It’s South­ern pride, bat­tered and fried

The Covington News - - Newton At Play - Lewis Griz­zard Colum­nist Lewis Griz­zard was a syndi­cated colum­nist, who took pride in his South­ern roots and of­ten wrote about them. This col­umn is part of a col­lec­tion of his work.

My hero and pro­fes­sional role model, Chicago Tribune’s Mike Royko, had an as­tound­ing piece re­cently. Ac­cord­ing to Royko, at an auto plant in Nor­mal, Illi­nois, an ex­ec­u­tive asked the com­pany that ran the plant’s cafe­te­ria to of­fer some more va­ri­ety.

“Man can­not live by tuna patty melts alone,” wrote Royko.

So the cafe­te­ria peo­ple de­cided to of­fer some South­ern cook­ing one day. They picked the wrong day.

The Fri­day be­fore the Mon­day what was the hol­i­day hon­or­ing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth­day, the cafe­te­ria was to serve bar­be­cue ribs, black-eyed peas, grits and col­lards.

Two black em­ploy­ees at the plant, Royko fur­ther ex­plained, went to see the ex­ec­u­tive and com­plained such a meal, just two days be­fore Dr. King’s birth­day, was stereo­typ­ing of black din­ing habits. They threat­ened a boy­cott of the meal. The ex­ec­u­tive, who was also black, or­dered the South­ern dishes be stricken from the Fri­day menu. Meat­loaf and egg rolls were served in­stead.

What is as­tound­ing to me is, in our search to be­come po­lit­i­cally cor­rect and more sen­si­tive, in this one in­stance at least, food be­came an is­sue. South­ern food. What has come to be known as soul food. And my food, too.

I think it is very im­por­tant to point out bar­be­cue ribs, black-eyes peas, grits and col­lards may, in fact, be a choice dish to many black Amer­i­cans. But it also sounds pretty darn good to me, a white man.

I grew up on soul food. We just called it coun­try cook­ing. My grand­mother cooked it. My mother cooked it.

Friends cooked it. Still do. I might not have made it through my sec­ond heart op­er­a­tion if it hadn’t been for the coun­try cook­ing of one of the world’s kind­est ladies, Jackie Wal­burn, who de­liv­ered to me in the hos­pi­tal.

And my friend Carol Dunn in Or­lando has served me many an en­chant­ing spread fea­tur­ing her won­der­ful roast pork. My Aunt Una cooked me fried chicken, speck­led-heart but­ter-beans, turnip greens, mashed pota­toes, and creamed corn as re­cently as Thanks­giv­ing eve. The creamed corn, the best I ever ate, was pro­vided by my Aunt Jessie.

Don’t tell me serv­ing food like that is an af­front to the me­mory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. What it would have been in Nor­mal is a cel­e­bra­tion of the sort of cook­ing that has been preva­lent in the South, both for blacks and whites, for 200 years.

Royko asked, “Next Colum­bus Day would it be an in­sult to serve spaghetti and meat­balls?” What a plate of hog­wash, and I can get by with that. I have a pig valve in my own heart, and I can eat my share of bar­be­cue ribs with any­body, black or white or what­ever.

To charge stereo­typ­ing over food triv­i­al­ized the King hol­i­day. The man didn’t give his life for some­thing like that. It’s silly and it’s stupid and it makes me want to throw up. Had I eaten meat­loaf and egg rolls for lunch, I might.

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