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.