In that light, the culinary particulars of the Fried Chicken Belt are becoming increasingly interesting to researchers, some of whom are using the South and its distinctive grub to peer more closely at the relationship between food, weight, and culture by studying a region that continues, thanks to the CDC’s careful waistline monitoring, to bear the brunt of foodie stereotypes and fat jokes.
“I think what we as Southerners take exception to are the stereotypes that don’t reflect the complexity and contradictions of the region, but Southerners are trying to puzzle through the obesity problem, and how to do it in a thoughtful way that does not rely on the fried chicken trope,” says John T. Edge, the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance in Oxford, Miss. “The real paradox is that we’re the region with the most munificent growing season of any, and why is this place that could take such advantage of a vegetable-based diet growing fatter and fatter?”
The University of Mississippi-based food culture research organization, where staff describe themselves as “Citizens of the Banana Pudding Republic” who once constructed a “bacon tree” with pork belly fruit, has launched an investigation into those and other paradoxes of Southern obesity. They’ll publish their findings in an upcoming edition of their magazine, Gravy.
To be sure, local variations in diet may explain only a small part of the national obesity picture. "Certainly the Deep South has many of the highest rates, but it is a national problem,” Dr. Jim McVay, chief of health promotion for Alabama’s Department of Public Health, tells the Associated Press.