Friday, January 29, 2010

Mississippi Delta Regional Cuisine

The Mississippi Delta is one of the United States' most unique and culturally dense regions. The alluvial plain hugs the mother of rivers, The Mississippi River, and has endured a number of floods by the nutrient-rich river. The worst flood happened in 1927 and some historians have credited the event for accelerating the Great Migration of African-Americans from the rural South to the North. The river was subsequently tamed by the U.S. Corps of Engineers through an aggressive levee system.

Historically, the MS Delta's fertile soil was used to produce cotton with the use of chattel slaves. Years later, the region became ground zero for civil rights abuses with a strong presence of the Klu Klux Klan and the White Citizens Council in the region. The images of racial unrest linger in the nation's collective memory and to this day many outsiders are hesitant to step foot in Mississippi. I would be amiss to say that these concerns are unwarranted. Racism still exists. Actually, Morgan Freeman recently sponsored the first integrated prom in his MS Delta hometown to strong resistance from whites in the community. That's highly problematic but it definitely doesn't represent my experience growing up in North Mississippi. Also, I don't think racism is solely a Mississippi problem. As a person who has lived in 7 states, I can say there are covert and overt forms of racism throughout the country. However, many people are reluctant to talk about race and the Deep South, Mississippi in particular, remains a convenient scapegoat in a stagnant sea of oblivion. I digress. Just come to Mississippi to get a breath of the progressive New South.

Many decades ago, immigrants were brought to the Mississippi Delta to help build the railroads and toil in the fields. These workers came from Mexico, Italy, China, and other places. The workers brought their exotic foods and cultural traditions along with them and slowly made their mark on another aspect of MS Delta culture, the regional cuisine. Today the region is slowly becoming a food mecca of sorts. The Viking Range Corporation (founded by a native Mississippian) has its world headquarters in Greenwood, MS. Martha Foose, winner of the James Beard Award for American Cooking, has set up shop. Then, there's the Alluvian. There's Giardina's. There's Doe's Eat Place. The list goes on. There happens to be a whole lot of down home blues, shade tree jive talk, juke joints, pork, catfish, cornbread, meat and three (meat entree with three side items), and hot tamales.



I could easily see myself in Greenwood. My friend JJB would be quick to call my bluff. Apparently, I have a new dream city every six months... New Orleans, Memphis, Atlanta, Austin, Portland, Chicago, DC. LOL. Yes, this is true! This indecisive traveler is in pursuit of adventure with an open mind, open palate, and open map.

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