Anyone who’s ever been to the Deep South knows food is a huge part of the culture and what sets it apart from the rest of the United States. There are things found here that you only see on bizarre food TV shows (hello, alligator), but other favorites like mac and cheese are staples across the country.
In Want, seventeen-year-old Julianne is a piano prodigy in Mobile, Alabama, which is located on Mobile Bay near the Gulf of Mexico. Although it’s about as Deep South as you can get, it has more in common with other nearby coastal cities like New Orleans and Pensacola, Florida. There’s a ton of seafood, especially shrimp and oysters, despite the recent catastrophic oil spill.
The first reference to food happens while Juli and her college-age brother R.J. are having dinner with their uber-weight-conscious mother. R.J. loves to tease Juli, so she responds by throwing a Brussels sprout at him. Several weeks later after Juli and R.J. have had a heart-to-heart, they enter the kitchen just as their mother pulls a lasagna out of the oven. Sad thing is, only R.J. will get to really enjoy it.
We never see Juli’s mother eat much more than a crouton or two, but then things begin to heat up. Juli catches a ride home with her twenty-seven-year-old piano instructor after his performance with the Mobile Symphony. He’s still riding a performance high, so he suggests they stop for ice cream. He licks his way through three scoops of buttered pecan ice cream, but Juli sticks with a milkshake because licking a cone in front of him seems a bit too … intimate. *wink*
Juli’s mother has passed on her unhealthy eating practices, so Juli often goes stretches without eating anything substantial. Enter Dave—Isaac’s friend from college and all-around good guy. He invites Juli to a bonfire on the beach and makes sure she eats her fill: hot dogs, baked beans and corn on the cob, universal picnic food. He also supervises while she tries her first beer.
Juli’s father makes her favorite—fried green tomatoes, which are bar far my favorite Southern food, too, especially when topped with crawfish sauce. Later he takes her to a local Creole place known for its gumbo, a kind of seafood stew that also has the holy trinity of Creole cuisine: celery, onion and bell peppers. Simmered at least three hours, it’s usually served over white rice.
After Juli falls ill, her father makes her other favorite meal, grilled cheese and tomato soup. I don’t know of any better comfort food!
A journey out of the Deep South gives Juli her first taste of more ethnic cuisine. She orders ghormeh sazbi with basmati rice. It’s an herb stew with greens and beans, both of which are also common in the South, though the seasonings are very different. It also contains beef or lamb. Her companion orders sea bass with saffron.
As the major crisis of the book unfolds, the cuisine accordingly takes a major hit: take-out, donuts, and finally, hospital-grade Jell-O. Ew. But at least Juli gets to see her mother getting better:
The first thing I notice is how normal she looks. Her face is fuller, her hair is thicker and there aren’t any bruises or scrapes on her knuckles. When she says hello, her breath isn’t putrid. Her eyes tear up, and I look away.
Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Stephanie!
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