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A bread bowl of soup on a plate

Elon, NC - July 15, 2015 - The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will come together at a common table when it examines food and food studies as its 2015-2017 university-wide academic theme. “Food for All: Local and Global Perspectives,” which builds on Carolina’s 2012-2015 “Water in Our World” focus on global water issues, will challenge all areas of the University to examine wide-ranging topics from food cultures and nutrition, to food security, world hunger, agricultural economics, resource management, sustainable development, climate change and international trade. Photography by Steve Exum. [#Beginning of Shooting Data Section] Nikon D800 2015/07/15 14:26:48.40 Time Zone and Date: UTC-5, DST:ON Compressed RAW (12-bit) Image Size: L (7360 x 4912), FX Lens: 24-70mm f/2.8G Artist: STEVE EXUM Copyright: EXUMPHOTO.COM Focal Length: 58mm Exposure Mode: Manual Metering: Matrix Shutter Speed: 1/160s Aperture: f/18 Exposure Comp.: 0EV Exposure Tuning: ISO Sensitivity: ISO 320 Optimize Image: White Balance: Direct sunlight, 0, 0 Focus Mode: AF-S AF-Area Mode: Single AF Fine Tune: OFF VR: Long Exposure NR: OFF High ISO NR: ON (Normal) Color Mode: Color Space: sRGB Tone Comp.: Hue Adjustment: Saturation: Sharpening: Active D-Lighting: Normal Vignette Control: Normal Auto Distortion Control: ON Picture Control: [SD] STANDARD Base: [SD] STANDARD Quick Adjust: 0 Sharpening: 3 Contrast: 0 Brightness: 0 Saturation: 0 Hue: 0 Filter Effects: Toning: Map Datum: Dust Removal: 2015/02/20 14:28:02 [#End of Shooting Data Section]


Meat grease, flour and water, stirred till smooth —
it’s what my forebears ate, if they were lucky.

It’s what my mother ate, those hard dark years
she worked at a sawmill way out in the mountains,
learning to live on cigarettes and coffee

and cold biscuits raised from the dead by gravy.Gravy illustration by Daniel Wallace

Now and then she’d cook a little for us,
something to moisten and darken and quicken

the bowls of bland white rice or mashed potatoes
I’d shape into a cratered volcano
whose steaming lava overflow improved

everything it touched on my dinner plate.

Good gravy’s not an afterthought, a dressing,
a murky cloud masking a dish’s dull prospect:

whether poured from a Thanksgiving china boat
or a black iron skillet in Bloody Madison,
it’s the meal’s essence, where flesh meets spirit,

where fat becomes faith, where juice conveys grace

as red-eye, giblet, sausage, faithful sawmill —
whenever I think of those savory names

and the times I’ve poured or ladled or spooned
then mixed and dipped and sopped up their elixir,
not wanting to waste a single filling drop,

my mouth starts making its own thin gravy again.

By Michael McFee, a poet and professor of English and creative writing. Gravy appeared in McFee’s book That Was Oasis (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2012). Illustration by Daniel Wallace, J. Ross MacDonald Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing, who is an author and illustrator.

Listen to Michael McFee talk with Southern Cultures journal about the connection between food and poetry.

Published in the Fall 2015 issue | Features

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