Would You Care for a Nice Glass of Iced Tea?

Ah, summer in the South. As a Southerner, I can attest to the fact that the heat of summer is reflected in Southern culture. Life moves a little bit slower because, well, it’s too damn hot to get in a hurry. The Southern drawl is an evolutionary developement designed to conserve energy while having a conversation in the heat.
      Sitting on the porch (in the shade) with a nice glass of iced tea is a longstanding tradition harkening back to the days before that wonder of modern living, the air conditioner, was invented. Back then, one could at least enjoy the rare breeze, but this required being outdoors.
      Southerners tend to be friendly, too, waving at passersby and greeting strangers with a smile. It’s easy to spot the transplants by the look of skepticism they offer in return for a well-met greeting from a local. To ease your fears, let me say that, no, we don’t want anything from you other than for you to be nice. And if you can’t be nice, then don’t expect us to offer you a nice glass of iced tea.
      Speaking of iced tea, our new columnist Chark Kinsolving swears by semi-sweet iced tea. I hope our readers will find his anecdotes and wisdom helpful as they navigate the innumerable choices of fast-food fare along the “Gluten Highway.” Some of you might even “rip this page out and stick it in your glove box” — as Chark suggests — in order to have a handy reference when time is of the essence.
      Although I doubt there’ll ever be anything in the way of farm-to-table foodstuffs represented in “Gluten Highway,” I’m encouraged by the trend of locally sourced food being available at area eateries. After all, gardening and farming are staples of Southern life. Those fresh fruit and vegetable stands you see on the side of the road this time of year are nothing new.
      Which brings me to the point: tomatoes. Summer in the South wouldn’t be the same without them. Fresh, homegrown tomato slices on white bread with mayo were the foundation of my youth. It should be mentioned that tomatoes are also the closest Chark gets to eating anything resembling a plant. I once mentioned putting mustard on a hotdog and our friendship almost ended then and there. Ketchup is acceptable. Mustard? Unforgivable!
      If you were to pick an edible plant that most represents our collective Southern conscience, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example than the tomato. Is it a fruit? A vegetable? Both? Maybe it’s a plant with an identity crisis — a fruit that acts like a vegetable, or vice versa? I’ll let you be the judge. Whatever the case, there’s a lot of cognitive dissonance baked into the Southern mental casserole.
      It’s a shame, too.
      Of course, shame — along with guilt and better-than and less-than and fear and whatever — are ingredients in the aforementioned casserole. All mixed together with our best personal qualities. And hold the mustard.
      Which is why I’m always on about community. Community keeps our less civilized tendencies in check through accountability. Community brings out the most noble of our traits by providing opportunities to be of service to others. If we must give in to our innate tribal instincts, better to do so within a diverse community than a narrowly focused online echo chamber.
      This is why a happening like the Tomato Art Fest is important. One doesn’t need some altruistic agenda to participate. All one needs to do is simply show up and be a part of it … and have fun.
      I’ll be there. You’ll probably find me kicked back in the shade on a neighbor’s porch enjoying a nice glass of iced tea.

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