It was the perfect setting for the classic food film, It’s Grits: a sweltering 90+ degree Sunday in a big tent, with everyone fanning themselves with their program booklets, in a venue called the Tobacco Warehouse. It felt like being in the Deep South, the home of grits themselves, with one exception; it was the middle of Dumbo, Brooklyn, and it was mostly Yankees in attendance. A bonafide Yankee born and raised, I have only tried grits a few times and found it difficult to believe that a short film from the ’70s was going to convince me that they were the perfect food item. It was a pleasant surprise to be proven so wrong.

 

It’s Grits is a charming B&W documentary by director Stan Woodward, filmed mostly through interviews with Southerners, done on what was probably a minuscule budget. Even though the movie was celebrating its 32nd anniversary this year, it still feels fresh because this documentary style is all the more common now in films. With the thesis that, “Everyone from all walks of life in the South eats grits,” Woodward creates his delicious palate and draws the viewer into the delicate story line. After countless confirmations of his thesis in South Carolina, he takes us up north to New York, New York, where, at an ethnic food fair (which looks like it is on the Brooklyn waterfront close to where the movie screening took place), he asks people if they like grits. Most people don’t know what it is, but don’t seem to care; one guy offers him falafel instead, convinced it’s the better choice.

The majority of the movie is filled with humorous, endearing encounters and images. There is even a “Grits cheer” at a football game in South Carolina, and an interview with a man who eats his grits with a dollop of peanut butter. But the undertone is that the agriculture and industry based around corn in the South is faltering, and it needs revitalization. There are a lot of images or corn mills and machinery alongside interviews with the mill owners and corn growers, and they seem all the more depressing in black and white. This was 30 years ago, and a lot has changed since then, but the North/South divide still exists in spirit.

If we can ever reach an accord regarding this deep divide, grits might be the answer. Following the movie, we took part in a Grits “takedown” in which 30 local chefs prepared their own take on grits, and we viewers/participants got to sample each one and vote on our favorite. It was a wonderful experience and a well-run event, and most (if not all of us Northerners) left happy and full of grits.

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