DARE TO ASK: We just eat differently in South, y'all
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Why are Southerners' eating habits different from other areas? Who thought of
grits? I never heard of a boiled peanut until I moved to the South from the
West. A soft peanut just doesn't feel right. And the sweet tea down here is way
too sweet. And everywhere you look is a barbecue restaurant.
Leslie, 42, Sanderson, Fla.
If you think our eating habits are strange, you ought to hear us talk. Utter
day I et a holelot uv tatters n got a bellyache! Seriously, who eats grits,
anyway? Nobody I know. Now, boiled peanuts, that's a different story. They are a
great help to the digestion. Easy down, easy out!
Josh H., 23, Cleveland, Miss.
I happen to love grits and boiled peanuts. I also don't mind sweet tea. I'm
sorry if you can't accept that this country does not require all its citizens to
like the same thing.
Traci, 27, Jacksonville
Where have you found it written that peanuts must be parched, baked,
deep-fried, salted and sold in a can?
Brady C., 53, Melrose
Let me guess, Leslie: when you say "back West," you mean The People's
Republic of Califoregashingtonia, aka "Land of Granola Munchers." Southern food
is what it is, and too bad if you're offended by grits, boiled peanuts and
people eating meat.
Ann, 38, Kansas City, Mo.
Southern food hotshot John T. Edge has two words for those who gag over Dixie
grub: Hangtown Fry.
"Explain to me the tradition of an omelet of oysters and eggs and bacon,"
challenged Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of
Mississippi in Oxford. "At first glance it sounds like a confounding
combination, but ... that's big in California."
His point: "One man's succulence is another man's pestilence."
Southern food does seem to stand apart in many people's minds, however,
mainly because the South itself stands apart, with its history of slavery and
longer-lasting rurality, said Edge, author of A Gracious Plenty: Recipes and
Recollections from the American South and Southern Belly (Putnam).
"If it hadn't been for the influence of Africa in the mix, Southern food
would look a lot like Midwest food. Okra is an African vegetable. Watermelon,
too. And techniques of Southern cookery -- cooking down in a low gravy -- has
its roots in Africa. You could argue that frying in deep oil is African."
As for boiled goobers, peanuts grow in the South, and when they're fresh,
they taste good boiled. But if you tried to export them raw to the North, by the
time they arrived ... well, let's just say it wouldn't work.
Sweet tea? The South is where cane was raised, Edge said. Naturally, folks
are going to acquire a sweet tooth.
But is ingesting fatty meat, lard and a mess of sugar healthful?
"It certainly was a working man's or woman's cuisine. It fueled you to plow
the back 40," Edge said. "I think of that as healthy food. Nowadays it can be a
celebratory food, enjoyed in moderation. Hey, I don't eat fatback and collard
greens every day -- but I crave it."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information.