By RAHN ADAMS
MORGANTON, N.C. (Aug. 25, 2019) – No one can tell me there’s anything better to eat than a plate of pinto beans sprinkled with diced onion, a steaming slice of cornbread topped with a thick pat of melting butter, and a large, cold glass of whole milk. Collard greens are optional. No dessert is necessary.
And that’s the God’s honest truth. Right? If you don’t believe me, then you ain’t from around here, and you probably don’t like those crusty little slabs of heaven called fried livermush, either, but that’s OK. Tar Heels from the Piedmont are too polite to push good vittles on folks who don’t know no better.
So what foods feed your soul? (Even though that is a rhetorical question, feel free to post your answer in the comments below.)
To us Southerners, it’s only slightly ironic—partly because those of us who still think of ourselves as Rebels have trouble grasping contradictory words and actions—that a meal of pintos, cornbread, and greens is called a “poor man’s supper.” The other day I even saw pintos and cornbread on the marquee of a local fast-food restaurant.
The Poor Man’s Supper is a popular fundraiser in the South. In our neck of the woods, churches of all faiths, schools for both rich and poor students, and any volunteer fire department worth its weight in pond water regularly sell white Styrofoam take-out boxes of pintos to raise both money and methane levels in the community. Sometimes they even throw in a scoop of banana pudding for good measure.
Beans are dirt cheap. Beans are easy to prepare. And beans are, as the saying goes, good for your heart. A few years ago, Timberley and I built our weight-loss plans around beans and found considerable success by cutting out wheat and red meat, and by adding pintos, white beans, green beans and black-eyed peas in greater helpings for protein. Sometimes a small bowl of beans would be our entire meal.
The home economics teacher at the high school where we taught said that once we got wheat out of our diets, we wouldn’t have to worry so much about the beans causing intestinal gas. And she was right. I’ll spare you the descriptions of my flatulence before and after we became gluten free. But it was bye-bye, Beano.
Those lean meals reminded me of the chuckwagon fare that old Wishbone, the cook on TV’s Rawhide, would fix out on the range for Gil Favor, Rowdy Yates and the other drovers on cattle drives. Back in the early 1960s, when Mom would give us kids Campbell’s Condensed Bean with Bacon Soup for lunch, I added crushed saltines to soak up the liquid, then pretended that it was Wishbone’s mush. I didn’t learn the fart song until later when I was introduced to the joys of eating pintos and white beans.
Whenever I’m waxing philosophical about legumes, I always think of the white beans that the cafeteria ladies at our old high school on the coast used to make every week or two. They were so good—slow-cooked with chunks of pork belly in a huge pot—that the baseball coach, who had grown up in Upstate South Carolina, ate nothing but a large Styrofoam cup of those beans for lunch those days. Later, in the dugout, it was apparent that the coach hadn’t cut wheat out of his diet, but that just added to the fun and competitive atmosphere of the players on the bench who had also eaten lunch in the cafeteria.
But I think we really do need to keep things simple nowadays. When Timberley was a child, her father took her to work at the newspaper office on her birthday one year. Because her dad was a photographer in addition to being an advertising man, her picture appeared regularly in the small-town paper, making her a little sweetheart both in the News Herald’s pages and around the office when she visited.
At the birthday party thrown for her that day, editor Stanley Moore even interviewed her for his column and asked for the secret of her youth. Without hesitation, five-year-old Timberley replied, “I eat young food.” And that was basically the kicker that Mr. Moore used above the headline for his article, which was accompanied by a cute photograph taken by proud father Nat Gilliam: “She Eats Young Foods.”
Young foods are good. Simple foods are better. Smart foods are best.
Since late December, when we caught the flu at our church’s Christmas Eve candlelight service, I’ve lost over 30 pounds. For the first week or so, I just didn’t feel like eating. Then we decided not to eat nights after our evening meal, which we usually have around 6:30 p.m. Also, low carb, low sugar, low salt whenever possible. Predictably, we’ve had the most trouble sticking to the diet away from home.
When this adventure in living and dieting began, I was the heaviest I’d ever been at 270 pounds. This past weekend the bathroom scale said 237 on the nose. Some 42 years ago, I weighed 175 pounds when I went off to college. When I dropped out six weeks later, I was a lean 155, the lowest weight of my adult life. That sounds heavy for a short guy like me, but photos show that I couldn’t have lost much more weight and been healthy.
I’ve always been big-boned, as we fluffy folks like to say. When I played pee-wee football in elementary school, we always weighed in immediately before each game to make sure that we met the division’s weight limits—too light meant being sent down to the mighty-mite division; too heavy meant a “promotion” to the midgets, some of whom carried Buck knives in holsters and were already shaving.
One Saturday, the opposing team’s coach manned the bathroom-type scale just outside the gymnasium. When I stepped up onto the scale, the dial spun, then came to a stuttering stop at the marks just below the upper limit, which I think was 95 pounds. “Holy smokes!” the coach said. “What’s this kid made of?” Like I said, big-boned. I should have been eating less wheat and more beans, even way back then.
Every morning now when I start a new page in my journal, I note my weight that I took just minutes earlier. The journal entries sometimes deal with why I think my weight might be up or down that day. Then I note other “more important” events from the day before. But I’ve started to think—especially whenever I visit my primary healthcare provider every six months—that consuming food, the right or smart foods, is the most important thing that I can do now and might have done every day of my life if I had known how important it was to eat young food. Simple food. Smart food.
For the past week, I’ve focused on food for a couple of reasons, neither of which I wish to trivialize or make light of. First, we viewed the Academy Award-winning movie Gandhi again one night last week. I had forgotten the impact of Gandhi’s hunger strikes on India’s independence from the British Empire. One little brown man wearing a homespun loincloth effected his country’s freedom by refusing to eat. In America, we’re now led by an obese president who promotes the daily consumption of cheeseburgers, fries and super-sized orders of lies.
And last week I was scheduled for an upcoming medical procedure that will soon require me to fast for about two days. A week’s worth of day-to-day instructions on how I should prepare for the procedure arrived today in the mail. It doesn’t look like much fun, even less than the low-carb, low-sugar, low-fun diet we’ve observed all this year. But it’s something I have to do, though it affects only Timberley and me, not a whole country of starving or gluttonous people, in the respective cases of Gandhi and Trump.
Thanks to little Timberley’s words of wisdom, I’ve always known the secret of youth. Now I’m learning that the secret of advancing age also involves the food I eat—what, when and exactly how much. Those are words to live by, I hope. What’s seen as a poor man’s supper by some people will always be a rich man’s feast to me.