I hate to be the bearer of news like t h i s - e s p e c i a l l y when the legislators are in town and looking for ways to distract themselves from having to make real decisions-but Our Beloved Indiana is falling behind at least one other state.
We don't have a state meal.
We have a state bird (cardinal, same as 35 or 40 other states). We have a state rock (limestone-what else?). We have a state tree (tulip), flower (peony) and religion (basketball) ... but no meal. We don't even have a state snack.
Oklahoma has a state meal, and it is a doozy. The menu calls for-tuck in your napkins, please-fried okra, squash, cornbread, barbecue pork, biscuits, sausage gravy, grits, corn, black-eye peas, strawberries, chicken fried steak and pecan pie.
Wow. That's a meal, all right.
What am I saying? That's three meals. Fried stuff, pork stuff, gravy, and pie. It makes me wonder if Oklahoma also has a state disease (clogged arteries), a state medical emergency (heart attack) and a state remark for when you don't know what to say at the funeral home ("He looks so natural, right down to the gravy on his shirt.")
Anyway, I can't believe we're letting those Oklahomasapiens ... Oklahomefolk ... people from Oklahoma get ahead of us on food, something we're obviously fond of, according to the statistics on the increasing avoirdupois of your average Hoosier (myself included).
Then again, it could be because we don't have an Indiana Cuisine as such. What people eat in one part of the state is not always popular in other parts of the state. Brain sandwiches, for instance. They really only eat these down around Evansville, and as far as I can tell, the rest of the state would prefer things staying that way.
Indiana can be divided into three food zones. From Kokomo north, you have the Noodle Belt. Although chicken and noodles (or beef and noodles) shows up everywhere, I believe it is most popular in the northern part of the state. Wherever it is, in this state chicken and noodles must be served on a bed of mashed potatoes, with buttered corn and white bread on the side. It's the Indiana Carb Load.
South of Columbus, grits begin to appear on your breakfast plate. Southern Indiana also used to be the state's leading biscuits-and-gravy region, back when the north was more inclined toward earlymorning mush-and-head-cheese specials. That breakfast seemed to fall out of favor, however, when biscuits and gravy began migrating north. Thank God.
Here in Central Indiana, despite the advances made by creative chefs bringing us all sorts of exciting new taste sensations and experiments, we still draw heavily on a culinary tradition that borrows from several regions, cultures and cooking methods. It's called "The Cafeteria."
So what is Indiana food? If we go on the basis of production, our state food would be duck. We produce more ducks than any other state, according to the 2002 U.S. Agriculture Census. Duck: It's what's for dinner.
Except it isn't. The USDA says Americans consume about a third of a pound of duck per person per year. The evidence, then, is clear: We are duck dodgers.
We really should designate popcorn as the state snack. Indiana is always among the top three or four popcorn producing states. Indiana gave the world Orville Redenbacher. Indiana is home to Popcorn, Indiana. The reasons are overwhelming.
But let us return to the question of the Indiana State Meal. At the risk of matching Oklahoma cholesterol bomb for cholesterol bomb, you would probably have to build it around a fried tenderloin sandwich; fried chicken; chicken and noodles; green bean casserole; "salads" made primarily of mayonnaise, Miracle Whip or gelatin, and sometimes all three; muskmelon (in season); sweet corn (also in season); tomatoes (fresh in season or canned from Red Gold); and sugar cream pie. The sugar cream pie might not be as popular in Southern Indiana as it is in Central and Northern Indiana, however, so we'll throw in some persimmon pudding just to balance things out.
Or maybe not. After all, the Guv himself wants us to lose weight, and you can't do it by eating tenderloins and pie. I've tried. A pie butt like mine proves that what the man said is right: You are what you eat.
But that raises an interesting question:
If you are what you eat ... is there any way we could get a bunch of brain sandwiches shipped to the statehouse?
Redmond is an author, columnist and speaker, and a consultant on business writing and workplace issues. His column appears monthly. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.