From poor food to pride

I'm not dead. I've been blogging up a storm at my other site, truestorieshonestlies, and haven't had the chutzpah to come here too. I miss writing and thinking about food, but haven't been sure of what to say.

I'm traveling now, in North Carolina far from my usual New England. My breakfast this morning was of the great American delicacies, biscuits and gravy. For those of you unfamiliar with this fine regional dish, it's sturdy white-flour biscuits covered in white gravy made out of a roux based in sausage fat. The better gravies have bits of sausage suspended in the mess and are a little spicy. It's bound to kill you if eaten too often and utterly delicious.

As I was savoring every morsel this morning I got to thinking about other sturdy, regional foods I love. None are healthy, they all are rich, fatty and delicious. Cheesesteak sandwiches like those I grew up with in Philadelphia; fish tacos; biscuits and gravy; you know the kind of foods I'm talking about. These are all foods made from what's available, the leftover odds and ends in the kitchen from those homes where you need to use everything, nothing can go to waste. These are foods that are more concerned about daily caloric intake - making sure there is enough - than with a balanced diet, low-fat, high-fiber kind of life.

What I find interesting is that these foods have moved from poor food, stuff you eat because you have to, to regional pride. Ask anyone from Philadelphia about the local cuisine and I can promise they will mention steak sandwiches, not knowing that originally they were made with the leftover scraps of meat. Southern Californians love their fish tacos, cheap and hot from stands, but they were originally a food of necessity, made out of what was readily available. And biscuits and gravy are the mainstay of any Southern establishment that wants to tout its Southerness. These are no longer the foods of poverty, but of pride and tradition.

Maybe part of the collective memory here is saying, "We have overcome our lean years. We eat this now because we can, not because we have to." Or maybe it's just because it tastes so very good.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer


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