Some Thoughts About KKK Cuisine and Stereotypes

Categories: Food Nation

KKKsymbolHP.jpg
A few months ago, photographer Anthony Karen made headlines when he published a series of photographs of Ku Klux Klan members. For nearly eight years, Karen observed and photographed "knights" and their families at home, at work, at play and, indeed, pursuing their supposedly peaceful white pride agenda exercising their first-amendment rights.

The photographs are startling, disturbing and, I believe, important to see, if only because they give us some clue into what may influence and sustain the membership of one of America's most secretive and controversial organizations. Commentators more insightful than I have looked at Karen's collection and written eloquently about the role of poverty politics, regionalism and racism in the continued existence of the Klan.

I looked at the photos and thought about the food in them.

This is not to say that I regarded the photo collection and its subject matter in a flippant manner. I noticed the featured comestibles because I believe that the foods we eat say a lot about us, things that are often surprising.

For example, shots of Klan members' domestic spaces suggest canned soda, specifically Coca-Cola (not diet), is popular, as is beer. But it's not, as one might assume, all Bud Light, Miller and other inexpensive domestic varieties. Newcastle Brown Ale is at least one KKK family's beer of choice. It's also a brew I remember as being semi-regularly stocked in our fridge at home.

Another photograph shows the modest interior of a KKK member's home, the man of the house front and center. My eyes quickly drifted past him to the cheery red gingham tablecloth on the table in the background. The spread of cans suggests a casual gathering, as does the bag of potato chips, which appear to be Lay's Sour Cream & Onion. That's my favorite flavor, by the way.

The most intense scene of consumption can be found in a shot of a cookout. KKK members -- some sitting, others standing -- surround a picnic table littered with condiments (barbecue sauce, mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise), chip bags, utensils and a large empty Tupperware container that once held (I think) tuna salad. It's a rather pedestrian spread, yet one all too familiar to me after a summer of similarly catered barbecues. Perhaps the most salient aspect of the photograph is that the central figure is holding a can of Pepsi Throwback, which is made with real sugar. Sort of a hipster choice, I immediately thought. (Not to say hipsters can't be KKK members and vice versa.) Regardless, an aversion to high fructose corn syrup is clearly not confined to one subset of Americans.

When I wrote at the beginning of this post that "I thought about the food" while looking at Karen's collection, I omitted the word "just" from that sentence because I believe food is rarely "just" food. What self-identified members of different groups eat can be considered a differentiating marker of their "culture." These choices, however, can also suggest certain, sometimes uncomfortable, similarities between them and us. When faced with the overlaps here, inevitable questions arise: Are we then like white supremacists? Or are they, in fact, like us? Did we diverge in spite of our differing social outlooks? What does it mean that certain culinary commonalities transcend politics, socioeconomics and regional identity? And finally, is there really an "us" and a "them" anyway?


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14 comments
Carlitos Way
Carlitos Way

One of the dumbest articles I've ever read. The KKK lives in Murica just like the rest of us, so of course they would eat some of the same things we do. WTF Houston Press?! Seriously reaching on this one.

delrvich
delrvich

Thank you for the look into this group of people. Some of my friends I suspect might have some affiliations or inclinations, but they're always been hospitable to me (and vice versa) - a White Hispanic - and other minorities.  "Do as thou wilt and harm none."

lambmn
lambmn

EOW ... you have seriously reached a new low here.  Jumped the shark. Whatever you want to call it.  Please.  Step away from the keyboard ....

MadMac
MadMac

Respectfully, Ms. O'Leary, I did read the article. I read most everything you publish here and I respect your work immensely. I also think you had a point/purpose/idea that wasn't supported in the article. 

Freud said sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Here, potato chips are just potato chips, not some point of common bond or bridge to understanding. And, yes, there is an "us," and a "them." The fear and hatred behind those distinctions are in fact the root of this so-called culture, not beer and tuna salad.

t2brn2b
t2brn2b

Was there a purpose to this article ?

jsoleary
jsoleary

@lambmn "Jumping the shark" has become a catch-all non-specific criticism waged at any arts media (film, blog, tv show, etc.) that pushes the boundaries of its content profile by including something unusual and unexpected.  

"Whatever you want to call it," you write. No, um, you're the one doing the critique - what do YOU want to call it? I suspect it's that you think my post was a flippant gimmick. I am sorry if I gave that impression as I was hoping it might actually start a vibrant discussion about food stereotypes in America.

Or, at least, a catfight about the merits of Mountain Dew.


FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

@MadMacExactly, what did you expect them to be eating?  I find it odder that you felt it would be different in the first place.  More food battles.  Less of this crap.

jsoleary
jsoleary

@MadMac Thank you for your comments, MadMac, as you know I really appreciate your readership. But I heartily disagree.  I do acknowledge that I perhaps should have articulated my hypothesis further, which is that dichotomies such as us/them are not productive, and indeed, often stifling to understanding those that are different because they presuppose barriers that are ultimately permeable or blurred. Food can be a perfect means of exposing the fallacy of such binaries because consumption is a universal human need and comparing choices across groups can reveal similar personal motivations and life experiences.  That overlap can then be a platform for analyzing and comprehending how and why divergent lifestyles occur. 

I should also note I had a few more sentences that were cut from the post.  Can't specifically remember them but something about "you are what you eat? maybe not, blah blah."

p.s. Freud did enough coke to kill a small horse, as Robin Williams once said. Read more Jung or Lacan.

MadMac
MadMac

Thank you! You perfectly articulated the point I left out. I believe you could've brought this train into the station with another 100 words or so and that's the basis of my critique. I regularly disagree with beau-coup peeps here I just want a complete argument, especially on a point that can be trivialized too easily.

Your point about Freud--aside from being true--is an example of why I disagree with your thesis. While far from infalible, (you need a fancy hat for that) he was thoughtful and paid as little attention to what he put in his body as the rest of us.

MadMac
MadMac

I stand in awe of anyone brave enough to put their work out there for bored peeps--like me--to "evaluate" from the comfort of the day job. That you have excellent ability, a great voice and a cool head in the debate makes me a fanboy and, um, slightly jelly.

jsoleary
jsoleary

@MadMac And thank you again for your kinds words about writing and for your helpful comments. 

jsoleary
jsoleary

@MadMac That's true (re: Freud).  Hah! I ended up sort of contradicting myself  and/or dismissing the assumption I hoped to complicate. 

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