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Friday, July 13, 2007

More Than Meets The Eye

"When you can do the common things of life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world."
-George Washington Carver

I see that the Redneck Games just happened in Georgia, and along with the customary bobbing for pigs feet, a horseshoe throwing contest using toilet seats, and the grand belly-flop in the mud contest, many a Confederate Battle Flag adorned the bodies and hoopty mobiles of the event participants.

Photo by Flickr user xthylacine

I, along with most people, take it for granted that it's all in good fun – we see it as poor white Southerners poking fun of themselves. The inclusion and widespread display of the battle flag at the event, however, is interesting on many levels, since it is a real and powerful cultural and political symbol. After all, here is the flag that for many Southerners represents "heritage" and "pride", despite meaning the exact opposite for millions of Southern black and white descendants of slaves and Union soldiers/sympathizers.

Here is that heritage, in all of its pride and glory: sunburned, drunk, and face down in a pool of mud. It is perhaps one of the most artistic displays of mass social commentary to occur in the United States on an annual basis – a sort of trailer fabulous Dadaist movement for the Bubbas and Britneys of the finger-lickin' good set; unwitting progenies of Marcel Duchamp all.

Photo on the left by Flickr user xthylacine

To the prim and proper (read: rich) Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy, it is no doubt an embarrassment; Dixie's muddy laundry for all the world (read: Yankees) to point and laugh at. To this end, the landed - and yachted - gentry have taken up the display of the Stars and Bars, as opposed to the battle flag, to distance the trash from the treasures of Southern heritage.

And of course, to many black and white Southerners who find the battle flag and all that it entails to be an ugly reminder of slavery, racism, and the lost cause of the plantation owners, here it is – yet again – broadcast to the world straight from the heart of Dixie. The battle flag of the Confederacy: which is illegal to desecrate as a political statement in the State of Louisiana, but whose "pride and heritage" it purports to symbolize was noticeably absent when poor (and mostly) black refugees of that state were left to die after Hurricane Katrina struck.

To ignore the battle flag and its legacy would be wrong. However, when viewed through the lens of the Redneck Games, the battle flag is transformed and reclaimed into something distinctively unusual and, even more, distinctively Southern. Disassociated for one day from its political and social history, the sun and sweat-soaked flag – clinging to the bodies of "rednecks" (another term for white undesirables) - becomes a symbol of Southern "make-do with what you've been given"; an affirming philosophy that transcends race and class in the South and is the true legacy and pride of all Southern people.

You and I both know that adaptation is a common, but remarkable, human trait, but Southerners have always been so dang good at it – most especially, the poor people of the South.

And that brings us to Boiled Peanuts.

Slavery introduced the peanut to North America and, most importantly, the American South. It was brought with the West African slaves who previously acquired it from the Portuguese who brought it from Brazil. And it was an African American man, George Washington Carver, who popularized the peanut's properties in revitalizing depleted soil where unrotated cotton crops once grew.

Peanut farming, in addition to hog farming and sweet potatoes, was not only instrumental in sustaining the agricultural economy of the South, but it became an important cash crop for former slaves and other poor Southerners who relied on subsistence farming. For these reasons, it has sustained a strong foothold in Southern culture and cuisine, especially in the cotton growing regions of the South.

It was in these regions where I first encountered the famous boiled peanut. Often, it was when my family drove through the coastal plains and lowcountry of the Carolinas from our home in the mountains, on our way to the beach. Boiled peanuts still remind me of white sand, long pines, and suntan lotion – although not necessarily in that combination.

It's good to see that peanuts still provide a living to many people in the area. Granted, selling "p-nuts" from the side of the highway won't be the road to riches, but it sure beats being a wage slave at the local WalMart.

Boiled Peanut stands are certainly a highlight of any trip to the South. It use to be that one only encountered such stands closest to the coast, however that one - being me - has discovered boiled peanuts as far inland as the mountains of north eastern Georgia.

Each vendor has his or her own specialty – which means unfortunately I have seen "BBQ P-Nuts" for sale. On our way to Charleston, on Highway 78 outside of Summerville, we ran across Poppy's P-Nuts stand, ran by a lovely older lady known simply as "Nana" (as in grandma). I could see her little Viking trailer from the distance - a small baby blue dot that, as we got closer and could read the sign, beckoned our stomachs (at least mine anyway) to stop and sample the wares.

Visually, everything about Nana's boiled peanut trailer is everything you could ever want in such an operation: compact (yet spacious), portable, and hella tight with that funky-funky retro look about it.

Nana was even cooler than her trailer and we spoke at length about her, her daughter in Bakersfield, and Southern California in general – which she described as "H – E – double L". I have to disagree with her on that point – SoCal has a lot of beauty and nice people – but she is right in saying that Californians have worse manners. As a resident of this state for the last 14 years, I rarely hear someone say "yes, sir" or "yes, ma'am", and let's not even bring up driving, okay?

Anyway, Nana was dishing out the peanuts while shooting the shit with the locals who'd stop by (and us as well) and by the way, you didn't hear it from me…but have you seen a certain someone's new boyfriend? Girrrrll!

If I lived in the area, I'd stop by Poppy's everyday just to hear what was going on!

Boiled peanuts are such a popular snack food in the South that one can often find a steaming pot of them next to the pickled eggs and "fresh brewed" coffee in most convenience stores and gas stations. However, I prefer to support the smaller stands – it just feels right.

I trust the flavoring more in smaller stands. Despite not really knowing what "K-Jun" flavored is suppose to mean, I trust that Nana's K-Jun boiled peanuts are better than most and hasn't a huge amount of toxic ingredients (perhaps this is where faith overrides better judgment?) I know for sure her ham-flavored boiled peanuts are safe, but I went with the plain, all natural ingredients (salt), regular boiled peanuts – just peanuts, water, and salt.

Boiled peanuts generally are sold by the pound and won't set you back too much ($2.25). They come to you warm and slightly hot and when you peel one open and suck that warm mushy salty peanut out with its juice it's like crawling into a warm bed on a cold night. Umm-umm, I think I've died and gone to heaven!

Adaptation never tasted so good.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have never seen a journal entry in any medium have such a struggle getting around to discussing boiled peanuts. Somewhere I hear "Ole Man River" music comin' through.......I kid. Wonderful writeup of the boiled peanuts....something I never saw when in Tennessee>.....is that because I just wasn't quite far enough South?

8:19 PM  

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