Saturday, May 5, 2012

— In the South, “grease” was the word long before John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John claimed it. We found better uses for it than hair tonic, engine lubes and lyrics for the Bee Gees.

Have you ever heard of people eating “raw green tomatoes?” I didn’t think so.

Southern grandmas scoff at low-fat Pam cooking spray. Southern dads loosen their belts a notch in anticipation of Sunday dinner. Southern babies use country-fried steak to ease teething pain.

We know how to enjoy our food.

Sometimes our propensity to deep fry gets us into trouble. When Paula Deen the Butter Queen announced she had Type 2 diabetes, the rest of the world shouted “Ah-ha!”

And each time the obesity rate rises in Alabama, the state is on nationwide lists ranking how unhealthy we are.

And when our quiet, quaint little town of Athens, Ala., decided to hold an Athens Grease Festival, some news writers couldn’t help pointing out the folly of celebrating such unhealthy foods when one third of our population is obese.

You could almost hear them crying, “Oh, the humanity!”

Not this writer. As some of you know, I have a close, personal relationship with fried foods, which compete for my affections only with chocolate. Yes, my idea of perfect date is me and a fried MoonPie from the Dippin’ Dog.

So if outsiders try to criticize our Grease Festival, I am ready with a quick and profound comeback: “Oh, yeah?”

OK, while it may not sound like it, what I mean is, we have to use our brains. It’s not like chocolate-covered bacon and fried peach pies are everyday foods. We didn’t get fat by eating corn dogs at the fair. We got fat by eating corn dogs every day.

I think the festival is a great idea. On that day, we can unabashedly show our love for all things Southern, as well as all things Greek.

That means we can eat fried macaroni-and-cheese bites while wearing togas, which, if twisted just right, can be very slimming. At least, that’s what I’ve heard.

I know Southerners take enthusiasm for fried foods to extremes – “With God as my witness, I’ll never eat tofu again!” – but we also devise some of the more creative foods to fry.

I’m not talking about fried tarantulas, as in the Cambodian tradition, or Vietnamese fried silk worms. While I give them points for creativity, those foods are lacking in a thing we’ll call “presentation” and overflowing with that seasoning called, “ewwww.”

Vendors at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas take the prize for creative fried foods. There, you can find deep-fried peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwiches inspired by Elvis, and even deep fried Coca-Cola, which is actually fried cola-flavored batter covered in Coke syrup and served in a glass.

And just so you know, Time and Men’s Health magazines both list fried foods as cures for hangovers, so they can’t be all bad.

So as the September festival approaches, I ask that you take the lyrics to “Grease” to heart:

Grease is the word

It’s got gravy

It’s got meaning…

Oh, wait. Maybe I’ve been singing that wrong.

Any-hoo, see you in September!

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