Southern Fried Myth

Southern foodSouthern food: comfort, soul, and…grease.

Southern cuisine is famous for being both delicious and, well, fried. From ATL to Austin, BBQ competitions are hot, fried chicken is like mother’s milk, and the deep-fried Coke pours shamelessly in all its trans fatty glory (and this at a time when other regions are making trans fat illegal). Southern states have the highest rates of obesity, and Mobile isn’t exactly known for its sushi. To be blunt, Southern food takes the cake – and pours extra chocolate sauce all over it.

Southern food

But are we giving southern foods a fair shake? Aren’t we being a little hard on the South? After all, New York is known for its hot dogs and Chicago its deep-dish pizza, and Detroit’s not winning any nutritional awards (they don’t even have real grocery stores). Is a regional food war of words (and diet books) just an Oprah episode away?

Enter the South Eats Diet (Sonoma and the Hamptons will be sooo jealous). The South Eats Diet focuses on loads of fresh veggies – and we’re not talking french fries or breaded okra. Spice and flavor are the key ingredients, along with fish, shrimp and other Cajun and Caribbean influences. The South Eats Diet does encourage the consumption of whole grains and legumes, but I think we can agree that’s a big step up from grits and Southern iced tea! Proponents say that many traditionally southern foods – seafood, okra, sturdy greens, sweet potatoes and peppers – are very nutritious and waistline-friendly. We happen to agree. What are your thoughts?

Further Reading:

A Smart Carb Pyramid

What Mark Eats in a Day

Our Trip to the Middle Aisles of the Grocery Store

What Does 4,000 Calories a Day Look Like?

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18 thoughts on “Southern Fried Myth”

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  1. I think the south gets a bad rap because they celebrate the fact that their foods are in large part (no pun intended) unhealthy. In celebrating a disrespect for your own health, it became somehow anathema to care in many ways. I think that this sort of thinking is to often reflected in other areas as well. With all the disinformation about the global warming fact, it became cool to shrug it off as that crazy hippies imagination or some darn thing. Unfortunately it is not, and neither is southern obesity.

  2. I don’t know if it is a fat and happy thing. However
    I think it is apart of southern tradition, or “challenge” to eat as much as you can. In other words they are a product of their environment. It may be more tradition than anything.

  3. Hmm, coming off a week in North Carolina (albeit on the outer banks, not inland) I ate plenty of fresh, unfried seafood. NC BBQ is vinegar based and I don’t believe it to be particularly unhealthy.

    I guess I feel I don’t want BBQ to be a bad word.

    However, I did notice that further inland the cut of jeans was quite a bit different than what I’m used to seeing the SF Bay Area. I did notice that there doesn’t seem to be much to do than go to church or eat. Could that be part of the problem? Boredom leads to excessive eating? Do we see more healthy bodies in big, liberal cities because of cultural difference, or because people are more motivated and less bored?

  4. Jeff,
    Excellent point friend. I do think that boredom is a major catalyst to obesity. It seems to be a compounding problem also. I think television is a major source of laziness feeding a habit. Just like how professional drivers tend to smoke cigarettes. It is simply a tool to be used to pass the time

  5. Terry, whoa, this is what’s wrong with the world. Assuming that southern people are generally bored, and thus fat, is a broad, gross generalization. It’s a stereotype. Assigning arbitrary reasons to why people are the way they are is the beginning of prejudice.

    People eat to pass the time, but they also eat to celebrate, they eat when they get together as a community, and they do take pride in the quality of food, not just the quantity.

  6. Mort:
    Scathing as this underdeveloped argument is, I shall try to deconstruct your thoughts like a Dr. of nuclear magic would piece together a clothes pin to a hanger. You act as if you have just uncovered a major cabal the likes that which this world or any other world for that matter has ever seen. I am not generalizing, but going off of the personal experiences, I am sure you have had very few in your narrow existence. In new addition, I was also giving one example of the many things that factor into obesity.

  7. Food is a religion here, but like the rest of the country, doubling and tripling portion sizes has hurt the South too. I know my mother and I argue about it. All she can say is “that’s not enough food to live on” and won’t even try to cut back.

    Though around here in Louisiana, foods are typically fried in peanut oil, and the health-conscious will go with canola. When New York started banning restaurant trans fats, the local spin out of New Orleans is the restaurants there never switched to trans fats cooking.

    I was a disappointed it was only an article. I was hoping for a cookbook to buy or blog to follow with more than three recipes. There are traditional dishes I’d like to see with a healthy spin, but I have no talent for improvising in the kitchen.

  8. KLC, great idea – let’s start a healthy Southern recipes meme in the forum. Going to do that now…

  9. As you can tell by my name–I’m a southern gal—yeah we do have a lot of obesity—yeah we do love our food—there’s food for everything—here in the south it is called hospitality—we care about our friends and neighbors—-we socialize—with alot of food—
    I resent sterotypes of any sort—we are not bored—there are plenty of things to do—we have our cultural things, theater, symphony, and the sorts. We also have some of the best places to get fresh foods—farmers markets are in abundance as well as many u-pick farms
    BBQ in itself is a fabulous healthy way to cook—nothing like good slow roasted meats—yes many of the sauces are loaded with sugar—but the meat stands alone for flavor—if you have to drown it in sauce then it ain’t that good to begin with
    yeah fried chicken is a tradition—but the old time cooks use LARD—no trans fats there—if I had stuck with the way my sweet grandmother taught me to cook–lots of veggies cooked with ham hocks or fat back(salt pork) I would not have gained copious amounts of weight—it was all the pasta, potatoes and rice that did me in
    I’ll stick with my southern foods—the REAL southern food that is naturally high fat and low carb—and leave the “American” diet alone
    By the way my grandmother lived to be 107 and was totally independent until she was 102—so how’s that for health

  10. Those fried dishes are definitely on the list of unhealthy foods. I alway wonder why most delicious foods have to be unhealthy, while the healthy ones are just taste normal.

  11. In 1976 Al Copeland opened up his first Popeyes Fried Chicken in Baton Rouge, La.
    Years ago my deceased uncle owned 5 popeyes in Phoenix/Mesa Arizona area. Did you know that Popeyes DOES in fact list Nutritional Info. on their website, yes, they do. But, did you know that they have 4 food items that get Weight Watcher Points. Chicken Sausage Jambalaya-6 points. Crawfish Etouffee-4 points Red Beans And Rice-8 Points. Cajun Rice-4 Points. The only thing i’m getting at is this,for a fast food southern “cajun” restaurant over the years they’ve added not so greasy items. This is an impovement. Al Copeland is famous at Christmastime at his home in Metairie, La.(suburb of New Orleans) for his 2 million bulb display of Christmas Lights in his yard and all over his home. I’ve seen it many times, it’s so breathtaking no one minds sitting in backed up slow moving traffic just to see it!

  12. I think those foods from South Eats Diet are great and a healthy selection. It’s far better than those delicious and unhealthy foods they are well know of.

  13. I have always wondered why southern food involved anything deep fried and less health conscious…
    It is definitely possible to eat comforting, delicious food, without requiring it to be deep fried first.

  14. It’s funny how the South gets even fatter as Yankees decide they’ve had enough of Florida and Yankee-land. Trust me, the greedy Yankee New Carpetbagger is alive and fat in the South too these days.

    Mark, Southern foods aren’t as unhealthy as those primarily educated by Food Network and such think.
    For instance, take properly done NC pork bbq. It isn’t so bad.

    I grew up at the true Southern table myself. Not at the “commercialized” ones like KFC, Cracker Barrel, etc. No one in my immediate family is overweight. My Southern parents exercised and still do as grandparents. Come to think of it, the only overweight individual in my extended family is a fellow native of Ohio who married into the family. And my mother-in-law from the Midwest is definitely over-the-line when it comes to weight.

    Growing up, we ate tons of fresh produce straight from our gardens. My generation has no clue on how to make this produce as palatable as your old fashioned Southern cook who didn’t just rely solely on grease. I don’t hear Yankee kids wax poetic about their moms’ collards. . .

    My parents taught us to eat well-balanced meals: a meat and some vegetables/fruit and a grain. If we went out to eat, we were taken to meat-and-threes (where things were made fresh and from scratch) or cafeterias (a dining phenomenom possibly born in the South?) instead of the fast food joint.

    Hmm, maybe Southerners are more obese because our food is so good? Haha.

    The other thing generations of Southern Americans taught their kids was to work hard. To provide a good service. To lend a helping hand to your neighbor and those in need. AND contrary to Yankee behaviour – we were taught: DON’T EXPECT SOMETHING FOR NOTHING. (Yankees always seem to be trying to cheat or trick others into something.)

    I’m going to take a turn here.

    I’m personally sick of and offended by people from other regions of the country offering “constructive criticism” to the South. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why they would leave their perches up in Yankeeland and other regions to come build their McMansions down here when they look down their snobby noses at us. . . they think we’re stupid and that they are smarter than us, they think we have more disease, they think they’re skinnier and healthier and more athletic, they think we can’t drive in the snow, they are charmed by our kindnesses but think it’s a sign of idiocy with a doormat that says “walk all over me”, they don’t like our school systems, they think they’re more sophisticated, they call all of our rural folk “rednecks” (there are Yankee Rednecks too – just look at New Jersey), etc. But our taxes are lower and they can get a bigger house down here while their children “SHINE” in the schools because our ‘native children are so stupid, lazy and fat’, right?

    Or do they actually come down here because they want what we have so badly? They’re just jealous of all that we have after years of rudeness to one another up there is wearing them down.

    If our education down here is so bad, why then do they insist on sending their kids to our universities like Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill? Why are they tearing down our mountains to build their retirement homes?

    To Yankees who think they know everything: keep your unions, your food, your academically gifted little brats, and your snobbery up yonder (and trapped down in Florida). We’ve been too nice to you for too long.

    Way back to the Revolutionary War, even George Washington thought Yankee soldiers dirty and unhealthy. I don’t see how Yankee Pride is built on that.

    Bottomline: If you haven’t grown up with Southern food and culture, you are grossly misinformed. It’s kind of like racism. You make lots of assumptions based on your foodie viewing of Food Network, Martha Stewart and Fine Living.

    (By the way, spending a few years in the South getting your college degree at Duke or Carolina doesn’t make you knowledgeable of the South.)

    How come you can’t make comments about a black person liking chitlins and such, but you can make rude stereotypical comments about Southerners and deep fried foods?

  15. the thing is, most of these people live until their 70’s and 80’s. who wants to live to 112 when you’re eating soy sh*t and tasteless vegetables? i’d rather give up 15 yrs and enjoy my food.