10 Food-based Traditions from the American South


Black-eyed Peas and Greens on New Year's Day

One Southern tradition is to eat black-eyed peas and greens on New Year's Day. Supposedly, this meal will bring you luck during the coming year, but nobody's 100 percent sure how the tradition originated.

People of many cultures eat greens for New Year's. Germans eat cabbage. The Danish eat kale. And, in the South, it's collard greens. Some believe leafy greens may have become a New Year's tradition because they were thought to resemble paper money and symbolize wealth for the new year. Meanwhile, black-eyed peas were thought to symbolize coins. Southerners sometimes eat pork with their greens and peas, since pork is a symbol of moving forward -- as pigs do when they forage.

Legend has it that during the American Civil War, a Mississippi town ran out of food while under attack. During the siege, the residents discovered black-eyed peas and credited the food source with saving their lives [source: Salkeld]. In fact, some Southerners believe you should eat one pea for every day of the year. Three hundred sixty-five peas is a lot of peas!

Another explanation for the black-eyed pea tradition relates to writings in the Talmud; Jews were told to eat foods like gourds, black-eyed peas, beets and spinach to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. Jews arrived in the States and settled in Georgia in the 1730s, and the tradition spread to non-Jews around the time of the Civil War [source: Bell].