepper shots with the undergrads at the Dry Bean Saloon.)
Walsh wants me to emphasize there's much more to come from FTX, but I can report that the group's on course to define, document and support Texas food -- and have fun doing it. According to the official mission statement, modeled after the Southern Foodways Alliance's first draft, FTX will "promote, preserve and celebrate the diverse food cultures of Texas."
So there might be symposia, or cooking classes, or culinary tours, or extensive oral history projects. Nobody really knows yet. FTX still hasn't set up a bank account or determined a membership structure. But whatever happens should be worth the wait. I promise to keep you updated.