Inventing Authenticity

Inventing Authenticity explores how 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. 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. I argue it is also a type of origin narrative, referencing 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 contemporary, or 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. While these cookbooks problematically obscure the pain of the Southern past, they do so in service of a capacious definition of Southern identity. I argue alternative narratives of authenticity may help to broaden the borders of the New South, making space for a more cosmopolitan New Southern identity.

“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

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