Sunday, October 21, 2012

Finally I'm coming out the closet. Yes I eat Chitlins, and I'm Proud!

A few days ago, October 11th, marked "International Coming Out Day", celebrating brave individuals who publicly identify as either Lesbian, Transgendered, Bisexual or Gay.  I'm happy for them.

 I am especially proud of those in the Black community who participated or embraced a friend or loved one who came out. 
Still, too many Down-Low Brothers are spreading the AIDS Virus because of cowardliness, but also due to the Black Community's ramped and childish homophobia. I continue to make amends for my previous acts of stupid homophobia, by aggressively denouncing any homophobic word or actions on the spot.  

But tonight, Im gonna do a little "coming out" of my own. 

I eat Chitterlings. 

Black folk call them chitlins and I'm cooking up a pot ( to be served with grits) as I type this confession. 

"Chitlins" have always had a dual relationship in America, especially Black America,  yet animal innards remain a delicacy world wide, from Asia to Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe. Haggis is the national dish of Scotland, which is innards stuffed with sheep heart, liver and lungs. The finest French restaurants serve tripe, (andouillettes), which is also their name in New Orleans. The name Chitterlings is itself a middle high German word.

 In America, chitlins were relegated to Blacks during chattel slavery, and like the blues, we made something positive of it. Black captives preformed every act of hard labor for white society,  including killing hogs. In the cooler weather around the holidays, the removal and preparations of chitlins became both ritual and a delicacy of the Black captives.  One of the endless horrors of chattel slavery was the miserly food rations provided to the Black captives.   To survive, after toiling from sun up to sun down in the fields, they had to grow their own gardens, fish, and trap wild game, or starve. After killing the hog, they could take only the chitlins. After the rest of the meat was delivered to the white captors, the chitlins were cooked in a large kettle over fire and eaten out doors. The cleaning took hours, so stories were told, along with singing and dancing.

After emancipation, chitlins became problematic. More Blacks were against eating them, especially those who moved north.  Chitlins became a symbol of the humiliations, horrors, and suffering of chattel slavery, and poverty afterwords.  But during the Great Depression, rural white southerners began to eat them. Some openly, enjoying them in groups at barns and gas station garages. The smell haunts houses long after the savories are gone. They even formed clubs, like the Royal Order of Chitlin Eaters of Nashville and The Happy Chitlin Eaters of Raleigh. In some places, they took on names like Southern Oysters.

  Black people,  however continued to use the term pejoratively.  During Jim Crow segregation, Black northern musicians and comics toured "The Chitlin Circuit", which were southern predominantly Black owned clubs and juke joints that generally were little more than shacks in tin can alley communities, that sold rock gut spirits, beer, and soul food, including chitlins. Traveling the Chitlin Circuit was perilous. Most hotels, motels, and restaurants refused service to Blacks. Whites were also particularly hostile to Black outsiders, branding them as part of the civil rights movement. The goal of these artists was to work the Chitlin Circuit long enough to be discovered by some of the bigger clubs in Harlem that had all Black musicians, but were also segregated.   

When I was a kid my Aunt Mert cooked chitlins at her home in the Englewood neighborhood. My mother who grow up at the end of the very same block, joined in the preperation. My Grandfather who loved chitlins still lived there, along with my uncle, who did not.  And all of the Drakes, Aunt Mert, Uncle Mike, their one daughter and three boys, loved my Grandfather who they called Mr. Palmer. But none of them, except my Aunt, ate chitlins so they had to put up with the smell for food they didn't like. They all therefore left the house for the day.

Red bucket white top that required 5 hours of cleaning
In those days, chitlins came mostly uncleaned in a standard white top red buck, took around three hours to cook, and five to clean. They had be cut into pieces and the waste scrubbed off each piece least germs unleash a plethora of sicknesses. I loved being at my aunts house. As a baby, while my mother worked, she use to watch over me along with her youngest son/my cousin Markus, who died all to young before she passed, years ago.

As my Aunt Mert and my Mom cleaned and cooked the chitlins, I would listen to my aunt- who did most of the talking- gossip and reminisces  about "down south". My Aunt would laugh, play music, sing and dance. I remember her crooning to my mother, "Baby I Need Your Loving" by the Four Tops. Mert was a stout and tall women with a marvelous voice who could light up the dance floor, as she did that fall day on the linoleum kitchen floor.

As they cooked I would also walk down the street to explore my Grandfathers, old, dark, junkie, cigar smoke filled, and mysterious house, that my mother, other aunt, and uncles grew up in.  My Grandfather did not like a lot of people including members of his own family, but he loved and doted on me. He always had candy at the ready, although some might be stale, but I never minded. And he loved chitlins

Although I only had them once a year, my father tried hard to stop me from eating chitlins. One year, after a long lecture about how bad they were, he offered me twenty dollars if I never ate them again. I asked If I didn't eat them next year, could I have the twenty dollars?  He said,  I might eat them the year after, so I had to wait till I was twenty-one. I wasn't even thirteen so I refused. When my mother and I left him, she still never made chitlins.

Chitlins are still a stigma. I never admitted liking them, until now. Yet when I graduated from college, I made them. I was dating a women from a Black Muslim background and knew not to ask her to join me. So one Saturday, I brought the red bucket and frankly almost gave up after the first four hours. I knew at that time that my Aunt's preparation of chitlins for us was a labor of love and probably related to her growing up in Alabama.

What I didn't know was, a chitlin revolution had occurred. The red bucket of chitlins are about six bucks. Now machine cleaned chitlins are available for eight dollars, requiring minimal cleaning.  Hand cleaned chitlins sale for  thirteen dollars, requiring no cleaning. The Red Bucket Option has far more chitlins, but for safety and connivence, I go with the hand cleaned. Just to be safe I still go over them twice.

Only My mother knew of my secrete.

In Ralph Ellison's novel, Invisible Man, published in 1952, there is a potent scene about the complexity of chitlins in Black America. After being unfairly dismissed from an all Black southern agricultural college by the haughty but influential school principal Dr. Bledsoe ( modeled after Booker T. Washington),  the novels protagonist, fantasizes about getting revenge by exposing a secrete chitlin passion,

"I saw myself advancing upon Bledsoe . . . and suddenly whipping out a foot or two of chitterlings, raw, uncleaned, and dripping sticky circles on the floor as I shake them in his face, shouting: "Bledsoe, you're a shameless chitterling eater! I accuse you of relishing hog bowels! Ha! And not only do you eat them, you sneak and eat them in private when you think you're unobserved! You're a sneaking chitterling lover!"

My chitlins are ready now, and the grits will take another few minutes. Once again I am now publicly coming out.

 I. Love. Chitlins.
I also love them because eating them connects me to my ancestors   who endured the unspeakable acts of chattel slavery and as a race struggled through it. I am proud to eat what they ate. I am proud that my Aunt Mertha demonstrated her deep love for me and my Grandfather by cooking them when they required eight hours of labor, and included my Mother in this ritual. I am proud that I could feel how deeply my Grandfather, who grew up desperately poor, loved me and was proud that I shared his love for chitlins.

 My Aunt Mert and Grandfalther are no longer in physical form. But by partaking in this ritual, I can feel strongly connected to them. 

I am blessed in this way. 


Anonymous said...

I know you! I saw you drunk dancing! I wanted to join you...but......maybe next time. We are neighbors Mr. Orange

My family is Italian and they did o.k. for themselves. But every Easter before I could remember we went back to our roots. My grandfather would take my father to the market and get a goat head and my grandmother cooked it. It is called Capozelle. My Grandfather and my Father ate the eyes. I'm the oldest so my Father took me to get the goat head and we eat the eyes. My little brother is still grossed out and want touch any of it. He is boring. it's amazing, especially the eyes. Eat your chitlins proudly darling, and let the rest of them have their meatloaf, seeya around and be nice!


Invisible Man said...


Try to be gentle until your facts are conclusive, and if they are, still be gentle. Are you a fan of Board Walk Empire? I believe, Giuseppe "Gyp" Rosetti partook of that same dish and it did look, well, intriguing, but I'm wondering if the eyes actually made that popping sound when removed?

Ohm and thank you for your support. I'm considering cooking up a batch this weekend, in honor of the reelection of our Black President