Southern food (and ice, buffalo, and freedom)

The Southern Food issue of Oxford American showed up in the mailbox yesterday, making me, as a college acquaintance of mine used to say, happier than a dog with two peters. (Okay, sorry. That was probably over the line, and that strange noise you hear is the sound of my grandma vibrating with shame in her grave.)

Next up on the reading list are Carson McCullers’ 1953 essay “The Great Eaters of Georgia” — the title alone makes me long for fried chicken — a piece on okra, an introduction to Cuban food, and a pair of essays on pork, one from Pete Wells, and one from Duncan Murrell.

Wells’ piece begins: “Either you’ve smelled a pig farm up close or you haven’t. I have.” Me too. * When I lived off Archer Road in Gainesville, that very smell drifted up from the campus farm on 90 degree days, while I sat in my rickety, non-air-conditioned truck, trying not to vomit.

Murrell’s includes the lines: “When I went off to college, I got an alarm clock and warnings about alcohol and showing up for class on time. When my wife went off to college, her devout [Seventh Day Adventist] grandmother said only this: ‘don’t eat the pork.'”

The issue contains tons of odes: to hangover cures, chicken and dumplings, biscuits, lowcountry boil, cotton candy, Moon pies, and boiled peanuts. I’ll go over that last one with special care, because, frankly, I’ve never understood the allure.

So far I’ve read Padgett Powell’s marvelous ode to ice (and buffalo, and freedom), which contains this singular paragraph:

Ice is having less trouble on earth than buffalo, probably only because we learned how to make it and it did not support the livelihood of an indigenous people in our way. Ice wholesale and long-term is probably more endangered than buffalo, but that would get into Ice Age science and global warming and I do not wish to go there except to say that I think the repudiation by the Bush administration of the Kyoto Protocols alone should have discredited the Bush administration out of office, but of course we know that the Bush administration has learned how large discreditations can be made to work only to its credit, as did large lies once for the Germans. It is easy to tell an American citizen that if he thinks we are wrecking the earth then he does not support the troops and that he must therefore think that freedom is free. Iraq costs $5 million an hour.

* Now that I’ve read the Wells essay, I realize he’s talking about something very different: not a traditional pig farm, but a contemporary piglet-producing operation, in which mama pigs and their offspring are kept in small cages to prevent the mothers from flouncing around in the mud and killing the babies. (In nature, apparently, several piglets from every litter will die that way.) The sheer number of pigs shitting in one place in an operation like this guarantees a stench beyond my wildest imaginings.


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