Importing the State Meal of Oklahoma
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
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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