Yesterday, 2020 presidential candidate from South Bend, Indiana Pete Buttigieg and civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton met at the famous Harlem soul food restaurant Sylvia's to talk about race. Buttigieg chose fried chicken, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese. He washed it down with some iced tea. Sharpton, for his part, went with dry toast and hot tea. They both ate a reflection of each other's cultures. Mayor Pete asked the reverend if he should eat the fried chicken with his hands—as opposed to what? Al, ever the gentleman, apparently gave him the go ahead.
Mayor Pete's plate is probably what I would have ordered myself—I wonder who clued him in. The last time my grandmother visited, she made us collard greens and hot water cornbread. I sat by her at the sink as a smoked turkey leg boiled in salted water on the stove; we never used ham. My grandmother expertly de-stemmed the greens we got organic from Whole Foods and let them soak in the sink. The water turned forest green.
She told me the collard greens here are so soft and nothing like the ones that grew outside her house in rural Louisiana that her mother made her pick as a child. Those ones were tough, a weed that needed to be softened and cooked for hours in order to be succulent. I wonder what those greens tasted like to Mayor Pete, if he likes the juice from the greens to soak into everything else on the plate. All I know is that he ate with his suit jacket on. Hot sauce bottle seemingly untouched.