Food brings us together

Published 4:55 am Friday, December 2, 2016

There was a time when a good many Americans had some idea where their food came from.

It’s not that everyone farmed; even in 1940, the vast majority of Americans had moved off farms. However, until our grocery shelves where wholly dominated by boxes, cans and plastic bags filled with processed foods, most Americans had to eat vegetables and meats that had to be cooked entirely at home.

These days, fewer people than ever actually farm, although we’re making more food. Nowadays, farming is an industry, dominated by multinational corporations that produce everything from the modified seeds to the bug and weed poison for which those seeds were designed. By the time we get it, our food requires not washing and cutting, but unwrapping and heating. By now, most people have heard fresh, whole foods are better for you than processed foods, although the benefits of cooking extend beyond physical health. And semantics aside, let’s just admit that there’s more to cooking than mere heating.

In case you don’t agree, well, next week Louisiana Public Broadcasting is airing a documentary that may change your mind. The film features a longtime friend of Franklinton, gardener and artist John Coykendall — a man who, for decades, has been coming to our parish to collect stories and seeds from old farmers. Coykendall makes his home in Tennessee, but he’s known by many in the area as a walking repository of Washington Parish food and farming lore. Coykendall is clear on this point: He’s collecting more than seeds.

At one point for the project, Coykendall says, “Seeds carry with them more than the potential to sustain people as food, they are living history of the people who cared and tended to them and cultivated them and passed them down. … This is what we’re working to save, this history, the heritage, the way of life, the way of farming, way of cuisine, everything to do needs to be preserved while it’s still here to be preserved.”

Did you catch that?

The seeds yield to farming and the bounty yields to the cook and all of those traditions come together on the table. Again, there’s more to cooking than adding heat.

It’s rare an outside documentary film crew decides to set a project in a small community. We all know our communities are special, so it’s nice when we get that validation and it’s great that the rest of Louisiana will get a chance to see how special Washington Parish is.

I am looking forward to watching the documentary, as I am sure many of you readers are. However, I hope the documentary and even Coykendall’s efforts to preserve our past and our traditions are obviated by our own willingness to engage with and preserve our food and our culture each night around the dinner table.

In the end, the only people who make a place special are the people who live there right now, today, in the present.

Jesse Wright is the managing editor of The Daily News. You can email him at or call him at 985-732-2565, ext. 301.