Each October, the Southern Foodways Alliance holds a symposium in Oxford, Miss., centered on a specific theme regarding Southern food and culture. This year's theme was the Global South, exploring the international influences on Southern cooking. We listened to UCLA professor Judith Carney explain how rice came over on slave ships during the Middle Passage and was cultivated by slaves in South Carolina. We heard arguments from food writer Robb Walsh about why Texas is really part of the South. We laughed with Diane Roberts, writer and NPR essayist, as she spoke of Cuban influences on cuisine in Florida. Salon's Francis Lam recounted tales of the oral histories he'd recorded of Croatian and Vietnamese shrimpers in Biloxi, Miss. We heard from Chingo Bling, a Mexican-American rap artist from Houston, whose new album is "They Can't Deport Us All."
Lastly, we were transported by a performance from Theaster Gates. A man of uncountable talents, Mr. Gates is a potter, installation artist and musician. With his group The Black Monks of Mississippi, he performed a haunting song cycle focused on the life and poems of Dave the Potter, an enslaved folk artist who lived in South Carolina.
Amazing food was served, notably from Michelle Bernstein, a Miami chef and restaurateur of Argentinean-Jewish heritage, who prepared a lavish lunch. She also lays claim to a killer matzo ball soup with hominy. At other meals, we devoured hot tamales with greens and cracklings, refried black-eyed peas, barbecued cow's head, whole-hog tacos and yam biscuits with spicy sausage. We drank spiked horchata, ate chili-roasted corn and fabulous, gooey coconut cupcakes.