greens and peas

In the mid-90’s, my wife and I lived and worked for several years in Ames, Iowa. No matter how much fun we still make of Midwesterners, we will always remember the Iowa State Fair as one of the great wonders of the modern world. Those people take their state fairs very, very seriously.

For one thing, they sold beer right on the midway. It’s not like there were a couple of special beer stands set up with thick security all around, but it was everywhere. Every corndog and funnel cake stand also sold beer. Since I grew up in Alabama (where we just don’t do things like that), my wife and I considered beer sale as much of an attraction as the famous Butter Cow. We kept elbowing each other and saying, “LOOK! That guy’s got a beer, too!”

Another magnificent enticement was the Agriculture Building and the breathtaking displays of food. Since Iowans are famous for both their farming and their organizational skills, all the food was arranged into little themes around the main pavilion in the Ag Building. So, not only did we get to browse through some award-winning crops, but we got to learn something along the way. It was there that my wife and I learned that the South is considered to be its own ethnic group. How about that?

The Iowans had arranged a section of the pavilion called “Foods of the Ethnic Groups,” and you could wander and look with amazement at all the weird and yucky things consumed by all those “different people.” When we first saw that section, we looked at each other and mouthed, “Oh, my God.” And then we browsed.

We saw “Asian Food,” and we saw “Indian Food,” and we saw “African Food,” and we saw “Latin Food,” and we saw “Southern Food”….

Wait, what? Southern Food? “Southern” is an ethnic group now? We stopped and looked around at the three display tables featuring a bounty of things called “Southern Food,” and it was all there. The whole “pea” family was there, staring black-eyed peas, crowder peas, lady peas, and purple-hull peas. There were also lots of other peas on that table that neither of us had ever heard of or recognized. There were butter beans, which were mis-labeled as “lima beans” for some reason. And then there were collard greens, turnip greens, and mustard greens. There was cornbread, and there were grits. Good grief, we got homesick just looking at all those magnificent things that we couldn’t find at any restaurant in Iowa (except for finding grits occasionally at a Cracker Barrel in Des Moines).

And we were energized by the new knowledge that we were officially recognized by the Iowa State Fair as our own separate ethnic group. Well, isn’t that we’ve been saying all along, anyway?

Tom Daniel

Tom Daniel holds a Ph.D in Music Education from Auburn University. He is a husband, father of four cats and a dog, and a college band director who lives back in the woods of Alabama with a cotton field right outside his bedroom window. His grandfather once told him he was "Scotch-Irish," and Tom has been trying to live up to those lofty Southern standards ever since.

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