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Southern discomfort food: robbing the culture?


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Today I read an article in the Christian Science Monitor which seemed highly interesting because of the many ramifications involved:

In black communities across the South, the healthy foods movement is finding converts who want to replace bacon-soaked beans and corn pone with baked chicken and steamed broccoli - all in the name of keeping people, particularly young people, healthy.

critics say it undermines a central element of Southern culture - one shared by both blacks and whites. .. Southern Foodways Alliance in Oxford, Miss., a group working to to preserve food traditions of the South. These are "byproducts of a multiracial culture, something in which we can take pride, not something we should be ashamed of."

Are there equally compelling arguments for both issues here?

Are health and culture equally important?

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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Are there equally compelling arguments for both issues here?

Are health and culture equally important?

:huh: Of course they are! And I'd like to say for the thousandth time, there are no unhealthy foods, just unhealthy eating habits. You don't have to lose one to preserve the other.
"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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Are there equally compelling arguments for both issues here?

Are health and culture equally important?

:huh: Of course they are! And I'd like to say for the thousandth time, there are no unhealthy foods, just unhealthy eating habits. You don't have to lose one to preserve the other.

What she said.

I also have three words for the Selma High principal who wants to banish collards:

Smoked turkey butt.

Once again, our national penchant to throw the baby out with the bathwater when a potentially deleterious practice is discovered is given free rein (please, please, not "free reign" -- the term is derived from coach drivers' practice of letting their horses run loose for a while).

Yes, given the rising tide of obesity among African-Americans, a group which has long had its share of "Big Mommas," it doesn't hurt for us to re-evaluate the foods we love and try to incorporate healthier methods of preparing them. And personally, I wouldn't mind it if chitlins disappeared from menus, period. But we don't have to swear off fried chicken or collard greens completely: we can flavor the latter in other ways and turn the former into an occasional treat instead of a menu staple.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Today I read an article in the Christian Science Monitor which seemed highly interesting because of the many ramifications involved:
In black communities across the South, the healthy foods movement is finding converts who want to replace bacon-soaked beans and corn pone with baked chicken and steamed broccoli - all in the name of keeping people, particularly young people, healthy.

critics say it undermines a central element of Southern culture - one shared by both blacks and whites. .. Southern Foodways Alliance in Oxford, Miss., a group working to to preserve food traditions of the South. These are "byproducts of a multiracial culture, something in which we can take pride, not something we should be ashamed of."

Are there equally compelling arguments for both issues here?

Are health and culture equally important?

Those pushing the healthy foods movement mean well, but they're going about it the wrong way. Any attempt to control weight in young people should begin with exercise. Then, moderation should be emphasized. Reading this:

Last year, the school started doing health screenings on students and brought in older blacks to talk about how their "harmful" food choices impacted their health in later years.

reduces Southern Food almost to the level of alcohol or drug abuse.

Culture factors into mental and social health, as well as physical health. What price might eventually be paid if the familiar foods from which we all draw comfort suddenly become sources of shame?

Well, that was an over-dramaticd statement, but why not a compromise? Collard greens, grits and beans are good for you on their own. If you can steam broccoli, you can certainly steam collards. Then, just add enough lard/bacon grease at the end for flavor. Eat your grits, but reduce the amount of butter that you slather on top. Let the familiar Southern dishes evolve, just don't eliminate them.

April

(disclaimer: I'm a Northerner, but I hate being told what to do!)

One cantaloupe is ripe and lush/Another's green, another's mush/I'd buy a lot more cantaloupe/ If I possessed a fluoroscope. Ogden Nash

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I would have to object to the assumption made in the article that Southern food is unhealthy across the board. Granted, you will get more fat and salt than you want eating a primarily southern diet. However, you will also get fresh uncooked tomatoes, fresh uncooked cucumber in a salad dressed with a little vinegar and mostly black pepper. How is a pot of chicken and dumplins less healthier than a pot of chicken soup with noodles in it? The okra may be boiled in the pot with the peas and side meat, but it is usually lightly cooked. The collards? Look at the nutritional value this stuff has:

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=138

You will also find tomato, turnip greens, mustard greens, peanuts, cabbage, green beans, summer squash, sweet potato, blueberries, fig, watermelon, corn (and what is the big fuss about meal? It is just ground dried corn, and cornbread just has an egg and some buttermilk added), molasses, honey and cane juice on that list. In fact, I am struck that most of those items on the "World's Healthiest Foods" list can be associated with southern or oriental foodways.

At one time or another, all these items were on the dinner table on a regular basis. If my parents didn't grow it themselves, they knew somebody who did. And when the items were out of season, we ate them after having been canned, preserved, jellied or frozen at home. Anyone with a yard did the same. In fact I remember getting sick of eating creamed corn (which is mostly corn, with the addition of salt, pepper, enough butter and milk to loosen up the starch in the corn) because we had to use up the frozen before the new crop came in.

Instead of leaving these foods out of the diet altogether, shouldn't emphasis be placed upon cooking methods, perhaps? And in fact, it is a myth that ALL southern foods are fried, or swimming in fat. It is even hard to come by decent lard in the south anymore. Mom roasted chickens, braised roasts, sauted vegetables.

Of course, I will keep my hamhocks and bacon, thank you. Everything in moderation, including moderation.

:biggrin:

ETA: I missed the cantaloupe, eggplant, bell peppers, onions, grapes, strawberries and sunflower seeds on that list my first go round. Yep, we grew them right on the homeplace or at grandaddies, and we ate them all.

Edited by annecros (log)
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I am of the opinion that in most cultures it is not the food that is at fault but the life-style. When most of us were labourers of one sort or another (including housewives who lacked all the modern conveniences), these foods sustained us and we burned off the calories. Now we are largely sendentary those calories go unused and hence become a problem. We need to look at the whole picture not just one element of it. I hate to see any culture turn its back on its customary food but I understand the need to eat less of it or to eat it less often. Even if we exercise regularly, I doubt we can expend the energy that most people had to expend in the 19th century just to earn a living, keep a home, etc. etc.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

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relevant article from today's NY Times here: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/07/science/07conv.html

I find it a bit odd that the researcher mentions calories and fats as the main problems, when it's probably refined carbohydrates that are the real culprit. The average US intake of sweetners has increased fifty percent in the last fifty years, up to 150 pounds per person per year. Other carbs, like flour, are becoming more refined. The more refined the carb, the more swiftly it is metabolized, the faster it turns to sugar in the body, and the faster it turns to fat. Less refined carbs (e.g. whole wheat flour) take longer for the body to process and it is easier for your insulin to process the sugars.

Additionally, there are genetic causes that make some groups of people more or less able to process the carbohydrates in their bodies. The current theory about why this is the case relates to when the societies changed from hunter/gatherer to agricultural. Thus, the longer ago that any genetic group switched to an agricultural means of sustenance, the better they are at dealing with the extra carbs.

It seems like most of the hysteria over "unhealthy" southern cooking is focused on the fats in the cooking, when the real culprit is probably increased carbohydrates.

M. Thomas

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Certainly general life-style plays a role here, but at the same time, certain foods simply are less healthy for you than others. Moderation may help with damage control, but a deep-friend Twinkie is always going to be a net negative in terms of nutrition. Further, just because foods generally aren't by themselves sufficient for unhealth, it's absurd to pretend that they play no role at all. While much of our culture's collective weight problem is the result of the largely sedentary life-style that many of us lead, it is still true that you are less likely to have health issues if you are snacking on apples at work instead of potato chips. While I whole-heartedly agree that we as a culture tend to fetishize food as the root of all evils, ignoring other cultural sources of unhealth, the reactionary stance of denying the potential harms of certain foods seems equally as absurd.

All of that said, as Tarragon points out, amongst food 'culprits', refined sugars are much more of a threat these days than are fatty foods. Though foods high in saturated fat and cholesteral can indeed be problematic, the weight gain our culture has experienced over the past half-century is due mostly to the massive increase in the use of high-fructose corn syrup. Of course, because the corn industry has an effective set of lobbyists, the issue has recieved less attention than it merits.

Again, I do think the degree to which our culture demonizes food is awful. It is terrible that such culturually produced fear deprives so many of the enjoyment of something that is a naturally pleasurable thing. That said, the knee-jerk stance of 'don't blame food, blame life-style' is just to refuse to acknowledge the realities of the situation we face. We are in the midst of a serious health crisis as a nation. Certainly, life-style contributes largely to this epidemic. Nonetheless, encouraging people to eat more nutritious foods can help to alleviate the problem to at least some degree. I love food too, but not to the point of turning a blind eye to the fact that the majority of our population will soon be stricken with Type-II diabetes.

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My first reaction to this story was very similar to Anna N's reply. Certainly, a lot of traditional southern food is very calorie-dense, but it evolved as fuel for people who participated in hard labor. When many of us came in from the fields and sat down at a desk, our diets were slower to evolve than our lifestyles.

That said, though, I think that there may be an essential misunderstanding of what Southern food encompasses. Sure, fried chicken and gravy and lard and pecan pie are "traditional," but so are fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, dark leafy greens, squash, sweet potatoes, fruits, etc. And, as near as I can tell, that fried chicken was more the exceptional meal than the rule: Sunday dinner, when the preacher came to visit. Monday through Saturday, beans and rice were more likely to provide the main protein course. And those fresh vegetables that were so readily available, along with some cornbread. The other "mistranslation" I see of traditional rural diets versus modern: As is typical today, "dinner" was the main meal of the day, but on the farm, "dinner" is that meal served at noontime. "Supper" was/is generally a lighter meal of leftovers, served at the end of the day. Thus, those farm meals were pretty much what doctors would prescribe today -- Filling breakfast, filling lunch, eat lightly at the end of the day, lots of fresh foods and veggies, lots of exercise.

(And this is the point where I generally tell the story of my great-grandmother, a farmer who was warned by her doctor that she should give up pork for her health's sake. Granny attended that doctor's funeral, outlived the next doctor, and settled on another before finally succumbing to heart disease. At age 92. Yes, she ate bacon or fatback or ham every day, but she also worked. Every day. Hard, physical, taxing labor.)

"Enchant, stay beautiful and graceful, but do this, eat well. Bring the same consideration to the preparation of your food as you devote to your appearance. Let your dinner be a poem, like your dress."

Charles Pierre Monselet, Letters to Emily

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I would propose that most of what is served in southern households is more akin to conveience foods ,lots of sodas, lots more fast foods, store bought snacks(the fresh bakeries and the fake crap they push) and then there's the captive auduences at the schools and that swill. Not to mention the sedimentary lifestyles....

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relevant article from today's NY Times here: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/07/science/07conv.html

Interesting. I wonder if the good doctor took into account the level of misdiagnosis that was going on in the south as late as the 1950s and 1960s when the doctor covered four counties, most people died at home without formal medical care, and the most predominant cause of death at the time was "vitamin deficiency."

I kid you not.

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I would propose that most of what is served in southern households is more akin to conveience foods ,lots of sodas, lots more fast foods, store bought snacks(the fresh bakeries and the fake crap they push) and then there's the captive auduences at the schools and that swill. Not to mention the sedimentary lifestyles....

And what would you base your preposition on, please do tell?

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Certainly general life-style plays a role here, but at the same time, certain foods simply are less healthy for you than others.  Moderation may help with damage control, but a deep-friend Twinkie is always going to be a net negative in terms of nutrition. 

Interesting. I was born and raised in the south. Have eaten the foods of many neighboring southern regions, and have been pretty open minded in sampling foods any chance I get from any culture that may have something good to offer in the area of food.

I have never seen a deep fried twinkie on a southern plate.

I wouldn't eat one if offered. I've never liked twinkies in general. Now Little Debbie's, that's a different matter.

Surely you are not attempting to compare a deep fried twinkie to a pot of collards nutrition wise, are you?

:wink:

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I would propose that most of what is served in southern households is more akin to conveience foods ,lots of sodas, lots more fast foods, store bought snacks(the fresh bakeries and the fake crap they push) and then there's the captive auduences at the schools and that swill. Not to mention the sedimentary lifestyles....

And what would you base your preposition on, please do tell?

I was born and raised in East Tennessee, lived all over the south from Charleston, to Charlotte, to Memphis, to New Orleans, etc. Just take a look in the shopping carts, and the number of fast food chains and how busy they are. Then go visit any public school, elementary or High, have lunch, and see for yourself. There is probably a more scholarly approach to this, and economical stats to confuse all, but just simple observations are most compelling I think. I also believe obescity rates are much higher in the south.

Edited by Timh (log)
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All of that said, as Tarragon points out, amongst food 'culprits', refined sugars are much more of a threat these days than are fatty foods.  Though foods high in saturated fat and cholesteral can indeed be problematic, the weight gain our culture has experienced over the past half-century is due mostly to the massive increase in the use of high-fructose corn syrup.  Of course, because the corn industry has an effective set of lobbyists, the issue has recieved less attention than it merits.

I can't help but think that you are on to something.

After all, while we may exert ourselves less than we used to, most of us and our ancestors have eaten the very foods we are being warned away from for decades without the complications we see around us now.

I recall hearing as a young boy how 'complex carbohydrates' were better for you nutritionally. This was at the same time that the most popular brand of bread in the country was a spongy white loaf that was fortified with a bunch of vitamins and minerals, some of which put back stuff lost in the refining of the flour. Now I know that whole wheat bread has never been the majority choice in any modern society I am aware of, but even the white bread back before we were filled with all this Wonder had more texture (and probably less simple sugars) than what we eat now.

Certainly the results many who follow the Atkins diet have achieved suggests that maybe the problem is not the fat in the foods we eat; it may well be that it's not carbohydrates per se but what kinds of carbs we ingest.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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I have never seen a deep fried twinkie on a southern plate.

I wouldn't eat one if offered. I've never liked twinkies in general. Now Little Debbie's, that's a different matter.

Surely you are not attempting to compare a deep fried twinkie to a pot of collards nutrition wise, are you?

:wink:

While the deep fried twinkie comment was meant as hyperbole, during my time as an undergrad in NC I did come across a fair share of deep fried twinkies, snickers bars, etc., mostly at music festivals in the area. Though not as well established as collard greens or grits, they did seem to be a sort of 'regional cuisine'.

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Deep-fried stuff on a stick is a staple of festivals all over the US - there's a thread on here somewhere about the Minnesota State Fair that shows a bunch of it.

I agree with those who say Southern food isn't necessarily unhealthy, especially in the summer when so many good vegetables are available. I also agree that the rising obesity probably has more to do with rising consumption of soft drinks than the food people are eating.

"There is nothing like a good tomato sandwich now and then."

-Harriet M. Welsch

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I would propose that most of what is served in southern households is more akin to conveience foods ,lots of sodas, lots more fast foods, store bought snacks(the fresh bakeries and the fake crap they push) and then there's the captive auduences at the schools and that swill. Not to mention the sedimentary lifestyles....

And what would you base your preposition on, please do tell?

I was born and raised in East Tennessee, lived all over the south from Charleston, to Charlotte, to Memphis, to New Orleans, etc. Just take a look in the shopping carts, and the number of fast food chains and how busy they are. Then go visit any public school, elementary or High, have lunch, and see for yourself. There is probably a more scholarly approach to this, and economical stats to confuse all, but just simple observations are most compelling I think. I also believe obescity rates are much higher in the south.

Check it out,

http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/obesity/trend/maps/

Yep, in some southern states obesity rates are higher. Now explain the Great Lakes area.

Last I heard, collards and cornbread were not a staple there.

Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida are right there with California, Maine and New York.

You were raised in Tennessee, and never went to a Farmer's Market or saw a roadside produce stand? I know you did in Charleston and New Orleans, surely in Memphis you must have run across one or two?

And while you were in Charleston and New Orleans, did you not run across the roadside shrimp carts, go to the green markets, or down to the docks?

Never?

They get pretty darn crowded.

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I'm trying to imagine the shame I would feel if, as a young child at school, I was lectured on how grossly unhealthy my beloved, family-cherished Yorkshire puddings and mincemeat pies were. This reminds me of a tactic used by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution in 1960's China: Use the children to change society. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

I believe part of the problem in the cuisine of the South lies in the more-readily available food supply. What used to be foods or dishes for special occasions or seasonally available - pecan pies only in the winter after the nut harvest, say; fried chicken only after late July when the chicks from spring had grown large enough - have now become staples year 'round. It's thrown the naturally-limiting quality of these gorgeous, rich food out of whack.

I'm a canning clean freak because there's no sorry large enough to cover the, "Oops! I gave you botulism" regrets.

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I have never seen a deep fried twinkie on a southern plate.

I wouldn't eat one if offered. I've never liked twinkies in general. Now Little Debbie's, that's a different matter.

Surely you are not attempting to compare a deep fried twinkie to a pot of collards nutrition wise, are you?

:wink:

While the deep fried twinkie comment was meant as hyperbole, during my time as an undergrad in NC I did come across a fair share of deep fried twinkies, snickers bars, etc., mostly at music festivals in the area. Though not as well established as collard greens or grits, they did seem to be a sort of 'regional cuisine'.

Hmm. So you are conceding that the deep fried twinkie does not compare with the bowl of collards as far as an established part of the southern diet is concerned? What do you think of the nutritional value of a bowl of collards, that these school children were told would kill them?

By the way, the Deep Fried Twinkie was born in New York City.

http://www.kitchenproject.com/history/twin...riedTwinkie.htm

New York City? Yep, get a rope.

The Deep Fried Snickers? Probably related to the Deep Fried Mars Bar enjoyed in Scotland.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Deep-fried_Mars_bar

Scotland? Yep. The bounders. Not enough lard in their chips, I suppose.

I will cop to the fried dill pickles, chicken and green tomatos. So what? Still didn't eat them every day.

Fair food does not a regional cuisine make.

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article in Newsweek on a closely related topic and a discussion here on eGullet on southern food and improving what is eaten ...

chitlins and ham hocks that have nourished the bodies and souls of African-Americans for decades. Such down-home cooking, with its heavy doses of salt, sugar and fat, can contribute to toxic effects like high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which strike black Americans at significantly higher rates than whites. Now entrepreneurs like Williams, nutritionists and even pastors are on a mission to improve African-American diets, not by condemning their rich culinary heritage,

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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I'm trying to imagine the shame I would feel if, as a young child at school, I was lectured on how grossly unhealthy my beloved, family-cherished Yorkshire puddings and  mincemeat pies were.  This reminds me of a tactic used by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution in 1960's China: Use the children to change society.  Wrong, wrong, wrong!

I believe part of the problem in the cuisine of the South lies in the more-readily available food supply.  What used to be foods or dishes for special occasions or seasonally available - pecan pies only in the winter after the nut harvest, say; fried chicken only after late July when the chicks from spring had grown large enough - have now become staples year 'round.  It's thrown the naturally-limiting quality of these gorgeous, rich food out of whack.

I think the problem with obesity in the south has more to do with people moving away from the cuisine and into the fast food, soft drink, chip culture.

If these kids would substitute that bowl of collards and piece of cornbread with a glass of lemonade for the McD's value meal once in a while they would be better off. The traditional southern food is much more nutritionally dense, and will stick to your ribs for a while.

But these kids are being told specifically to avoid these foods. And after being raised on the cusine, the skinless broiled chicken breast and steamed broccoli will not do it for them. They will head right out to the burger joint or vending machine and load up on junk.

It is just too silly.

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