Listening to Zenani’s food voice: recovering contemporary Black foodways in southern food studies

Bobby J. Smith, Joseph C. Ewoodzie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Drawing on 13 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Jackson, Mississippi, this paper uses the food voice of Zenani, a working poor Black mother, as a case study to explore how structural inequalities around housing profoundly shape contemporary Black foodways in the urban South. This case study reveals how narratives in southern food studies overlook the food stories of Black folks like Zenani. For her, the southern food landscape is proliferated with social structures that dictate her foodways. By placing Zenani’s food voice in the context of southern food studies, this article proposes an addition to Angela Jill Cooley’s typology of the three main debates in the field. The fourth debate centers around the interaction between social systems, inequalities, and food access that builds on the food-centered era of southern documentary work in the early 20th century. In this way, this paper provides important implications for scholarly and public discourses in southern food studies. These implications point toward a more complete picture of southern foodways that captures the complexities of the present southern foodscape. It also contributes to the work of food justice activists and scholars in their efforts toward creating a more just future in the US South.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)663-675
Number of pages13
JournalFood, Culture and Society
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2021


  • American South
  • Contemporary Black foodways
  • food voice
  • housing
  • southern food studies
  • structural inequalities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies


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