Award-Winning Southern Food Sage John T. Edge Talks Truck Food

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Long before Benton's bacon began appearing in Michelin-starred restaurants, before there were more barbecue restaurants in New York City than Charlotte, N.C., and before the ridiculously (and justifiably) feted Sean Brock came to Nashville (much less Charleston), John T. Edge has been preaching the gospel of Southern food. A five-time James Beard Award nominee (he recently won the Beard Foundation's M.F.K. Fisher Award for Distinguished Writing award for a piece in Saveur called "BBQ Nation: The Preservation of a Culinary Art Form"), Edge writes the monthly “United Tastes” for The New York Times and pens and pontificates regularly for Garden and Gun, Oxford American and a slew of other places. He's perhaps best known for his role as head of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an organizations committed to preserving, honoring, and furthering Southern cuisine. (Full disclosure: the author worked with Edge and others on the writing of the Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook.)

Edge, who appears at Green Hills' Parnassus Books at 6:30 p.m. today, is hitting the road promoting his newest work, The Truck Food Cookbook: 150 Recipes and Ramblings from America's Best Restaurants on Wheels.

As food trucks continue to proliferate in the Music City, we thought it a perfect time to check in with Edge, relaxing at his home in Oxford, Miss., before hitting the road again for the second leg of his book tour.

When we last talked, you mentioned how the modern wave of food trucks owes a certain debt to the predominately Hispanic (and if not, certainly working class) rolling commissaries of the past. Could you expound a little on that?

For a couple generations now Americans have been eating at taco trucks,nespecially in the west and southwest. What was once exceptional is now everyday. In the book, I pay homage to those old school trucks. And I reject the term "roach coach," which some people still use to refer to the old guard. That's a phrase laced with bigotry. Like wetback, it's a pejorative that we ought to jettison from our vocabularies.

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Can the food truck movement perhaps be a salve to the lack of healthy, affordable food options in urban areas? Most of these places provide a good, quick meal for the same price as a combo at the local Burger King. Or is this still a ways away?

The best of these trucks serve good food fast. Not fast food. But good food. I'm not going to argue that this kind of food is healthy. But I do see trucks serving well-composed foods, based on local ingredients, and in that I see hope for affordable options in urban areas.

You mentioned Nashville as a city ascendant in food truck culture. Can you explain what you mean by that? Can we expect still more growth?

Like Charlotte, Atlanta, and Charleston, Nashville did not get out in front of this movement. Sure, Nolensville Road is a rolling buffet of great trucks. But the vanguard has only recently alighted in Nashville. Within a year, I expect y'all will work through the regulation issues and put the
pedal to the metal.

You believe that food trucks are here to stay — an evolution as opposed to a hipster fad. Do you expect any leveling? Or is it much the same as a brick-and-mortar restaurant — the inefficient, poorly-thought out or just plain mediocre will excuse themselves, with the good ideas (and good eats) sticking around for years?

Trucks are comparable to restaurants. Owners are small business entrepreneurs who, if they are going to be successful, must meet payroll, manage pantry, deal with the health department, and pay taxes. The best will flourish. The trend-surfers will fade quickly. No matter, this way of cooking and eating is here to stay.

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