The Politics of Cornbread

by L. H. O'CONNOR

Guns. You already know the right opinion to have on that topic, right? Well, maybe this is something you’ve not considered before.

Guns are the biggest issue that keep a good portion of country folks voting Republican even when it may be the Democrats who best serve them in the end. Realistically, if this isn’t something that is addressed by urban liberals, things won’t change. If progressives want to hold power for an extended period of time, this is an issue that must eventually be grappled with.

Now, sit down and drink your tea. I’m not trying to change your opinion about guns in your own neighborhood. Or, the NRA. And you can make all the laws you want. But, you need to understand this basic fact:

An urban person thinks a gun is a good way to get mugged. Which they are completely correct in believing.

A rural person thinks a gun is a good way to catch some food if they’re out of work and the kids are hungry. Which they are completely correct in believing.

Now, that’s the simplified version, obviously. But, it needs to be said that most liberals or potential liberals see the same thing very differently than you might.

Feeding one’s family is a primal issue. Guns are about protecting that family, but in this case, from starving. (Or, the unspoken fear passed down in your heritage of starving.) If you have a hard time understanding this perspective, think of people in your family who suffered during the Great Depression and how it effected them (and maybe you) to this day.

Starving gets in your bones. You pass it down to your kids. And, often, their kids. Rural folks who may have always had “enough” still know in their bones that any day, as the old saying goes, the creek can rise.

Now, this very real fear may be covered by macho posturing about guns along the way. Most, though not all, country folks don’t actually want fourteen hundred assault rifles anymore than you do. Admitting you’re afraid one day you may not be able to feed your kids without hunting down their next meal, though, is embarrassing to admit to someone who’s never had that experience.

‘Cause, let’s face it. Folks who produce their own food are stigmatized. It’s only recently since backyard chickens and urban farms are taking off that it’s been seen as actually progressive to toil for your food. Think about it. An urban person with a pitchfork is radical while a country person is not.

I worry that a lot of what coud be our party is driven off by these spoken and unspoken attitudes. And, truthfully, a lot more folks than you assume do have rural backgrounds and it does effect what they believe. When I told her I was writing this piece, a wonderfully progressive friend confided in me about her boyfriend. Even though he has thirty years of progressive credentials on his side, she is scared to tell her other friends that he hunts and fishes.

Because, of course, they just wouldn’t understand.

They’d start testing everything she says about him for some hint of reactionary politics, some sense of him being a traitor to the cause. Because, of course, rednecks just aren’t progressive. But they are. We just call them leftnecks.

Rural America is full of people with a class consciousness and a progressive bent. But, once they pick up that feeding their family (as it is instinctively perceived) is at risk, you’re in trouble.

Really, producing your own food is a class issue in itself. While it helps insulate you from the economy at large, it also takes many more hours than a regular full time job, which many folks work in addition to farming. No matter where you live, some cash is necessary in this world. Even when you produce milk, eggs, meat, fruit and greens for your own table, as well as having your own source of water, the electric company, at the very least would rather not be paid in eggs.

The amount of time spent caring for animals or crops is actually not worth it in many ways, especially financially. So, why do people do it? Why do they stick it out year after year?

Because, honestly, it feels right. When you put milk in your morning coffee and you know the name of the worker (in this case an animal) that produced that milk, you feel differently about it. You appreciate it more. Sure it tastes better, but it’s far more than that. It feels better. Something is very right with the world. And your life.

So, please, hear me on that level.

Even if you hate guns and would never let your kids play with toy ones. Even if you despise factory farming. Don’t mix up those real issues with regular folks who are trying to support their families. These folks I’m speaking of are not the enemy. Hunting and fishing are how more folks make it through each year than you may realize. Take the trophy hunter out of your mind for a moment. He is a very different character than I’m speaking about.

Folks who hunt often count on it feeding them for the next six months. If they can afford a big enough freezer, for the next year. Seen this way, it becomes more apparent that some folks have very real survival (not survivalist) issues attached to guns.

Even if they do not hunt themselves, if they’ve been raised knowing that grandma got through one winter just on squirrel meat and boiled water from the creek alone, they have a heritage of it. They know that a gun may one be the only thing between them and actual starvation.

With all the poverty programs that progressives work so hard to put in place, you might still be wondering why such a food obsessed set of folks still often swings Republican. Well, here’s how it is.

Republicans, as they see it, protect their family’s right to supply their own food. That’s it. If you can understand that, you will have the key to understanding much of what you may find incomprehensible about the voting patterns of rural America.

So, since most folks (no matter where they live) consider politicians to be bozos, it’s basically the bozo who will feed you now, or the bozo who will make sure you can feed yourself later. So, they choose Bozo #2. Because, as you may have figured by now, rural folks are proud of their ability to be self sufficient. So, at it’s basic, all the hullaballoo around guns sometimes just comes down to this: the ability to sustain your family with your own two hands.

So, the next time you start to write someone off because they mention they hunt (or they look like someone who might hunt) consider instead just talking about food with them. You might make a new friend. Or, at the least, find out where to get cammo pants at a discount.

Best Ever Country Style Cornbread

I’m going to let you use whatever recipe you want. Because, I get a feeling you’ll want to sweeten it up which is a no-no in my book. So, you use your batter, but bake it my way. Let’s see how that combination works.

Stick your cast iron skillet (go borrow one from your redneck Republican neighbor if you don’t have one) in the oven with the oil or grease already in it. Go back to the counter and mix your batter however you like. Once the fat is hot enough to make your batter sizzle when it’s dropped in, you’re ready to bake. Proceed as usual.

That sizzle you heard was your cornbread making itself the most delicious crust ever, which is important in a good cornbread. When it’s done, it should just pop right out of the pan. When you return your skillet to your redneck neighbor, be nice, and include some cornbread as a thank-you. He might just decide you’re not as weird as he thought you were.

Will Falk moved to the West Coast from Milwaukee, WI where he was a public defender.

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