Please Pass the Peas

In this week's Café Review, we visit Family Discount Food Store, a salvage grocery store in the Fifth Ward with a soul food buffet restaurant in the back. The place will be open New Year's Day, and it serves black-eyed peas and cabbage along with the other traditional New Year's Day food -- chitterlings. You eat black-eyed peas for luck, cabbage for wealth and chitterlings for health, I am told.

The link between green leaves and dollar bills is easy, and eating innards for your innards makes a certain amount of sense too. But the black-eyed peas are harder to trace. Some credit the white people of Vicksburg who ate black-eyed peas for the first time during a Civil War battle.

Others credit African Jews with bringing the tradition to the Southern United States and claim the custom of eating black-eyed peas on the New Year comes from the Babylonian Talmud. Early Jewish immigrants to the U.S. tended to be Sephardic and many of them settled in the South.

But black-eyed peas are most often associated with African-American culture. Black-eyed peas are one of the favorite foods of the river goddess Oshun, the mistress of abundance and passion in the African Yoruba and New World Condomble, Santeria and Voodoo religions. The goddess and her blessings are summoned when her favorite foods are served.

Pick the explanation you like best--and please pass the peas.

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