The Politics of Soul Food

I never imagined the saying “you are what you eat” could have much to do with politics, but now it seems pretty self evident.

Yesterday, while working out on an elliptical trainer, which is boring enough to begin with, I got even more bored playing the choir to CNN’s preachers. Changing the channel to Fox would have been a sure path to a blood pressure spike and possible cardiac arrest. The History channel is anything but history. The networks were broadcasting their usual pap made even more insipid by holiday overload. The sports channels were wasting time on sports other than football. I sought refuge in a cooking show.

I love to cook and find watching others cook to be inspiring. Still, I don’t make a habit of watching cooking shows. In desperate situations such as this, however, they provide comfort food for the mind and an oasis in what Newton Minnow once referred to as a “vast wasteland.”

I settled on a show about a restaurant chain located throughout the deep South that’s famous for preparing what Southerners call soul food and what I would call culinary suicide. Slavering over and waxing poetic about the signature dishes of this hallowed establishment, diners vouched for the authenticity of the cuisine. “I love to come here. It’s just like what Mama made.” If you ask me, any mama who feeds her babies stuff like this deserves a visit from a child welfare agency.

For those who crave instant arterial blockage and a five pound weight gain in thirty minutes or less, here is how to prepare their “Five and Dime,” aka “The Heart Attack,” a breakfast sandwich weighing in at close to 1400 calories. Just add the requisite bottomless sixteen ounce carbonated beverage (which all go by the name “coke” down here) and you have exceeded a whole day’s normal caloric allowance.

For those of you who are in a hurry to utilize your pre-arranged funeral plot, here’s the recipe. You start with a huge biscuit, made with lots of butter and white flour. Slice one of these babies in half, butter both sides, and pile on a deep-fried breaded chicken breast, two slices of bacon, cheddar cheese and a fried egg. Cover with the other half of the biscuit, then drown the whole mess in gravy. Here’s how they make the gravy. To a roux of butter and flour add whole milk and reinforce this with heavy cream, stock and sausage grease. Then toss in the fried, crumbled sausage. To reassure you this is all good for you, the restaurant touts the ingredients as “all natural.” Just for the record, arsenic is also an all natural substance.

It occurred to me, if this is the kind of food they enjoy regularly in the deep red South, it’s no surprise so many of them have no fear of Covid, a much less lethal agent. Perhaps refusing to protect themselves from the bug is just an extension of refusing to protect themselves from the ravages of a cardio-toxic, carcinogenic, obesogenic diet. Or from the dangers of leaving an arsenal of weapons lying around the house within easy reach of their offspring. Or from favoring gas guzzling pickup trucks and muscle cars. Or from voting for Republicans who obstruct any legislation that might benefit the health of their constituents and whose irresponsible approach to the pandemic has led, so far, to more deaths in the original Confederate states from Covid than they suffered from the Civil War.

Could it be that when they named Southern cooking “soul food” they meant it as opposed to “body food” or “brain food?” Certainly, back in the old days nobody knew just how unhealthful such fare could be, but ignoring science as usual, denizens of the Southland continue to prefer cuisine that provides as much saturated fat in one meal as a person should consume in a month.

Speaking of souls, though, what have these folks to fear from a deadly sandwich? They are certain they will live forever, consuming junk food and junkier TV, compliments of Jesus.

Being a non-Christian and worse, a Democrat, I will never view their paradise, but what I wouldn’t give to, Moses-like, be granted a glimpse of it before Charon ferries me to Hades. I would love to see the looks on their faces should they pass through the Pearly Gates only to find that there is only one channel in heaven, PBS, and that St. Peter’s signature dish, served at every meal in aeternum, is raw kale salad with a side of quinoa.

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