“Ghetto Fries” from Max’s in Chicago. Photograph by Stu Baker.

From Oxford American:

Over the years I’ve known many people with nicknames, including Lucky, Big O, Haywire, Turtle Eggs, Hercules, two guys named Hollywood, and three guys called Booger. I’ve had my own nicknames as well. In college people called me “Arf” because of a dog on a t-shirt. Back home a few of my best buddies call me “Shit-for-Brains,” because our teachers thought I was smart. Three years ago, shortly after moving to Oxford, someone introduced me to John T. Edge. He goes by his first name and middle initial, but I understood it as a nickname—Jaunty. The word “jaunty” means lively and cheerful, someone always merry and bright. The name seemed to suit him perfectly. Each time I called him Jaunty he gave me a quick sharp look of suspicion. He wondered if I was making fun of his name—and of him. The matter was resolved when I suggested he call me “Chrissie O.”

Last spring John T. asked me to join him at an Oxford restaurant. My wife dropped me off and drove to a nearby secondhand store. Our plan was for me to meet her later and find a couple of cheap lamps. During lunch John T. asked me to give a presentation at the Southern Foodways Alliance symposium over which he presided every fall.

I reminded him that I lacked the necessary qualifications. At the time I’d only published a few humorous essays that dealt with food. Other writers were more knowledgeable and wrote with a historical context, from a scholarly perspective. All I did was write personal essays inspired by old community cookbooks I found in secondhand stores. Strictly speaking, my food writing wasn’t technically about food.

John T. said that didn’t matter. He wanted me to explore “trash food,” because, as he put it, “you write about class.”

I sat without speaking, my food getting cold on my plate. Three thoughts ran through my mind fast as flipping an egg. First, I couldn’t see the connection between social class and garbage. Second, I didn’t like having my thirty-year career reduced to a single subject matter. Third, I’d never heard of anything called “trash food.”

“Trash Food“, Chris Offutt, Oxford American