Travelogue | March 2011 | Deb Burst

Southern Food & Beverage Museum culinary library

In New Orleans, along the banks of the Mississippi River, the Southern Food & Beverage Museum (SoFAB) captures the essence of southern culture and cuisine. Make it your first stop on your next trip to New Orleans and get the inside scoop on those quirky southern appetites. Packed with several galleries and changing exhibits, you'll find stunning black & white  photographs chronicling generations of farmers and fisherman, rusted Bargs Rootbeer and Falstaff Beer signs perched inches from the ceiling, and America's Cocktail Museum showcasing a collection or rare spirits and books including Prohibition-era literature.

But more than a museum SoFAB is a research center stocked with a 9,000 book library offering a timeline in Southern culinary culture and traditions.

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In partnership with the New Orleans public library, the SoFAB library houses half of its collection at the Loyola Avenue branch in downtown New Orleans. The collection is host to books and phamplets that journal the southern foodways and beverage culture. They include  cookbooks from the South and those that have influenced the South. In addition, books that define the South politically and geographically documenting its growth from hunting wild game to manufacturing goods and services.
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The SoFAB website notes that the community cookbook does more than provide recipes but offers a new perspective on the townspeople who created it. "Food Stains are anthropological evidence of the most used recipes. How else would you know that at some point in the 20th century people even considered that they could base a weight loss diet on their zodiac sign?"

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Although the books are not online, they are working toward providing an online catalog to facilitate research. For now, scholars, researchers and SoFAB members can find the books in the Loyola Branch special collection section. There are cookbooks from every state and SoFAB will continue to add to the collection acting as a repository of every book and booklet thanks to the generous donations and vision of so many librarians.

"We have an emphasis on community cookbooks and promotional pamphlets from small local companies. Cookbooks represent the best of home cooking in a particular time and place, so it is important for research," says Liz Williams, president of SoFAB. "Because of their bindings many libraries shy away from community cookbooks. The bindings are often fragile and the books do not sit well together on a shelf."
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Williams notes that SoFAB will collect and maintain as many books as possible including books that represent fads, diets, and idiosyncratic foods. She appreciates books from all sources, other libraries and from individuals. Writers are welcome to send SoFAB a copy of their book or books, along with notes and other archival material.

Southern Food and Beverage Museum
1 Poydras St. #169
New Orleans, LA  70130