There was the young woman who did an interpretive dance to “The Biscuit Song” at the International Biscuit Festival in Knoxville.
There were the two high-energy guys who cook at an eating-disorders clinic in Alabama. There’s the crab man on the Chesapeake Bay and the people who crowd into a tiny backroads oyster bar in the Florida Panhandle.
There are so many ways to tell the stories of the South. In “Authentic South,” his new podcast project with Charlotte’s WFAE, Tanner Latham has been on the road to find them.
“I had in mind that I wanted to present the South, or attempt to understand the South, through telling these stories,” Latham told me when I called to ask him about the ear-catching stories he started online and broadcasting in Charlotte in April.
“A lot of the ways the story of the South has been told has been broad generalizations and stereotypes.”
Latham, 36, certainly has the background for this project. An Alabama native, he spent 10 years as the travel editor for Southern Living in Birmingham. While he was doing that, he started adding a little more to his stories, messing around with new online technologies like slideshows and videos.
He found that he got captivated by combining writing, pictures and sound.
“I could only write so many words in a story. And I loved that at the end, I could say, ‘For more, go to the website.’”
When he took a break from Southern Living and started freelancing, he was drawn to public radio and how it uses sound to tell vivid stories. He came to WFAE and spent a year learning how to be a broadcaster, doing daily reporting and creating content for the station’s website.
Then, well, that love thing got in the way. In Alabama, he had fallen hard for a young woman who did food photography. They decided to meet in the middle, in Atlanta. So he left WFAE to join her, and now he’s the content director for a PR agency, Trevelino/Keller.
Before he left Charlotte, though, he came up with an idea of a podcast that would be hosted on WFAE’s website. That’s how “Authentic South” was born. Every post includes a few pictures and a 7- to 8-minute podcast, or sound story, that you can click on and listen. About half of the 10 episodes so far are food stories.
“When I give people an elevator speech about the show, I say, ‘It’s the “This American Life” of the South.’ We look at the everyman of the South, the regular person who’s doing something extraordinary.”
I always know when Tanner has a new post because I see a flurry of excitement on Twitter. A lot of Southern culture fans have gotten hooked on Latham’s unique stories.
It’s too easy to just do good ol’ boy tales and grandma-cooking remembrances. Latham’s stories illuminate the South today, in all its complication and delight, like Heirloom Market BBQ, the Korean/Texas/Tennessee barbecue joint in Atlanta.
Between his job in Charlotte and his new job in Atlanta, he hit the road, gobbling up tape to get a lot of material in the bank. Now he’s editing that and putting out new podcasts every couple of weeks or so. He’s got enough, he thinks, to do about 15 more before he’ll have to go back out on the road.
Good thing, because he’s a busy guy at the moment. He’s finishing work on a cookbook that’s a project for Southern Living and the Country Music Television, “Country Music’s Greatest Eats,” with recipes and stories from country-music stars.
“The South is big and complicated. That, to me, is what makes it so much fun. I can have a conversation with a Hungarian blues musician and I can talk to my 92-year-old grandmother and they’re both Southern, they both have a part of the South. I get excited about those kinds of things.”
Join the food conversation at Kathleen Purvis’ blog I’ll Bite, at obsbite.blogspot.com, or follow her on Twitter, @kathleenpurvis.
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