I've mentioned in a few recent posts that it can be hard to define the exact differences between country cooking and soul food. After a visit to Plate Lunch in Bartlett last week I've decided that seasoning is definitely one of the deciding factors.
Plate Lunch is a spartan little lunchtime-only take-out and catering place on Kirby Whitten just north of Stage. I'd heard good things about it and since I was picking up lunch for me and my dad last Tuesday I stopped in to grab a couple of to-go orders. Like most meat-and-veggie lunch places, the offerings change on a daily basis. The restaurant does have a couple of tables in its small front area but it is obvious that most of the business comes from carry-out orders.
I phoned my dad to tell him what the specials for the day were. He decided to go with baked chicken and wild rice with black-eyed peas and yams. I got the hamburger steak with turnip greens and black-eyed peas. All the lunch meals are only $7.75 and the portions are huge.
None of the food was bad but it was as bland as Bartlett itself. Even hitting everything with salt, pepper and hot pepper vinegar sauce didn't bring it up to the seasoning standards I've come to expect from eating at traditional black-owned and operated soul food places around Memphis. I grew up near Bartlett and it reminded me of the kind of Southern cooking my mom would do as I was growing up. That isn't to insult my mom's food or Plate Lunch. But older generations of white people in the South weren't known for having adventurous palates.
When I refer to food as "bland as Bartlett itself" I'm speaking from experience.
While carrying my order of food out to my parents' place I noticed plenty of "Yes! Bartlett schools" signs in peoples' yards. I spent the majority of my high school years attending Bolton. A large portion of the student body at Bolton comes from Bartlett, and I also had a lot of friends who went to Bartlett High School.
All of the suburban municipalities around Memphis are currently pushing for their own municipal school systems after the Memphis City Schools surrendered its charter in response to the county's attempt to create a special school district outside the city. The municipal schools are most likely going to happen and it will probably be for the best for the Mid-south. Otherwise plenty of county residents would flee further into the outlying suburbs without waiting to see what a consolidated school system would look like. That would further aggravate the current sprawl problem that is already driving up government and personal debt levels throughout the Mid-south. And it would all be blamed on the City of Memphis.
Also, any problems that occurred at suburban schools after a merger would be blamed on Memphis. Like I said, I grew up near Bartlett and spent a lot of my teenage years in Bartlett. At the time, Bartlett High School was well-known for drug use, teen pregnancy and the number of students who dropped out of school. Trust me, there wasn't much else to do with your free time around there so I spent a lot of my free time in high school doing drugs and having premarital sex in Bartlett. My parents were largely oblivious, since I held a job the entire time and graduated with a good enough GPA and ACT score for a good scholarship to college and enough Advanced Placement credits to start college as a sophomore. And I was smart enough to use the kind of birth control that advocates of abstinence-only education are opposed to telling kids about to insure that none of my plans for the future were derailed by any pregnancies. Plenty of friends were less careful and ended up dropping out of school with babies and/or addictions to feed.
Parents can have an incredible sense of denial when it comes to the things their kids are involved in as long as nothing forces them to acknowledge it. Problems that suburban kids get into tend to be hushed up. It even carries on into adulthood. As a young adult, a kid from a "good family" with money tends to get out of trouble fairly easily since "they're a good kid and don't need this mistake to haunt them," as opposed to kids from families with fewer resources who tend to be condemned as " a thug who is just going to get in more trouble if he isn't locked up."
It wasn't just Bartlett when I was growing up. Kids at Bolton, Houston, Germantown, Millington and Collierville High Schools, as well as all the area private schools, were just as busy drinking, getting high and having sex. But put those kids in a school system with kids from Memphis, even if they never attend the same schools, and every problem with every bored, hard-headed suburban kid will get blamed on Memphis influence. It would also cause people to suddenly pay attention to the county's current heavy level of debt and act like it happened as a result of school consolidation.
Memphis has already damaged itself enough with foolishly trying to annex its way out of the problems caused by suburban sprawl. All that has done is drive up the city's financial obligations while turning it into a scapegoat for the blight that inevitably follows unchecked sprawl. A consolidated school system would just give people something else to point a finger at while continuing to promote a wasteful and unsustainable pattern of development. The section of Goodman Road around I-55 in Southaven and Horn Lake in DeSoto County, MS, is already so poorly planned and hideously overdeveloped that it will look like a set piece from the movie Judgement Night within a few decades. The last thing we need to do is continue trashing our surrounding areas. If the municipal school systems help convince people to stay in place, instead of continuing to abandon neighborhoods and spread out in a manner that eventually drives up the tax burden and cost of living for everyone, then I support them.