15 August 2014

Is Cheese Dip my Food Identity?

I'm back!!!  Sort of.  I don't know how regularly I will be posting, but I am going to try to start posting again at least semi frequently.  I've missed posting, but don't think for even a second that I quit thinking and pondering all things food in my absence.  I just needed a little breather. 

What prompted me to post again is a question that has been nagging at me for a while now and I really haven't come up with any conclusions that I am really happy with, so I decided to bring it to the masses. 

What is my food identity?

I'm from Arkansas.  We're sort of a Southern no-man's land.  We're famous for the Clinton family, hillbilly stereotypes, and cheese dip.  Folks from around here know about more and better things that come from here, but leave Arkansas and those are pretty much the only things from here that people know about.  I'm used to us only getting a passing mention in Southern cookbooks.  There are other more famous Southern food cultures -- New Orleans, Charleston, Atlanta, etc....  There are famous food products from other places in the South -- Kentucky Bourbon, Georgia Peaches, Memphis BBQ... you get the idea.  A couple of weeks ago, though, I got a cookbook from the library about Southern hometown favorites and there is not even a mention of anyone, anything, or any place in the entire state.  It really got under my skin.  We don't even warrant a name drop?  Really?

Then I started watching season 2 of the PBS series "The Mind of a Chef".  You may remember how much I love and adored the first season of the series and my undying love of pretty much anything associated with Anthony Bourdain.  Sean Brock is the focus of the first half of the season and he is travelling around doing an in-depth exploration of Southern food.  Again, Arkansas is completely snubbed.  Now I'm reeling.

The point to all this (and sorry there's no accompanying recipe to my identity crisis), is I am now questioning my food identity as an Arkansan.  Are we just Southern with no real identity of our own?  Have we gone through history picking and choosing what we like from other communities and left ourselves with no real individuality? 

There is a pretty valid argument for pie, but I could argue that pie alone is not an identity.  We can't claim pie as our own.  I'm sure other food cultures might have something to say if we tried that.  There is an even stronger argument to be made for the fried pie.  They are definitely a staple around here.  We might be able to claim them as our own, but can you make an entire identity from a handheld pie?  I'm not sure.  There's also a very strong argument for Chocolate Gravy and Biscuits.  I am not an expert.  I've never had them.  Not even once; but I know lots of folks who grew up with them.  I'm pondering the argument.  The strongest argument of all can be made for cheese dip.  Some folks claim it was invented not too far from where I sit.  We are host to the WORLD Cheese Dip Championship.  We are the world's greatest consumers of both Velveeta and Rotel.  That fact makes me hang my head in shame..... The last argument, although it is the strongest is the one I just can't make myself accept.  I love me some good cheese dip every now and then, but I just can't accept that it is the one dish that defines me.  I just can't.

What do you think?  If you're from the South I would love your opinions.  If you're from elsewhere, what is the dish that identifies you or your culture?  I would love to hear about it.


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