I think the fact that our Southern food is so delicious is largely responsible for our reputation of friendliness and genteel manners. It's not hard to be in a good mood when you have a belly full of good food. Replace that with some organic celery and well, you've got a whole other ballgame. Down here, we do not eat our vegetables naked--any Southerner worth their salt will tell you that a vegetable doesn't become food until it is coated with some sort of creamy soup, sprinkled with cheese, and topped with breadcrumbs or french fried onions. And all Southern cooks know that everything is better with butter--and even more so with lard.
Food is such an important thing here in the South that it marks practically every important occasion in our lives. New baby? Let's take them a meal (or six). Death in the family? Of course there will be funeral food. As a kid, our church's bereavement committee would ask my mother to make a banana pudding so often, my brother and I couldn't see a bunch of overripe bananas on the kitchen counter without asking, "Who died?" Please insert a joke about that banana pudding being "to die for" here. If you've been sick, had surgery, moved into a new house...rest assured, the food is on the way. My church has over 4,000 members and we still have potluck lunches (or "covered dish" lunches, as Southerners like to say). It doesn't matter how large a crowd you have, that potluck will still revolve around fried chicken and Jell-O molds.
Speaking of church, as it was told to me, my mother's Sunday School teacher recently asked everyone in the class to close their eyes for 20 seconds and think of the word "comfort." The class was then asked what was the first thing that came to mind. The answers ranged from prayer, cuddling with pets, hugs, and the like. My first thought? Macaroni and cheese. That could be an inkling as to why I have a weight problem. If I've had a terrible day, a hug is fleeting, but macaroni and cheese will hold your hand and soothe your jangled nerves for quite a little while.
Last week, I went to see a new doctor who practices "integrated medicine." Basically, she is a regular, traditional doctor who combines that with holistic healing. Much to my relief, my visit did not entail any acupuncture or crystals being placed on my forehead, as my friends had giddily predicted. Instead, she told me that there were probably prescriptions that would help me out, but rather than go that route and depend on medicine, changing my diet on a permanent basis would be the way to go. Eat "clean and green," she told me. Cut out Diet Coke, buy organic, non-GMO everything, and stick to lean protein and vegetables. One should avoid high fructose corn syrup, also known as The Ingredient In Absolutely Everything. I was informed that grains are really never necessary, and that there is no reason that anyone should ever eat a sandwich.
Mmm, hmm. I know this is a well-educated and respected physician, and I am trying to take it all seriously, but there is never a reason to eat a sandwich? How about fresh grown tomatoes, Duke's mayonnaise, and white loaf bread? If a summer of tomato sandwiches and baked Cheetohs is wrong, I do not want to be right. I also adamantly refuse to give up Peeps, pimento cheese, or Egg McMuffins. That would be a prescription for disaster.
Is there not some magic pill I can take instead? Maybe I need to rethink this whole being healthy thing, because I'm not sure it's worth the sacrifice. I was also told that a good guideline for healthy eating is: if you can't pronounce the ingredients, don't eat it. This has served as a great motivator for me to brush up on my phonics so that I can expand my vocabulary and successfully pronounce more delicious things. My mom suggested I just grow all my own food, which would probably aid in weight loss due to the fact that I can't keep a cactus alive, but I'm not big on starvation either. By the way, are corn dogs hard to grow? No matter; all the hard work will be worth it when that crop is ready to be harvested.
What good will it do me to live to a ripe, old age if my days are filled with hunger and kale chips? I think I would rather roll the dice and let them find me, gone to meet my maker, with Krispy Kreme doughnut glaze still coating my fingers and my mouth stained red from the Cheerwine. After all, I am a very Southern girl, and my definition of an all-natural diet means eating the things that come naturally to me. So pass me the fried green tomatoes, and save me a piece of pecan pie for dessert. But first, we have some new neighbors down the street and I've got a casserole to make.
P.S. A few years ago, my mom gave me one of my favorite gifts of all time: a cookbook filled with best-loved family recipes. In the "advice" section, she included some quotes that perfectly sum up a Southerner's view of food. Take a moment (while your greens are still simmering on the stove) and enjoy:
"Never eat more than you can lift." - Miss Piggy
"You know it's a good recipe if it starts with a stick of butter." - Paula Deen
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, for they are sticking to their diet." - Unknown
"Dessert is probably the most important part of the meal, since it will be the last thing your guests remember before they pass out all over the table." - The Anarchist Cookbook