It was a harsh reality I wasn’t ready to accept. My children had been raised in the “New South” and there was no one to blame but myself. My son looked at the kitchen counter with a mix of intrigue and disgust and asked, “What is it?”
“What do you mean? It’s Velveeta.” I told him, knowing good and well my son was joking. But the thing is, he wasn’t.
Southerners are forever being placed at the top of such lists as the “Most Unhealthy-Overweight-Sickly-Early Dying” people in the country, (Woo! We’re #1, we’re #1!) so there’s a new generation of us who have been attempting to raise our children without (many) fried foods or (much) lard or (too many) creamy soup casseroles. Our children have lower cholesterol, stronger bones and healthier hearts than those who were brought up on traditional Southern fare. But as Granny used to say, “Somethin’ just ain’t right.”
We’ve created little homogenized monsters who don’t know the pleasures of an orange brick of processed cheese-product, especially when plopped into a crock-pot and stirred over low heat with a can of Ro-tell mixed in.
Bacon, grits and biscuits have been replaced by granola, fresh fruit and whole wheat toast. I honestly think that in 21 years of marriage, I’ve only owned one can of Crisco and it lasted for about three years. There is a mason jar of bacon drippings in my refrigerator, but it’s there mostly out of obligatory habit, and doesn’t get filled nor emptied often.
When I do fry foods, like okra, chicken or squash, it’s a rare treat that my family likes. I don’t think I ever had a meal at my Grandmother’s house where there wasn’t something fried, buttered and smothered. There were always at least two kinds of bread on her table; either biscuits, cornbread or just plain sliced white bread stacked on a plate. I’ll make cornbread every now and then, mostly to accompany a pot of (turkey) chili in the winter, but rarely biscuits and never ever white bread.
But not wanting to be the terrible Mom and cut them off from all that is good, I decided to make the best football –watching snack ever invented. I have a friend who lives in Seattle who says it’s difficult to find Velveeta in her stores, let alone anyone who has heard of Velveeta-Ro-Tell dip. She thinks it’s a Southern snack, but I can’t imagine the rest of the country hasn’t caught on yet.
Since I’ve raised my boys in a semi-healthy house, one kid thinks a good snack is a big carrot and the other prefers strawberries, so when I decided to make the Velveeta dip, they looked at me like I was trying to poison them. “What do you do with it?” asked one. “Do you eat it like soup?” the other wanted to know. I put chips in a big bowl and told them to dig-in, then stepped back to watch.
Hallelujah! The angels began to sing. They thought I was some type of culinary muse who had brought cheesiness to a new level. But then something strange happened. After a minute of stuffing their faces, they stopped. “Don’t you want some more?” I asked. “No thanks, it’s really heavy.” Said the oldest. They younger one agreed and said it was really good, but he wanted to know if I had some sliced bell peppers to dip into the cheese instead of chips.
The new face of Southern connoisseurs, have the best of both eras. They can occasionally enjoy the traditional richer dishes, but know to balance it all with newer, slimmed-down fare. And unlike their poor great-grandparents, who only lived to be 89 and 102, my kids will live long and healthy lives.
This story first appeared in my column, Southern with a Gulf Coast accent.