John T. Edge, co-founder of the influential Southern Foodways Alliance, has been asked to step down by several colleagues and food media professionals. The most recent request was in a public webinar hosted by the James Beard Foundation, in which Nigerian chef Tunde Wey asked Edge to step down and give his position to an African-American woman. “I’ve been in the position 20 years,” Edge responded, “It’s time for me to get out of the way. I recognize and embrace that.” Edge went on to explain that he has been preparing for his successor for several years. According to the organization’s publicist Melany Robinson, Edge has raised more than $13 million, including an endowment to pay his successor’s salary. In response, Wey said that it is taking longer than anticipated to find a replacement.
The Southern Foodways Alliance was formed to preserve and document the food of the Southern United States, and by many accounts, Edge’s work has been carefully addressing issues of food and race for years. “What we have is a middle-aged man who like so many progressive Southerners has wrestled with the demons of his white Southern past and used that to help build a better South,” said Marcie Cohen Ferris, a former board president and professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina.
One of the ongoing issues is that Edge has risen to prominence with several of his own published books, magazine articles, and media appearances that have changed the historical narrative about African-American, immigrant and Indigenous cooks who pioneered what came to be known as Southern food. But he did that while the descendants of those same people struggled to get published themselves. Ferris hasn’t flat-out called for Edge’s resignation but endorses an exhaustive reorganization of the alliance and the hiring of people of color in management positions. Read more here at the New York Times (subscription required). Or here at Eater.