We look at the menu, but we both order the buffet. This buffet isn’t like Golden Corral with its vast selection of mediocre food; the heated food island at Lady & Sons carries fewer items cooked to perfection. Workers from the kitchen are constantly replacing empty trays with hot full ones with aromatic food vapors rising from them. All the food represents true Southern cooking: barbecue pork, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, black-eyed peas, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, caramelized sweet potatoes. We want to try everything, but we also want to pace ourselves.
Reilly returns from the buffet with a fully loaded plate. We made a reservation that day before, because Lady & Sons often has long lines. Savannah charms with its old houses and trees dressed in Spanish moss, with branches sprawling toward the sky. The town sits along a river with the same name. We had been observing the sauntering citizens and anxious tourists during our walk to the restaurant. It is nice to sit down, and we are starving.
Everything I try is delicious. Reilly and I go back for a second plate, and we know early on that we’re almost done. The food tastes so good, but we don’t know if our stomachs have any more space. We start to slow down, but we still want to experience all the textures and tastes on our plates.
We have been on vacation for almost a week; we have been indulging for nearly every meal. Our stomachs should have been sufficiently stretched for a good buffet. But I have gotten to the point where I can barely lift my fork, and all I want to do is put my head down on the table or lie on the floor and wait for someone to step on my stomach and make me barf.
At first, I don’t understand why I got so full that quickly, but then it hits me: butter. If you know Paula Deen’s style of cooking, you know that she uses butter in everything. I tasted it in all the food on my plate. Butter makes everything delicious, but it also coats everything. It adds an invisible layer that makes you think you can eat more than your stomach can hold. The next time we eat at a restaurant like Paula Deen’s, I have to remember that food prepared with butter triples the volume of food without butter.
And then there is dessert. I take a tiny taste of the peach cobbler and the banana pudding, and then I’m done. I’m beyond done. I have packed my digestive system to nearly bursting. We take a few pictures outside and shuffle to a nearby square to recuperate and for Reilly to ask John Wesley for forgiveness for eating too much.
Sometime in the weeks after we return from Savannah, we hear news of a lawsuit. Headlines are everywhere. There are sexual harassment charges. There is a deposition with racial slurs. There is vilification and a crumbling empire.
I feel bad for Paula Deen. She built her company from virtually nothing. She’s best known for cooking everything with butter and she was even coming out with her own brand of butter. She’s tackled her diabetes gracefully in the public, and she has all but completely disarmed America with her thick Southern accent, her strong personality, and her delicious food.
It’s a shame that instead of presenting a mighty dynasty before us, she has now reminded us that racism is alive and well in today’s society. It may be that she testified to saying certain things decades ago, and we may argue that because she said those things a long time ago doesn’t mean she’s racist now. And we can’t necessarily know Ms. Deen’s thoughts from moment to moment.
Yet, the instant that people reacted to Paula Deen’s statements or the media’s treatment of her is when the story became bigger than the icon. Racism is bigger than Paula Deen and her apologists.
A few days ago, I read this blog post that uses deposition excerpts to explain how a lot of reactionaries still hold on to a racist mentality. The author makes a good argument for a civil conversation. Like Ms. Deen’s butter-style of cooking, many of her defenders coat current racism in slippery justification that seems more appealing and more palatable. They ingest each dangerous illusion. Their guts fill quickly with these exquisite excuses, but they eat more. And more. Over time they become diabetic, and they lose circulation, then limbs, and ultimately, sight. They don’t see that Paula Deen has become the whipping boy for racism, and they’re going to keep saying and thinking racist thoughts as if it’s not the same.
Or maybe they’ll learn and improve themselves for a change. Maybe they can take an antacid or something and reduce the bloating and the blindness. Let’s hope.