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Inventing Authenticity is an investigation of the relationship between food labeled “authentically Southern” and the performance of “real Southern” identity.

This study takes up authenticity as a rhetorical construction and a cultural practice by examining the language used to define authenticity in the discourse of Southern food, namely in the stories told in cookbooks. The recipe headnote – the conventional paragraph of introduction that precedes a recipe – is the main method that cookbook writers use to communicate authenticity to the reader. I am calling recipe headnotes that tell stories about the roots of food traditions “origin narratives,” and this study identifies three specific forms of origin narrative (historical, citation, and personal narratives) that attempt to convince a reader of the recipe’s authenticity by providing evidence of the recipe’s invention in the South. My book focuses on the rhetorical moves that writers make to construct “authenticity” out of narratives of the past by naming and defining the machinery that constructs and supports arguments of authenticity.

Origin narratives necessarily reference history and tradition as a claim for authenticity. Many origin narratives in contemporary Southern cookbooks, however, reveal a general squeamishness about the South’s past: particularly about slavery, wide-spread poverty, segregation, racism, and violence. The narratives in New Southern cookbooks must negotiate a delicate balance between needing the past to prove authenticity and needing to steer clear of narrating a history that may alienate readers.

The obfuscation of history in arguments of authenticity is not only about avoiding uncomfortable subjects and accusations of racism. To the contrary, the need for alternative narratives of authenticity is motivated in part by a vested interest in broadening the borders of the New South, making space for a more cosmopolitan New Southern identity. While these New Southern cookbooks problematically obscure (and often erase) the pain of the Southern past, they do so in service of a capacious definition of Southern identity.

Cookbooks play a vital role in the story of the contemporary South, a region whose identity is still in the making – or perhaps more accurately, always in the remaking.

“Carrie Helms Tippen’s engaging narrative draws us in with her lively analysis—and it leaves us better and smarter readers of southern culture.”
—Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt

“In Inventing Authenticity Carrie Helms Tippen deftly dissects the layers of sentiment built up around recipes purported to be from the South. She examines many Souths, each of them claiming to be the real thing, and finds that they all have their own mythologies and incorrect assumptions. . . . Tippen will instruct and surprise you.”
—Rebecca Sharpless

Inventing Authenticity demonstrates the big payoffs to be had from a focus on a small archive. Taking as her focus recipe headnotes derived from Southern cookbooks published since 1990, Carrie Helms Tippen helpfully catalogs and expertly dissects the diverse rhetorical strategies the authors deploy to position themselves vis-à-vis the South. In the process, she thoughtfully engages with often charged debates over race, gender, authority, and authenticity and offers an exemplary model for how to adapt scholarly methodologies such as surface reading and data mining to the vital work of analyzing cookbooks.”
—Doris S. Witt

Buy it at University of Arkansas Press.

About Me


I am Assistant Professor of English at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA where I teach courses in American Literature and Creative Writing. My academic interests include contemporary American Literature, Southern culture, food writing, food studies, and women’s studies.

I earned my BA and MA in English from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. I taught literature and composition as an adjunct at West Virginia Wesleyan College and Davis & Elkins College for three years before earning a PhD in English from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.

My book, Inventing Authenticity: How Cookbook Writers Redefine Southern Identity, examines the rhetorical strategies that contemporary U.S. Southern cookbook writers use to argue for authenticity.

In addition to my academic work, I have a passion for cooking, baseball, and bad television. I am a food adventurer, unafraid to eat anything twice.