If you don’t usually read the Christian Science Monitor (which is neither particularly Christian or science-based), you may not have seen this piece entitled “Mississippi most obese state: Southern diet or culture on the skids?

Go read it and come back for opining from a born and bred Southerner’s take on the article.

It’s not just the fried chicken, fried okra, fat bac, and green beans cooked in bacon grease, and fried Oreos that are the problem. It’s the fact that people are making entire dinners of ONLY these things. Just because you’re Southern doesn’t mean you need to only eat Southern “traditional” foods, just like Italians aren’t eating pasta with marinara sauce or Parmesan chicken every night.

This leads me straight into the next problem which is that what are considered Southern foods are incredibly extremist, thanks but no thanks in part to the loudmouths like Paula Deen telling us to add a stick of butter to it with it being anything we cook. We all know by now that she should know better each and every time she has to undergo diabetes maintenance like blood sugar testing or taking her pill or whatever her regimine is. Yet she continues to be the squeakiest wheel and people all over the country keep thinking that its a sustainable way of eating as they let their belts loose at the dinner table each night.

The South is a bountiful place for beautiful crops of fresh vegetables and it takes nothing more than a quick sweep through a local farmer’s market to take in the colors and variety of it all. What needs to happen is cooking education. Nutrition classes should happen in elementary school, home economics should happen in middle through high school, mandatory once in each education level, and adult education needs to take place too before we can turn this issue around. Kids will be easy to teach and keep teaching as they are growing up in a culture that’s becoming more aware of health and the effects that food has on our bodies. It’s the adults whose parents drowned every with lard, Crisco, fat bac drippings and all other manners of animal fat, so they continued suit because they didn’t see any reason to change their ways or their preferences.

What will we teach these adults? My idea is to teach them to pick one thing to cook “traditionally” and let the rest be fresh and cleanly cooked. Here’s an example of a typical Southern plate that’ll make you fat and in the hospital bed with a heart attach around age 53: Country fried steak smothered in animal fat rendered gravy, mashed potatoes soaked through in butter, high sodium canned green beans, sweet tea, and a piece of pound cake with whipped cream for dessert. Now let’s clean this plate up, and I am going to choose to retain my mashed potatoes soaked in butter as the Southern star on my plate because I love creamy mashed potatoes like my mom makes. How about a piece of lean herb rubbed  sirloin tip roast, your delicious mashed potatoes with butter, fresh garlic green beans that have been steamed or lightly sauteed, sweet tea cut with half unsweetened tea, and your favorite berries in whipped cream for dessert?

This meal that would sponsor your diabetes and heart attacks can so easily be turned into one that will  nurture your body to work against these chronic diseases with just a little extra thought and not having to deny yourself all of your favorites that really remind you of home here in the South. People just don’t realize the connection between their food and bodies as much as they should. The effects aren’t sudden and build over time, taking away from the cause-and-effect that most people relate to body issues. Others figure that something will kill them anyways so why not enjoy what you can while you can? That statement just makes me want to issue the challenge to go ahead and drive without a seat belt going 100 miles an hour then because that probably won’t kill you the first time either, but it will catch up and get you.

Now on to the other part of Southern obesity which is exercise. I related a lot to the statement on the second page of the article that read

“‘In many parts of the South, if you’re walking by the side of the road, you’re marked as not being able to afford a car – it’s not a virtuous activity,’ says Mr. Edge. ‘While hard work is valorized in the South, purposeful exercise is not valorized in the whole of the South as it is in other regions of the country.'”

I didn’t even realize that I thought this way until it was brought right to my attention like this but if I see people walking on the side of the road- not exercising, just getting somewhere by foot especially outside of the city- I figured that they were poor subconsciously by locking my car doors or looking away in an effort to not have to speak to them. What can I say, growing up in the suburbs pretty much requires a car to get anywhere. The next part of Mr. Edge’s quote about valorized exercise does throw me off a bit- isn’t maintaining your health considered just as productive as cutting the grass? Again, it probably comes down to more education directed at adults who don’t think that they need to worry about exercising for whatever reason. Most NO people don’t want to end up as candidates for being air-lifted out of their home because they are so grossly obese that EMTs can’t handle them.

Southerners, let’s get on track here and show the country that we can make the best food you’ll ever taste and we can enjoy it in moderation too. Let’s show them that we have the knowledge to exercise a few days a week to make up for the fact that we enjoyed a side of the crispiest fried okra this side of the Mason Dixon line last weekend at Sunday dinner. Pick up your biscuit and sop up  that gravy with it, then pick up your bandana and sop up sweat with it after a long and rewarding jog with the dog while watching the sun set over the fields. Show the country, your children who are watching how you live, and yourself that you don’t have to be another fat statistic that don’t know no better.