Tropes of the Fat Boy
When I asked Sander Gilman if he would review my book on the culture of New Orleans at the time Ignatius roamed the earth–even though he’s a fictional character, partly–and even though the book is only notes so far, he agreed immediately, saying, “It’s about time we NOLA fatties had a photospread.”
So, giving him the benefit of the doubt about whether he might be including me in his coterie of NOLA fatties, I took a moment to consider other fat New Orleans characters. Including himself isn’t quite right. He may look well fed, but he’s far from fat, and often looks pretty natty. Sander, that is.
The corridor west of New Orleans that goes from Harahan out to where the bayous become swamps is known around here as “Cancer Alley.” In 2002 the death rate from cancer in Louisiana was the second highest in the nation, and a toxicology report released in 2000 showed that seven of the ten largest plants releasing deadly toxins was in Cancer Alley–and this was before the offshore oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010!
Deadly toxins surely contribute to the high cancer mortality rates in Cancer Alley, but the toxins, once in the human body, thrive in a festival of cancer-related conditions created by the Louisiana diet. High fat, high fried, white flour, Mahatma rice, spice, and plenty of butter, bacon, and bean battle with the heartiest constitution in a death march toward cancer, heart disease, and obesity.
They say a girl can’t get married in New Orleans unless she can answer the following three questions right: 1) are you Catholic?, 2) who’s ya momma?, and 3) can you make a roux? And in LaFayette, what is the main topic of conversation at lunch? What you’re going to have for dinner. I’ve already gotten these terms all mixed up, because lunch and dinner are the meals of urban Northerners, dinner and supper are the meals of the South and rural people. But, you get the picture.
Louisiana cookery may be as deadly as the toxins of Cancer Alley, but it is also heaven. When I lived in New Orleans, I took walks around 5 in the afternoon and smelled what everyone was cooking for supper. If the exercise wouldn’t do the trick, smelling what everyone was having for supper made me hungry. I learned to cook Louisiana food just so I could share in some of the strange, wonderful things they have. The restaurants are nonpareil, but the home cooking is what brought me to the stove. The potato salads, jambalayas, red beans and rice, and gumbos turn up at every outdoor gathering as predictably as the ants. And they show the German, Irish, and other Northern European-invluenced diets of the northern Midwest for the heavy, bland, uninspired American cookery they are. The food, perhaps, gets a little better from the source of the Mississippi in Minnesota to its gush in Louisiana, but in South Louisiana it reaches its apotheosis. Now, when I make Louisiana food, a chicken etouffe, stuffed mirliton or eggplant, or maque choux, my Iowa neighborhood smells like the heaven you would ascend to if you died and went to South Louisiana, but without the cancer alley or consequences of the Louisiana diet.
Who are the NOLA fatties in Sander’s constellation, aside from Ignatius? I can think of two notables with rich histories: Paul Prudhomme and Savory Simon, the Hubig Pie Boy. Chocolate, lemon, apple, cherry, pineapple–I’ve heard that one Hubig pie is better than the next, but I have never heard of a savory Hubig pie–a meat pie with beef or chicken, although there are certainly some amazing savory pie fillings in the Louisiana cuisine. I won’t really take up the issue of Hubig’s calling their pie boy “Savory” Simon, other than to make this comment that a savory pie is not sweet. So, right out of the gate, there was something a little “wrong” about Savory Simon. But, for most of the decades since 1922, his obesity was considered no more noteworthy than the imprecision of his name. I suppose the higher ups at the pie company thought something like “Sweet” Simon wouldn’t have been outstanding, like “Savory” Simon is. Anyway, it’s one of those New Orleans eccentricities that natives think is not worth commenting upon. Eventually, Savory Simon’s size became a cause for concern, to the people at Hubig Pies, anyway. After all, even Paul Prudhomme shed pounds.
Hubig pies have been everywhere around New Orleans since 1922, and a very fat Savory Simon has been pictured on the bags until recently. The older Savory Simon was even more obese. In an effort to update its image to appeal to the more health conscious trend even among New Orleanians, Hubig Pies put Savory Simon on a diet, and the relatively svelte figure in yellow at the left now represents the new face of Hubig’s Pies. I don’t even know if Hubig’s got on the bandwagon to abolish transfats from manufactured foods, but the people in charge of promotion at Hubig’s decided the best way to catch up to date was to change Simon, and perhaps the impression that pies could make you fat rather than change the product. Most New Orleanians didn’t like the idea of changing either, and I was just told that they did for a while slim him down, but now the morbidly obese Hubig Pie boy is supposedly back on the pie bags. “You’ll hafta check in the sto to find out,” I was told. And, I intend to do that.
Among the better marketing decisions of the Hubig Pie people was the idea to hire a real life Savory Simon. A friendly, but not-to-be-taken-for-anybody’s fool, real life Savory Simon will appear at your event and bestow pies on you in quantities beyond your imagining. The real life Simon is a little portly, but not so much so that he couldn’t try to beat the effigy of Ernie K Doe’s effigy out the door after a Christmas party ended in a bar across from the U.S. Mint a few years ago. K Doe’s widow, Antoinette, took offense at Savory Simon’s lack of respect toward K Doe’s effigy, and a heated argument ensued, leaving both Savory Simon and Antoinette K Doe with hard feelings. A few minutes later, driving north on Esplanade, I saw K Doe’s entourage rolling the effigy up the street to its home in the Mother-in-Law Lounge. Antoinette was a very devoted wife and K Doe champion.
Like the obese case in literature, I am worn out after my day’s exertions, and will have to write my comments on another trope of the fat boy, Paul Prudhomme, tomorrow.
This is the trimmed down version of the Hubig pie boy. While he may still look more fat than the cultural standard of today, remember that a loss of even ten pounds has a positive impact on one’s blood sugar and blood pressure.