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Southern Food Is Always On The Move

The cover of Emily Wallace's book "Road Sides"
Emily Wallace

An unpopular opinion — highways and fast food are quintessentially Southern. The mid-20th century development of the interstate system ripped and restitched the fabric of Southern society, and out of that rebirth, Nabs, Biscuitville and Duke’s Mayo were born.

Kneecap driving while inhaling a Cook Out tray is not recommended, but it is part of modern North Carolina identity. However, these days, that identity is as hard to pin down as an unlicensed food truck. For example, the taco has taken over Southern Appalachia. 

The economic downturn and out-migration from small mountain towns gave room for Latin American culture to arrive and flourish. Occupying vacant lots and making use of discarded cuts of meat, taco trucks provide the newest incarnation of hand-held food and exemplify immigrant-driven economic development.

Credit Emily Wallace
Nabs, technically ToastChee, originated in Charlotte after a local businessman was stuck with five hundred pounds of Virginia peanuts.

Host Frank Stasio discusses the transformative taco with Dan Margolies, professor of history at Virginia Wesleyan University and author of the chapter “A Preliminary Taxonomy of the Blue Ridge Taco” in the collection “The Food We Eat, the Stories We Tell” (Ohio University Press/2019). Also joining the conversation is Emily Wallace, author of “Road Sides: An Illustrated Companion to Dining and Driving in the American South” (University of Texas Press/2019). Wallace will read from her new book at Scuppernong Books in Greensboro on Thursday, Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. and will sign copies at Parker & Otis in Durham on Saturday, Dec. 21 from 2 to 4 p.m.  


Wallace on the nacket:

Nacket is one of my new favorite words. It stands for light-fare [or] convenient foods. To me, the best example is the peanut butter cracker. The bright orange sandwich crackers with peanut butter spread. I can't remember going on a road trip in North Carolina or beyond without a Nab. My father is a traveling salesman. He sold farm equipment to different dealerships, and you open the console, and there was always a pack of Nabs there.

She started a successful business before she even had the right to vote. - Emily Wallace

Wallace on the origin of Duke’s Mayonnaise:

Eugenia Duke was a really smart entrepreneur in Greenville, South Carolina. She began by making Duke sandwiches: pimento cheese, chicken salad, egg salad. She took the sandwiches to army-run canteens, to lunch counters throughout Greenville, and then [her product] became so popular, she eventually started bottling the mayonnaise itself and selling it and distributing it. ...She started a successful business before she even had the right to vote. That was the case of a number of women who took these traditional products and built these hugely successful businesses.

Margolies on the transformation of Appalachian culture:

[Harmony, North Carolina] is a really important [place] for old-time music — for the Fiddler’s Grove and the Union Grove Festival. So now there's a very large monthly rodeo called the jaripeo that has 10 or 12 hours of music, bandas norteñas entertaining and people dancing and riding bulls and eating tacos.

Margolies on the ‘right’ taco:

I would say two corn tortillas and the meat and then cilantro and onion per taste and sliced radishes … The real standard is to have two thin tortillas because it holds everything structurally sound.

Credit Daniel Margolies
La Gran Plaza Mexico in Harmony, NC is a monthly transformation of a historic bluegrass venue into an epicenter of Mexican culture in North Carolina.


Grant Holub-Moorman coordinates events and North Carolina outreach for WUNC, including a monthly trivia night. He is a founding member of Embodied and a former producer for The State of Things.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.