Sunday, November 20, 2005

Throw An Apple At Cha

Some woman near here has collected several books worth of essays concerning Southern food. I heard her interviewed on government tax supported communist radio which I listen to most weekends in order to balance out my worldview. I haven’t read her book but if I run into it I would.

First, she knew her stuff. She explained shuckey beans properly, and that only we Southern Appalachian Peoples (SAPs) know them. She knew her different beans, and why most people have no clue of the subtleties that we SAPs will good naturedly argue over while we string them. She knew greasy beans are called that because their hulls have no hair on them and therefore they look slick, like they’ve been greased, not because we cook them with grease. She talked of the pleasure we take in stringing beans as a cultural social function and that to us green beans are not color on the plate but a flavorful staple for the diet and the garden.

She even knew how to pronounce “Appalachia” (apple-at-cha). But she didn’t quite talk right. Her accent was off, her phraseology wasn’t quite consistent. But the main thing was at the very beginning what she said was that they were looking at foodways and how food and culture combine from the way we plant to our unique hospitality, in order to understand it IN ORDER TO CHANGE IT. I know I heard her say that.

Like the Yankee Nature Conservancy director called us all ignorant hillbillies one time, because we know logging actually can be done both profitably and sustainably, without government grant supports (or the tobacco settlement and crop subsidy government money that his organization lives on, that his very salary is dependent upon).

Like the only sustained by government grant high salaried would-be organic poobah Yankee with the perfectly matching flannel shirt and jeans sets unmussed by interactions with people actually born here. Organic and sustainable to him is for other Yankees like himself.

Now, I don’t mean this personally; I’ve many wonderful friends who aren’t necessarily “from around here”. I am degreed and well read and reasonably traveled. But gosh darn if I am not glad that I am NOT a Yankee myself.

And how I wish Yankees weren’t bent on coming into my culture in order to change it. Like the Florida bumper sticker says, We don’t care how you do it up north. Like the local said in the flick Milagro Bean Field Wars, If we were interested in it, chances are we’d be doing it already. Quit trying to save us, quit trying to change us, quit trying to preserve us even. Go home and try to make a culture of your own up if you don’t have a legitimate one to begin with. We’ve got one and we like it fine.

Listening to a local call in radio show the other evening, the difference was stark. Three Yankees and two locals called in on the subject of culture and things to do in the area. The Yankees said there was nothing cultural to do here AT ALL. The locals could name all there was to do, from symphonies to ballets to plays to pickin’ and grinning’, and what’s more, the locals could all play an instrument and tell a story and entertain their damn selves without whining that someone else ought to be entertaining us instead.

And it isn’t that I don’t sympathize with the “no culture” folks. When I was a kid, my mother wanted me to be able to take dance lessons but there was no opportunity for that where I lived. So my mother recruited a dance teacher and for her first year in business, she actually lived at our house and ate her meals with us. She left after some years, but now there are several dance and gymnastic studios there, all of them run by students of hers. Another local woman, originally from Cuba (proving that you do not have to be “from around here” to be local), wanted more cultural opportunities for the area and founded a group that brings in at least one cultural performance a month, from the Folkloric Ballet of Mexico to Broadway plays to symphonies to, well, just anything else. The local library there doubles as an art gallery exhibiting a wide variety of works (and changing all the time).

Doing for yourself has a lot of meanings, and none of them speaks in Yankee whine.

Now, would like some chowchow to go with that bowl of shuckey beans? A wedge of onion? Tea?


Joe Tornatore said...

shuckey beans, another first for me.

the Contrary Goddess said...

they are dried green beans Joe, aka leatherbritches. Except we always called them shuckeys. They are not like green beans at all, more like soup beans, and that is how they are cooked (soaked and pressured). Hearty fare.

madcapmum said...

I don't really understand why Yankees are coming to "improve" you folks. Is that a euphemism for more industrialization?

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear!

American by birth
Southern by the grace of God!

the Contrary Goddess said...

I don't understand yankees either madcap! LOL!

Ok, relatively seriously, there are yankees who come here to "save" us with religious zeal, sometimes with religious motives (many are ironically ex-nuns and priests -- one set of broken vows is evidently not enough for them). These are the most harmful (as missionaries always are), with their conservancies and alliances and coalitions and such. They have often moved here for some other reason and found they like it here and thus they are VERY hard to get rid of, and they are most disrespectful of true locals. They've also learned to make a living off of saving us, usually through government grants which somehow only enrich their own pocketbooks and all of their causes just go by the wayside when the next cause ripe for government grants comes along. And all are failures (because if you succeed, you cannot get a government grant).

And then there are those yankees who came WITH industrialization -- because with every plant or industry that is brought in, they bring with them their own executives so that the yankees are the only ones with the high paying positions -- and these yankees with jobs think already they are our saviors because of their jobs but think we are too ignorant to know we have no culture here and so they want to import something expensive to be seen at. Our kids doing ballet is not good enough. Nevermind the professional companies that do come in, or the state symphony that comes through to enhance the local ones, all that. Nah, according to them, "there's nothing to do." People without lives are often looking for the next thing "to do".

enough rant. I guess. I recognize it is something I can get really hostile about but I am not hostile to, well, people who just don't happen to be from around here, ya know? I'm hostile to the woman I know who makes a profession of "saving" a mountain I grew up on from logging while she buys lumber for her house from GP. She would not care about my mountain but for getting paid and the thrill of doomed protest.

Which is another reason I am so skeptical of all the protestors of anything. They like the thrill instead of actually being effective.

"Let's drive our SUVs to town to stand a half hour "vigil" against the coming war that is for oil." If you catch my sarcasm.

Parrothead said...

While working in ATL for a cellular corporation, I was told "Lose your southern accent and you can move up in this company".

SIL, please make mine a sweet tea!

the Contrary Goddess said...

All RIGHT ph! Good to see you on here! You got your blog??? I'll go see. Think I was too too in this post and comment?

But you know, at our house, the tea comes unsweet and you can put your own honey in it! We do not put sugar in our green beans or corn bread either.

LOVE YOU! Wish you were here for Thanksgiving as we start in earnest to prepare the feast today.

madcapmum said...

Keep in mind I'm very far away and in a different country when I ask this - is there a widespread bias against Southerners in the U.S.? Up here in Alberta, we find you folks pretty delightful.

And who's inviting the northerners in to save you, anyway? There must be some reason they keep coming back! Stop feeding them so well!

the Contrary Goddess said...

gringrin madcap, yes, we're too nice really. That must be it. Actually, we mountain folk have a reputation for both hospitality and standoffishnes at the same time which can be kind of interesting, and I think, particularly confusing to others.

As far as inviting them in, again, I think part of that is missionary zeal (who invited missionaries to any country?). You may be too young to remember when Robert Kennedy "discovered" West Virginia, but a lot of it now stems from that, gonna help out these poor barefoot ignorant mountain people with washers on their porches and naked chil'ren in the yard.

As for bias, nay I say prejudice, yes, I think it is rampant. I don't care so much, but Southerners in general are folks that the whole of the rest of the country can sh*t on, make claims about (usually something about us being racist), and generally disrespect. Even my best friend regularly disrespects locals as ignorants. I forgive her wihtout punctuation

I personally find the many different cultures all over the world to be delightful (mostly). I've really enjoyed the diversity, in geography, in personality, in politics, in values, of the blogosphere. I don't like them all or agree with them but I enjoy them.

If you want to read the one book that I think best explains the culture of this area, try Night Comes to the Cumberland by Harry Caudill. In fact, maybe I'll re-read that after I finish The Good Earth. And the Doll Maker too, I haven't read that in better than a decade and I remember loving her.

Anonymous said...


Contry was to gracious in her comments. It would be closer to say that white southerners are the last group toward which it is PC to be rampantly bigoted toward. At a time when people are calling for such idioticness as making sure there are no Porky Pig pictures in a classroom because it might offend a Muslim, it is OK to be openly offensive to Southerners. Just look a some of the blogs on your link list, to wit: "took a trip to a Southern city to attend a conference on openness and tolerance and the local people I came across there were just ignorant."

The bigorty is impenetrable. I could go on for some time about the e-conversations I've had with people who sojourned here and said they had witnessed clear examples of Southern racism and when it was explained to them that it was their own bias that was at play, the arrogant bigots would say "Nay, I know what they meant!" For example someone will always bring up that they witnessed a Southern man addressing a black man as 'boy'. See, racist. Yet many a time I've pulled up to the pump island at our rural store and when I've gone in, someone my junior by decades has said to the cashier, "Yeah, I'll pull up and get the gas as soon as this boy moves his truck." Yet the bigot will say, "Maybe, but if it's said to a black person, it's meant to be racist."

Well, I could write a book.

The feeling's mutual, by the bye. We like all Southerners of any turn or shade, we like our Mexicans, we like the Aussies and Scotsmen and all manner of others who have come here to stay short or long, we even tolerate the Californians pretty well and Canadians seem to behave nicely, but uppity carpet bagging Yankees .... aagggh!

Eleutheros the Unreconstructed

"Now I'm a good ol rebel
and that's just what I am
For this fair land of freedom
I do not care a damn
I'm glad I fit again' it
I only wish we'd won
And I don't want no pardon
For anything I done."

madcapmum said...

Seem to behave nicely!? I guess so! Nice to a fault, really.