Written by Mary Stanton Knight
The work of the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) at the University of Mississippi sets a welcome table where all may gather to consider the history and future of the South with respect and reconciliation.
The work pursued by the SFA, a member-supported organization based at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, inspired longtime supporter and SFA advisory board president Jay Oglesby to establish the Jacqueline and Jay Oglesby SFA Graduate Fellowship Fund with a gift of $50,000.
“The opportunity to be in a university environment where one can devote time to explore history and issues is a luxury; there is a cost to it but it shouldn’t be preserved only for people with wealth,” said Jay Oglesby, who lives with his wife Jackie in Birmingham, Alabama.
“By bringing in new and diverse voices to the discipline, it becomes more powerful. Jackie and I thought this fund was a way to do that.”
Born in Columbus, Mississippi, Oglesby spent his childhood in Florida, Kentucky, and eventually Texas. He returned to Mississippi after high school to attend Ole Miss.
“Oxford is like Shangri-La to me with the amount of culture that swims through this relatively small town. It inspires us to slow down, spend more time at table enjoying meals and meandering conversations with friends,” said Oglesby, who graduated with a B.A. in liberal arts in 1991.
Regular Sunday suppers at Jay’s grandparents’ included homegrown vegetables and cornbread as the base of what such descendants of Scots-Irish immigrants grew up thinking of as “southern.” As a child in Chicago, Jackie loved the fideo, tortillas, and beans her maternal grandmother brought from her northeastern Mexico homeland, as well as the home-fermented sauerkraut and more typical “Midwestern” food her German maternal grandmother would serve.
“When we eat the food central to another culture, we can begin to understand more of that culture. Thinking about what we eat and consider our own also tells us a lot about historical influences on culture and its evolution as influences change,” Jay Oglesby said.
“Being at table together requires a baseline of trust and respect that lets us talk of complicated or possibly divisive things we tend to bury. But, understanding our own complicated preconceptions and how they differ from other folks perceptions almost always brings us closer together,” he added.
The Oglesby SFA Fellowship Fund will further the mission of the organization with recipients being full-time graduate students in southern studies with a focus on foodways.
“As a graduate of this University, Jay knows what engaged students can accomplish while studying here,” said John T Edge, director of the SFA.
“Jackie and Jay’s investment in the next generation of Southern Foodways Alliance graduate students is bold and selfless and transformative. It’s an investment in curiosity, and it’s an investment in the future of the South. We’re deeply appreciative.”
The inaugural fellows benefiting from the Oglesby gift are Carlynn Crosby of St. Petersburg, Florida, and Olivia Terenzio of Jackson, Mississippi, both pursuing a M.A. in southern studies.
“As a member of the SFA, I was fascinated by the way that food opened up conversations about class, race, gender, labor and place,” said Crosby. “The SFA played a key role in getting me to start thinking about food as a lens through which to explore society and culture.”
Terenzio agreed that the fellowship is a tremendous privilege.
“The fellowship allows me to support and learn from a team I admire, and to explore and champion new scholars and areas of study within foodways. It also lets me engage with this smart and energetic community working to rethink and reshape the South through a myriad of creative avenues,” she said.
Oglesby said that, through films, scholarship, visual art, and performance, SFA amplifies the lives of people who grow, prepare, and serve food. Doing this, SFA starts cultural conversations that matter.
“Sharing a meal gives you time to pause and think about each other’s experiences,” said Oglesby. “It builds empathy and allows one to gain an appreciation for the complexity of the South. And I think, hope for its future.”
The Jacqueline and Jay Oglesby SFA Graduate Fellowship Fund accepts gifts from individuals and organizations. To contribute, mail a check to the University of Mississippi Foundation, with the scholarship’s name in the memo line, to 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; or online at https://give.olemiss.edu.
Individuals and organizations interested in learning more about supporting the work of the SFA can contact Nikki Neely Davis, executive director of development, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 662-915-6678.