There is a word in the English language dictionary that for five-hundred years has been used to describe the food we eat. But in the last century, it became a word used by those who wanted to belittle people from the South. Salvation South editor Chuck Reece is here to tell us why the V-word really deserves a place of honor in this week's commentary.


Cover of Victuals cookbook

Victuals Cookbook by Ronni Lundy

Credit: File


Chuck Reece: Good people of the South, today we are going to discuss one word, a word that should be perceived as a word of honor. But instead, over the decades, it became a word used to make fun of people from the South.

The word is spelled: V-I-C-T-U-A-L-S.

According to Merriam-Webster’s unabridged English dictionary, the word came into our common speech over five-hundred years ago. And its meaning is, and I quote, “supplies of food.”

Now those eight letters, read literally, suggest the word would be pronounced VIC-chew-uhls. But it is not. So, let’s all say it correctly, shall we? VID-lz.

You might be familiar with the word. Particularly if you’ve watched reruns of the 1960’s sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. To sum that show up quickly, it portrays a family of Southerners—the Clampetts—who strike oil on their land, get rich, and move into a mansion in Beverly Hills, California. That show became the source of many stereotypes of Southern folks—one of which involved that word. Granny Clampett often said she planned to, and I quote, “cook up a mess of vittles.”

MUSIC: The Beverly Hillbillies – “Vittles”

What yer a-cookin’ fer vittles, Granny?

Let me take a peek in my pot!

Chuck Reece: Thus, the word itself became shorthand to make fun of people like…well…me. And probably plenty of y’all, too.

But the redemption of that word is important. Because the word speaks more broadly to how resourceful Appalachianpeople of all colors fed themselves and survived for centuries. A few weeks ago, I cooked something from one of my favorite cookbooks. It’s called Victuals. It was published eight years ago, written by my friend Ronni Lundy, a brilliant Kentucky writer and preservationist and cook. Ronni opens her book with this passage:

Say it the way my people have for centuries: vidls. Maybe you’ve seen it spelled V-I-T-T-L-E-S…. Or heard it as the punch line delivered before Granny Clampett clogs off to “roast up a mess of possum.” Maybe you thought saying it that way was wrong. But look that word up in your dictionary It turns out my people, the people of the southern Appalachian Mountains, have been right about victuals all along About the way you say them, the way you raise them, the way you cook them, keep them, and share them…. About the connections between earth and the table, and between the table and the people seated around it.

See, I think that when someone wants to feed me the victuals they’ve prepared, they’re asking me to honor certain folks who deserve it. To show deep gratitude for the people who shared the seeds and raised the food we’re about to eat, who preserved it so we’d have enough to eat through the winter, who cooked it for us from recipes that always required at least a tablespoon full of love.

So, this weekend, cook a meal for somebody. Serve it and say, “I’m proud to serve you some of my victuals.” Then tell them the story of a word we should hold in high esteem.

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Salvation South editor Chuck Reece comments on Southern culture and values in a weekly segment that airs Fridays at 7:45 a.m. during Morning Edition and 4:44 p.m. during All Things Considered on GPB Radio. He also does an extended version of the podcast called Salvation South Deluxe each month. You can also find them here at and please download and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform as well.