Will Success Spoil Regional Food?

April 28, 2012

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Michael Stern

American regional food is trending high. Google almost any local specialty and you will find it blogged about, rated, and debated throughout the blogosphere. Channel-surf TV and you'll encounter countless hungry hosts "discovering" diners and dives, transforming places that once were local favorites into destination eateries for newly minted foodies. Is fame a good thing for the humble virtues of this nation's folk cuisine, or will the onslaught of attention, crowds of customers, and sudden celebrity destroy the ingenuous charm that in large part defines it? And if regional food is indeed today's trend, what happens when, like all trends, it becomes passé?

Since coining the term "roadfood" in 1977 and pointing the way to America's best eats, Jane and Michael Stern have written more than forty books and are weekly guests on the award-winning public radio program The Splendid Table. Their website, Roadfood.com, pioneered internet food reporting and photography. They are now contributing editors of Saveur magazine and regularly write for Parade.

This talk was part of the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance's fifth annual symposium, "Road Food: Exploring the Midwest One Bite at a Time." Other events from this symposium recorded by Chicago Amplified—listed in the order they were presented—are as follows:

Marked for Life: My Travels on Route 66 in '53, with Terri Ryburn
State Fair Heirloom Recipe Contest, with Catherine Lambrecht
Mobile Food in 19th-Century Chicago, with Peter Engler
Food Trucks: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, with Louisa Chu
Will Success Spoil Regional Food?, with Michael Stern
The Drive-In Restaurant: Before and After the Dawn of Fast Food, Food Theater, with Mary Bergin
A Gopher Turned Badger Eats Hoosier, and Vice Versa: Midwestern Culinary Traditions in the Small-Town Cafe, with Joanne Stuttgen
What Happened to Horseshoes?, with Julianne Glatz
Pies on the Road, with Shirley Cherkasky
Ethnographic Food Writing, or How I Ate My Way Across Wisconsin and Lived to Tell About It, with Joanne Stuttgen
Culinary Tourism in the Land of Meat and Potatoes and Green Bean Casserole, with Lucy M. Long
Summer Vacations in Northern Wisconsin, with Kelly Sears
Born to be Mild: Oral Histories and Pathways of the Midwest Supper Club, with Dave Hoekstra
Farmers Markets of the Heartland, the Ultimate Road Trip, with Janine MacLachlan
On the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, with Clara Orban
Remarks by Marilyn Wilkinson of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board
Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art Curator-Led Tour

Recorded Saturday, April 28, 2012 at Kendall College.