Last Friday, the family and I went out on the town to eat and decided to try a local restaurant. It’s time we do as the Marylanders do. Or something like that. So I chose a restaurant touted for its farm-fresh offerings [read: hipster fare.] The menu looked like something I could roll with. When we arrived, I chose the Southern fried chicken with collard greens and mashed potatoes. Yes, collard greens.
Those collard greens were an utter wasteland of Whiteness.
But let me first tell you how I even came to the trash decision of eating them. I consider myself “from the South” without being exactly…Southern. We’ve hashed out my disdain for peach cobbler and other typically Southern foods already. Still, I’m not completely lost. I was initially suspicious about these so-called “collard greens.” Even though I’m not possessive of sweet tea, I need my fried chicken on point, my collard greens seasoned for the Lawd, my mashed potatoes creamy with a little lump, and somebody’s Black mama to have put her entire well moisturized foot in all of them.
No Black mama was in sight. Instead, there were waiters and waitresses in plaid and denim (the farm theme, remember?) I briefly remembered reading about food gentrification making traditionally Black Southern foods “new.” Collard greens were the new It leafy green on the block. I rationalized, if the restaurant couldn’t get the collard greens right, we would always have the chicken and mashed potatoes. Right?
Let me be real… Normally even the consolation prize of mashed potatoes and chicken couldn’t sell me on the idea of eating collard greens from a non-soul food restaurant. I would have voted nawl completely if not for one thing: ham hocks. Oh, ham hocks, those fatty fat fattening hunks of deliciousness my mama puts in her collard greens, with a side of fatback. Ham hocks are seated at the right hand of the throne of soul food glory. A lightbulb came on in my head.
Oh, these collard greens can’t be THAT bad, if they know enough to put ham hocks in the pot! I can trust these hipster White folks with my collards. How much could they f@#% it up with ham hocks in there?!
My ancestors told me not to do it. Sh!t, my husband told me not to do it. He looked at me skeptically like, “You really gon’ do this?” I really was. I ordered the “Southern Fried Chicken with Collards Greens and Mashed Potatoes” in Potomac, Maryland, with all the confidence of Sherman marching to sea. Nowhere near the South. Or a Black mama.
When the waiter brought out my plate, it only took one glance for me to know these collard greens had been done wrong. The poor things looked sadder than all 400 years of chattel slavery. I say this because even in the midst of centuries of Terrible Whiteness, my ancestors still found the wherewithal to make collard greens delicious. My temerity faltered. I sniffed the air above the little glass bowl and got…nothing. A little earthiness (farm fresh!) and dassit.
I squinted in the dim lighting. The collard greens were not quite the right color. Too pale a green? Too blanched? Something I couldn’t place was off. The sliced leaves were utterly limp, as if the plant’s usual robust starchiness had been wrung out of it. #Husbae was trying to hold in his laughter. I made a face at him.
“I’m still gonna eat these collard greens!”
I swiped at the vegetable with my fork and took a deep breath. I opened my mouth and shoved the utensil in. I wanted to cry. For my Black mama. For your Black mama. For the organic dirt that grew this plant to be drowned by hipsters. For the pig that died to be a decoy and added no taste whatsoever to those leaves. The collard greens were blander than a cup of room-temp tap water. No spice? No peppers? No garlic?!
Harriet Tubman ain’t free us so I could feel this oppressed in 2015 by soulless veggies on a plate.
I reached for the salt, by this time crying enough tears to season the hapless greens, laughing. My husband was bent over in stitches. I hiccuped. More salt. Tasted it again. Oh, God, no. More salt. I looked for the hot sauce. Then I remembered where I was: Up Norf, in a hipster restaurant so far from Black soul food even the collard greens had given up the (holy) ghost. I’m sure I could have asked for some Tabasco, but by then I was afraid of what they considered “hot” sauce. One more shake of salt. Another nibble.
Nothing. Nothing could save them. Just flatlined. Not salt, not hot sauce, not a Black mama, not a Black Friend, not Sounds of Blackness, not even Black Jesus. I thought they couldn’t mess up collard greens (it’s just a vegetable!) but CHALLONJ ACCEPTED! Bite after bite of mediocrity, like so much late night television. I learned my lesson. Along with macaroni and cheese, collard greens will have to go on the list of Things I Only Eat at Black Restaurants. I apologized to my ancestors and prayed my GI tract could absorb oppression of this magnitude.
At least the chicken was crispy?
What’s the worst food you ever tasted that you regretted ordering? Note to #AllWhitePeople: I am sure most of your food is delightful. #AllFoodsMatter