Announcement: American Studies and Foodways Texas Featured in Austin-American Statesman

"Always Good" -- vintage neon sign for Matt's El Rancho in Austin, Texas

The American Studies department has its hands in several projects beyond the sphere of the classroom, and one of those fascinating collaborations was featured in the Austin American-Statesman. One of the department’s graduate seminars collaborated last spring with Foodways Texas and the Texas Restaurant Association to create oral histories with notable Texan restauranteurs, which were then presented at the annual symposium in Austin. Take a look at this extensive write-up of the project: the full article can be found here, and an excerpt is pasted below –

Last year, the statewide nonprofit, which was established in 2010 to preserve the state’s many unique food cultures and relies on membership dues and events for funding, teamed with the Texas Restaurant Association and the University of Texas’ American Studies department to preserve the stories behind some of the state’s most iconic restaurants through oral histories, long-form interviews that record history from the perspective of those closest to the business.

The iconic restaurant project is part of Foodways Texas’ larger mission to document the many components of Texas’ food culture through both oral histories and documentaries, says Marvin Bendele, the organization’s Austin-based executive director.

“We’re trying to preserve those stories that might not be around much longer,” he says, no matter if it’s from a sorghum farmer in South Texas, the head baker at Earl Abel’s in San Antonio or the family that runs Kim Son, one of Houston’s best-known Vietnamese restaurants.

The idea to focus on restaurants has roots in an oral history project about barbecue that University of Texas professor and Foodways Texas founding board member Elizabeth Engelhardt coordinated about six years ago. Eleven graduate students, including Bendele, who was a student at the time, interviewed everyone from pitmasters to ranchers to find out the stories behind that stack of fatty brisket you’ll find served on butcher paper across Central Texas.

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