Peas and Prejudice

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To try Regina's recipe for a soup made with fresh peas and topped with crabmeat sautéed in butter and sherry, click here.

If you ask many Southerners what their favorite vegetable is, you might be shocked at some of the answers, such as "fried dill pickles" or "rice and gravy." I am certain our confusion in the South about the food pyramid has much to do with the ever popular "blue plate special" that always has a list of "vegetables" to choose two or three from. For years, rice and gravy, red beans and rice, and even fried pickles would be listed along with stewed okra and tomatoes, squash, black eye peas, lima beans, and green beans, all of course flavored with salt pork or bacon.

There are no racial barriers with the ever-popular lunch plate and choices. You can find a lunch with meat and a choice of vegetables all over town, from Dunleith Plantation with white linen tablecloths to Marsaw's lunch counter, which is considered our local soul food café, and, for many happy years, at the lunch counters at department stores in New Orleans. At all of these places the one vegetable we all look for in the spring is garden peas or English peas.

I have spent more than half my life unlearning many things that were imprinted into me at an early age. Not just nutrition, with the acceptance that starches are not considered vegetables in other parts of the world, but a few prejudices that came from being born in Mississippi, some good prejudices about our food and some prejudices that are not so benign. Now, do not get me wrong—Mississippi does not corner the market on prejudices. I have found them in California, Minnesota, and Paris, France. We have all held some kind of prejudice at some time in our lives and sadly, many were passed on to us before we had the ability to form our own beliefs. Somehow we all find a way to constantly improve our views of the people and the world around us.

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Jennifer Ward Barber/freshcrackedpepper.com

When I moved to Alaska from Mississippi, I was less than prepared for the world. My first two years of college, girls were not allowed to wear jeans on campus. As much as I objected to that, today I prefer skirts and dresses. I have to say, and proudly, I would have qualified then as a Southern belle. But living away from home for over 23 years, I have lost my original Southern accent. I was constantly asked to repeat myself, and with time it faded. I also find that because my generation has been exposed to the generic accent on television news, that our Southern accent fades more easily than with my parents' generation. Many of my mother's friends married and moved away during World War II, and no matter how far away they moved, they never lost their accent.

It took living in Alaska after college to open my eyes to how sheltered I had been. It took a while to take the three L's out of the pronunciation of Salmon ... always heard it as "Sallll-mon." Even worse than misconceptions about nutrition or mispronunciations are the more serious prejudices that are passed on at an early age. This is sad but true. At 23 years old I did not even know that the word "spic" was derogatory, and I have no memory of where I heard the word. This was not a word I heard often, maybe one or two times when I was young. I had heard the word used pertaining to people of Spanish descent, and I never knew it was an unkind word, as I never had a friend that was not white or black until I left the South. In the company of a State Senator and other people I admired I used that word about a person as if it were the word "Spanish." All it took was the look of absolute horror on the people's faces around me to remove that word forever from my vocabulary. Words, tastes, and pronunciations are imprinted whether we want them or not, but here's to hoping that more good is imprinted than bad.

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Regina Charboneau is the owner of Twin Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Natchez, Mississippi. She is the author of Regina's Table at Twin Oaks. More

Regina Charboneau is the owner of Twin Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Natchez, Mississippi. She is the author of two cookbooks: A Collection of Seasonal Menus & Recipes from Regina's Kitchen and Regina's Table at Twin Oaks.

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