My best childhood years were spent living in the South. Those years spanned the late sixties and early seventies. Daddy drove a beige Karmann Ghia that we called “Peanut,” and Mom wore white go-go boots. In the summers, most kids ran around outside barefoot. It’s not that we couldn’t afford shoes, we just didn’t want to wear them! I can see Daddy now, rubbing a gasoline soaked rag on my feet to remove the tar before I could come inside for supper.
A full sit-down dinner was expected each night, and boy you had better not be late. I don’t think there ever was a particular time each day that Mom would put everything on the table – but my brother and I just knew when to come in. My mother did not share my love for cooking, and there were about ten dinner menus that she rotated through. A good day for me offered fried chicken and mashed potatoes. A not so good day presented corned beef and cabbage or worse… liver with onions. Good or bad, there was always a dessert, and I had to clean my plate to get some. Mom’s favorite cookbook is The Art of Southern Cooking, by Mildred Evans Warren. We call it “Mildred’s cookbook” and it is my go-to source for Thanksgiving- day recipes such as southern cornbread dressing and giblet gravy. Mildred Evans was a family friend from Perry, Georgia and she was a true southern lady.
Food is such a solid foundation for our earliest memories. It connects us to our roots. My roots are firmly planted in a bed of boiled peanuts, tomato and Miracle-whip sandwiches, pecans and fresh peaches. Oh, and watermelon – eaten on the half-shell between bare legs, bare feet, and with black seeds spit out everywhere in between. Every July, we picked blackberries alongside railroad tracks. (Mom always had to check us for ticks when we got back home). At daycare, the ever crafty Miss Lib encouraged us to eat our butter beans by spearing them on a toothpick - at Miss Lib’s, playing with one’s food was always okay as long as one ate it! I don’t remember going out to many fast food restaurants when I was growing up. It was a special event for us to drive out to the KFC and pick up a bucket of chicken – an occasion usually reserved for moving day. We were a military family, and we packed up a time or two.
Okay, let’s fast forward about forty years. Fast food is a way of life and a cornerstone in the foundation of American culture. Our grocery store chains sell tasteless tomatoes and strawberries throughout the year, and shrimp, not identified as “wild”, comes from shrimp farms in Thailand. Shrimp… farms? Really?
A disconnect exists for most Americans between the food they eat and where this food actually comes from. Children do not understand that their chicken nuggets may have actually started out as an animal. I have a friend whose son said to her one day, “Um, Mom…did you know that chicken comes from a ‘chicken’? ” This statement was promptly followed by her younger daughter making a face and exclaiming, “Ewwww, that’s gross”.
Question: What exactly is the nutritional value of a nuked Hot Pocket, or a container of bubble gum flavored Go-gurt? I know children who have not eaten, in their young lives, a single vegetable or a piece of fruit. These kids run on sugar, carbs, and preservatives, and this make me want to cry.
The America that I remember is dying. We don’t eat home cooked meals together, we don’t send handwritten letters, we don’t speak kind words to strangers, we lock up our houses at night, our faces are glued to “screens” for hours and hours each day, and nobody makes anything anymore. I don’t want America to die, I don’t want all that is lovely about the South to die, and I darn sure don’t want to die before my time because of a crazy lifestyle that puts money in my pocket but kills my spirit and wrecks my health.
I am starting this blog as a way to discover and share some of the wonderful things about the South. Hopefully, I will discover ways to preserve myself in the process! Love!