Bryan & Killeen, Texas – Days 3 and 4
For two days now, I’ve been thinking about biscuits and sausage gravy.
It’s not because I’m craving them—they’re pretty easy to come by in these parts if you want them—but because they were my breakfast on the morning I left Natchez, Mississippi.
And then, breakfast done, I drove out onto the highway and immediately began seeing billboards featuring families whose smiling faces fairly shone with virtue and physical health. Below them, the legend: “Eat More Fruits and Vegetables.”
The thin and irreproachable people in the photos did just that, one was apparently to understand.
As part of someone’s public-education campaign—not an entirely misplaced one given that Louisiana is in first place for adult obesity in the United States, and Alabama and Mississippi are in a three-way tie with West Virginia for second—the billboards nonetheless gave pause.
A bewildering amount has been written and said about food as a class marker, but I hope I’m on safe ground if I take as my premise the notion that thoughtful people (I deliberately exclude Gwyneth Paltrow from this category) will accept the proposition that one reason many Americans eat “badly” is because they can’t afford to do otherwise.
Because of that, and you can laugh if you want, I find sausage gravy to be deeply moving (as well as delicious). I don’t know how it was actually invented, but to me, it speaks of a simple reality: not having enough sausage to go around. (Among other things, it reminds me of those nights as a kid when we ate “chipped beef on toast,” a response to the same situation.)
To make sausage gravy, you need flour, milk, salt, and pan drippings from the sausage. A half pound of sausage, or even less, can go a long way. Biscuits, too, cost practically nothing to make: lard, flour, baking powder, salt, a little milk.
To state the obvious: For the money that it costs to make a mess of biscuits and sausage gravy, you can feed a lot more people than you could if you had to give them fresh fruit.
When I think about why that is—about the production and distribution chains that provide things like flour versus oranges or lard instead of tomatoes—it’s sobering. And then it’s just plain depressing.
States like Louisiana, where 36.2% of adults are classified as obese (42.5% of blacks, 31.9% of whites, and 29.9% of Latinos), and Mississippi, where 35.6% of adults are obese (43.2%, 31.5%, 25.4%, respectively, by race), are also among the poorest states in the country (Mississippi is the poorest; Louisiana and Alabama are 49th and 48th).
And they look it — at least from the back roads I’m traveling.
Of course, incomes and the price of groceries aren’t the whole story, and I’m not trying to pretend they are.
But I can’t help but think about the guy who formed an entire political party based on his slogan, “The rent is too damn high!”
Yeah, well. So are the lettuce and the apples.