Foodways Texas, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving, promoting and honoring the Lone Star State’s unique food cultures, has moved to the American Studies Department at The University of Texas at Austin.
Modeled after the Southern Foodways Alliance, the nonprofit represents a movement to document Texas’ food culture through oral history projects, documentary films, recipe collections and scholarly research. Members include Texas farmers, cattle ranchers, microbrewers, academics, historians, chefs, restaurateurs and food writers from throughout the state.
“This is a significant addition to our college and to the American Studies Department,” says Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “Under the leadership of Chair Elizabeth Engelhardt the department has become an important center for the study of food and its influences on society and culture. This study will be enhanced by the work of the dedicated people and the unique research and collections that comprise Foodways Texas.”
With an abundance of materials on Texas’ diverse food culture and Southern culinary history, Elizabeth Engelhardt, professor and chair in the Department of American Studies, says Foodways Texas will be a valuable resource for researchers at UT Austin.
“The Department of American Studies is delighted to welcome Foodways Texas under our umbrella,” says Engelhardt, who serves on the nonprofit’s advisory board. “American Studies focuses on the cultural, social and intellectual life of the United States of America; studies of food and place, such as those supported by Foodways Texas, fit that mission perfectly. We hope to see Foodways Texas become the premier organization for the celebration, preservation and documentation of the diverse food stories of Texas.”
Engelhardt says UT Austin is a natural fit for Foodways Texas, which has already established partnerships with the university’s Briscoe Center for American History and the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE).
“We’re excited Foodways Texas has found a home in the College of Liberal Arts and will be able to develop new projects vital to the preservation of multi-ethnic food cultures in Texas,” says Gregory Vincent, the university’s vice president for diversity and community engagement. “Our goal through the community incubator program is to support innovative, deserving organizations so that they can develop roots in the community and become sustainable. So, it is especially satisfying when we see worthy groups like Foodways Texas flourish and find permanent homes at UT.”
Support from the DDCE sustained the nonprofit during its first three years of development, says Marvin Bendele, executive director of Foodways Texas.
“We are truly grateful to Dr. Vincent and the DDCE for incubating our organization and giving us the institutional support that allowed us to grow and advance our numerous foodways projects around the state,” Bendele says. “Now that Foodways Texas has become self-sustaining, we are very excited to transition to the ideal, permanent home in the College of Liberal Arts under the Department of American Studies.”
The oral history collection, housed at the Briscoe Center for American History, documents restaurant owners, pitmasters, brewers, farmers, ranchers and grocers through more than 75 hours of audio interviews; 7000 photos; documentary footage; and ephemera including menus, advertising materials, cookbooks and posters. Social media posts have also been digitally preserved as part of an archive that will continue to grow.
Without Foodways Texas these stories—along with the important insights into our food culture that they bring to light—would be lost forever, says Robb Walsh, author and food editor of Houstonia Magazine.
“Texas has one of the most fascinating food cultures in the world, but up until a few years ago, little effort had been made to preserve it,” says Walsh, who is a Foodways Texas advisory board member. “While I enjoy the social and educational aspects of Foodways Texas events, I am really committed to the organization because of the documentary work it does. Film makers and oral historians from Foodways Texas are crisscrossing the state, reaching out to the older generation of barbecue pit masters, pie bakers, and oyster fishermen to record their life stories.”
Levi Goode, owner of Goode Company Restaurants and Foodways Texas advisory board member, says Foodways Texas’ new home at UT Austin will strengthen its long-term ability to document and share our state’s diverse food stories.
“I’m a fifth-generation Texan who grew up surrounded by my family’s rich cooking traditions,” Goode says. “As a second-generation restaurateur, I’m passionate about sharing and preserving those traditions by serving authentic varieties of Gulf Coast seafood, barbeque, mesquite-grilled hamburgers and my family’s Tex-Mex dishes. We need to capture the genuine spirit and flavors of Texas and ensure that we impart this distinctive culture to our children, grandchildren and new arrivals. That’s why Foodways Texas’ celebration and preservation of our state’s unique and diverse food culture is so important to me.”
In addition to documenting current and past culinary traditions, Foodways Texas also stages annual scholarly symposiums, featuring delectable dishes from around the state and informative seminars by pit masters, chefs, food writers and more. The next symposium titled “Farm to Market 2014″ will be held on March 20-22 at the at the Agrilife Center facility on the campus of Texas A&M University. Go to this website for more details.