Why Southerners Are Fat

Why are Southerners so fat?

I came across this article on Time.com today and thought I would share with all of you. The article covers a topic I’ve pondered once or twice, typically coincident with the Stafford family reunions in Mississippi. If you came to the Stafford family reunion, you might understand why the topic crossed my mind.

The Stafford family, while not uniformly obese, has quite a few specimens that tip the scale somewhere between 250 and 350 pounds. I have aunts and uncles that come in all shapes and sizes, as long as those shapes and sizes include squat and round. I have one cousin that had a heart attack and bypass surgery at 35 and one cousin that I thought was a garden shed when we were first introduced.

The other thing you notice when you’re in Mississippi for the family reunion is the fact that people in the deepest parts of the South will literally flour and fry anything. Fish, chicken, shrimp, tomatoes, okra, pickles…you name it. If you can eat it, chances are someone in Mississippi has tried it fried. I’m convinced people down there would fry the sweet tea if they could only figure out how. The state is awash in grease.

And there’s only one serving size for all that fried food. It’s called “all-you-can-eat”. I am not exaggerating when I say that every single restaurant I entered in Mississippi was a buffet. I cannot think of a single restaurant we patronized that was not a buffet. Not one. I once tried to count the number of buffet restaurants that we passed as we drove. You may as well try to count the grains of sand on a beach. It cannot be done.

But the reason I think Southerners are fat goes beyond both of those items. The reason I think Southerners are fat is the same reason I think my father is fat. It’s not that he’s lazy and doesn’t exercise. The man ran 1000 miles in his 40th year. He’s walked many times that distance since, much of it with bad hips and knees. At 75, he still tries to exercise with barbells.

The reason I think my father is fat, (or was for most of his life) is because he has a love affair with the food experience. For him, the food experience goes beyond just food. It is an infinitely social thing, a finding of joy in the breaking of bread with his family and friends.

The food experience for him is finding joy in an abundance that he did not know as a poor kid growing up in the poor South. It is a recreation of Granny Holloway’s Sunday dinner, the maybe once-a-week meal in which he found plenty as a child, the one meal a week from which he did not walk away wanting more. It is a purely emotional response to food, a happiness found in satiety.

The food experience is something Dad always wanted to share, too. As a friend of mine growing up, you could not come to my house without being offered a meal of some sort. “You boys want sammich?” still rings in my mind as the question most often asked of me and my buddies. My father has Parkinson’s and cannot drive but will still, to this day, ask us if we want him to get us a chicken biscuit from Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen. In his retirement, his favorite way to pass the time is to enjoy a meal with one of his good buddies. The food experience is in his bones.

Couple that with the larger sense of Southern hospitality, a tradition that almost always involves sharing food with family, friends and neighbors, and I think you go a long way towards explaining the prevalence of obesity in the South. Southerners love food and they love the food experience. They love socializing over a meal and love the feeling of plenty when times are often lean. This keeps them coming back to the trough again and again and again, whatever the consequences to their appearance and their health.

Happy Mother’s Day from the Baby Birds

It’s Mother’s Day and I’m here to fulfill the one request my mother made of me today: write something for the blog. Happy Mother’s Day, Ma.  This one is just for you.

My intention for the Mother’s Day blog was to honor my mother by typing up one of her recipes in this space. Given that it’s two hours later than I’d hoped to get this done, that may have to wait until a time in which I’m not utterly exhausted.  I may be able to find a suitably short recipe if you’ll give me a moment.

Okay, the following is not short but it is a good story and mentions my great-grandmother, Granny Holloway. She is the woman responsible for raising my father and it seems appropriate to honor her and my mother on this Mother’s Day occasion. I hope you enjoy it.

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Granny’s Recipe For Feeding Baby Birds

My Harris grandparents loved parakeets and they had more than one pair during the years I best remember them. One pair they had in the 1950’s were named Ike and Dick after President Eisenhower and Vice-President Nixon. (My grandparents were ardent Republicans during the years when most Alabama citizens were rabid Democrats.) My grandfather doted on them. He taught them to say “I like Ike” and “Dickie Bird” and they flew around the house freely or rode on his shoulders.

Granny Holloway loved birds as well. According to Sidney, she always kept a red bird (cardinal) in a cage and had an uncanny way of finding young birds that had “fallen from the nest.” Perhaps Granny helped some of them fall but, however she found them, she successfully raised them to adulthood and kept them for her pleasure.

When our children were small, we raised baby birds as well – once two blue jays we named Jack and Jill, and once several starlings. Sidney remembered Granny’s recipe for feeding baby birds and they did well. We kept them in a cardboard box until they began to perch on its sides and then we moved them to the back porch.

When they learned to fly, they enjoyed perching in the trees in the back yard but would come back to the porch to be fed. Later they perched on the telephone wires in front and flew down the street to greet Sidney as he walked home from the college. Unfortunately, they began to fly down to greet others who did not understand their friendly intentions. Our mailman and our neighbor were terrified when the birds began darting down from the sky and landing on their head and shoulders.

Unfortunately, Jack drowned one day, apparently while admiring his image in a tub of water. But Jill and the starlings lived to fly off into the trees and become independent. We suppose they did, that is. They came less and less often to be fed and eventually they didn’t come back at all. We hope they adapted themselves to the wild and lived long and happy lives.

Granny Holloway was half Indian (her mother was either full-blooded Creek or Choctaw) and she must have learned Indian ways. (Sidney was fascinated that, while she was working outdoors or in her garden, Granny would often pee while standing straight up and without removing any underwear. I have read that this was an Indian practice. Apparently she was wearing no underwear that required removal.) It may be that her joy in raising birds was one of her Indian ways. Her recipe for feeding them was simple:

Boil one small potato in its skin and cut it up fine. Hard boil one (or more) egg and mash it up very fine. Mix the egg with the potato. Feed the mixture to the birds with a pair of tweezers as often as they clamor for food (just stick it down their throats). Occasionally give them a drop or two of water from a clean eye dropper.

Keep the birds in a cardboard box with newspaper lining the bottom. Add small strips of newspaper to serve as nesting material. Change the papers often. When the birds become active and seem ready to leave the box, move the box outdoors but away from cats. Continue feeding them as needed until they fly away.

By the way, we don’t recommend caging wild birds.

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Thanks, Ma, for the story and the recipe and for raising all of us and the baby birds. I know we’ve all flown away but it’s nice to know we can all fly back again when we need to be bed.

I love you and hope you’ve had a lovely Mother’s Day.