In my four years as a resident of New Jersey, I've often said that my biggest culture shock has come not in churches, not in the frenetic pace at which people move around here, not in the cost of housing, not in the significant racial and ethnic diversity of the people. No, my biggest culture shock has always happened in the grocery store.
My native Louisiana has a rich history culinary excellence. We like our food rich, spicy, and decadent, and we celebrate it when we achieve those goals. Yes, there are hundreds of festivals in Louisiana - it would be difficult to find a weekend in the year when someone somewhere isn't celebrating something. I've often said that the only reason St. Patrick's Day is celebrated in New Orleans is because they just can't make it through Lent without having a parade to celebrate something. Many of those festivals celebrate food: dishes, ingredients, and occasions for eating them. There's the rice festival, the shrimp festival, the crawfish festival... The list could go on and on. The earliest beginnings of Mardi Gras happened in small towns through the countryside of Louisiana when the men of the towns would dress in costumes and ride on horseback from house to house soliciting ingredients for a big gumbo. One of the favorite things to do was to set a live chicken lose into the yard and make the masked men chase it around. At the end of the day, the town would come together in the church yard to combine all of the ingredients in a giant gumbo that would be shared by everyone in the town.
There were some things that didn't surprise me when I moved north. I knew that I wouldn't be able to buy some of my favorite brands here. I knew I wouldn't find Tony Chachere's (for those of you not immersed in Cajun French pronunciation styles: this one's pronounced SA-SHUHR-EE) - my very favorite Cajun spice blend. I knew that I wouldn't be able to find Community Coffee - the very delicious, almost painfully strong, official state coffee of Louisiana (incidentally, Louisiana is the only state that has an "official state coffee").
But I was surprised in other ways. It was hard to find smoked sausage! I could have all the German and Polish sausages I could stand (though, admittedly, my tolerance for these is rather low), but nothing that would work for gumbo or red beans and rice. I did eventually find one version of andouille sausage in my local grocery store. And it's okay. It's better than nothing. But it is made in California. It's a little tough, and pretty bland. But like I said, it's better than nothing.
I also was surprised that I didn't have a lot of choice in rice. In Louisiana, the rice section of the grocery store offers lots of options. There are different grain types, different brands, etc. In New Jersey, I'm lucky to find two choices. Often, only one!
So the map at the top of this post is another example of this culinary culture shock.
I grew up referring to all "sodas" as "coke". You go into a restaurant, ask for a "coke", and the server replies, "What kind?" You may say Coke, but you also may say Dr. Pepper, or Sprite, or anything else. You may even say Pepsi (though the server would surely find this odd, because no self-respecting Southerner WANTS Pepsi)! But it was all "coke".
I admit, I always thought this was a bit odd, but it was what we did.
So, thanks to my friend Nina for bringing this to my attention. It may not be a particularly deep reflection, but I think it does offer another level of insight into the profound differences between these vastly different worlds that I've now inhabited.