- 26 Sep 08, 08:49 AM GMT
I can't get over how much food they serve over here. You can see from my photo that I'm no picky eater. But in most diners I've visited, it's impossible to order anything smaller than my head.
I'm not complaining, however. Where have pinto beans, hash brown casserole and turnip greens been all my life? You might not be rid of me as soon as you thought, Americans. There's no way I'll fit on that plane home.
All my gluttony got me thinking, though. Surely one route to understanding a people's collective soul is through their stomachs?
John T Edge agrees. In particular, he has made it his mission to understand how the South has been shaped by its cuisine as director of the Southern Foodways Alliance - based at the University of Mississippi, where James Meredith fought for equality all those years ago.
I was invited by John, 45, over to his house for a barbecue so he could explain further. Why not, I thought (and besides, it would have been rude to turn him down).
As he laid out plates of fried chicken, devilled eggs, pimento cheese sandwiches and moon pies, he recalled how a black woman was employed to prepare his family's meals during his middle-class childhood in Georgia.
Whatever that said about the legacy of Southern race relations, he argued, it showed him from an early age how black and white could find common ground at the dinner table.
"Food is a big deal down here. This was a place where you couldn't share a lunch counter with folks who looked different without starting a riot," he added.
"But it was also a shared experience. Fried chicken started out as something cooked by blacks, but they brought it into the homes of the whites who employed them.
"That's why it's so important. We find our shared humanity in what we eat."
With an Obama placard on his front lawn, John was confident that a common palate was bringing previously antagonistic groups together.
But for his colleague Melissa Hall, 40 - born in Kentucky, now resident in Mississippi too - Southern cooking had always been intrinsically egalitarian.
"When you eat in the South, you're expected to share," she said.
"The reason they serve so much is that there's such recent folk memories of not having enough."
Why, she asked, were Italian and French peasant dishes imitated by the world's best chefs, while the notion of taking their American equivalents equally seriously seemed strange to many?
It was a good point. And it's true that the influences on Southern cuisine - African, French, Scots-Irish and so on - show how the South has had a more cosmopolitan history than is readily perceived by outsiders.
Also at the barbecue was 40-year-old David Waller, a chef at Taqueria del Sol Atlanta, Georgia, in town to provide catering for tonight's presidential debate.
He specialised in Mexican food - sure to increasingly make its mark on the southern palate if demographic forecasts are correct.
"Mexican and Southern food are actually pretty similar," he said.
"You don't want to waste anything. You use everything you can."
Given the number of Americans who've told me how worried they are about the economy, maybe voters are about to renew their taste for both?
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