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Importing the State Meal of Oklahoma

—Wylie Harris

This article is excerpted from Chapter Eight of Closer to Home: Healthy Food, Farms and Families in Oklahoma. Almost two years in the making, this groundbreaking report features extensive research and original analysis of Oklahoma's food system from field to table.

 

Most Oklahoma schoolchildren can probably name the state song ("Oklahoma!"), the state animal (bison), and perhaps even the state tree (redbud).

On the other hand, it probably takes either a true Sooner patriot or trivia buff to know that Oklahoma has an official reptile, soil, and crystal — much less what they are (collared lizard, Port Silt Loam, and hourglass selenite, respectively).

Even if you could make a perfect score on that quiz, did you know that Oklahoma also has a state meal? Could you name its ingredients? And — trickiest of all — could you find Oklahoma-grown versions of them all?

In 1988, Oklahoma's state legislature gave legal status to the state's official meal. Its menu includes fried okra, squash, cornbread, barbecue pork, biscuits, sausage and gravy, grits, corn, strawberries, chicken fried steak, pecan pie, and black-eyed peas.

Sure enough, Oklahoma grows or raises every item in that eye- and button-popping spread. The question is, does it grow enough of them to feed the official state meal to each and every Oklahoman?

In the meat department, the answer is a qualified "yes." Oklahoma raises several times more cattle and hogs than its residents eat — and in the case of hogs (as well as chickens), those numbers have been increasing rapidly of late.

However, Oklahoma doesn't turn enough of those animals into meat to meet its own consumers' demand. Instead, it has to send live animals out of state and bring processed cuts back in.

The situation is much the same for grains. Oklahoma is a major producer of corn and wheat, but again, though it grows more of those raw materials than Oklahomans eat, by and large it relies on out-of-state processors to mill them into enough flour and meal for biscuits, grits, and cornbread.

Even so, Oklahoma only grows half the sweet corn needed to match what its residents eat in a year, and more often than not, the same holds true for the other fresh fruits and vegetables on the state meal's menu.

Oklahoma does grow many more pecans than its people eat, and also exports surpluses of okra and black-eyed peas. But Oklahoma has to import over 75% of its squash, and more than 90% of its strawberries, from other states or countries.

The legislature meant the official state meal to reflect Oklahoma's "cultural backgrounds and the state's historical and contemporary agriculture," a laudable goal. But, having enlightened Oklahomans as to their culturally and historically appropriate food items, perhaps it is time to redouble support for Oklahoma farmers and processors and make the official meal a truly "made in Oklahoma" affair.

 

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