Our neighbors to the east may have higher fashion and bustling cities. Our western friends may have suntans, surf-boards and the glitter of Hollywood. Even our southern friends have bluegrass and their famous hospitality. Still, the Midwest and particularly, Northeastern Ohio possess an odd sense of regional pride.
Wounded by the longstanding reputation as “The Mistake on the Lake,” Clevelanders quietly wait for the renaissance they don’t expect will ever come. Like a group of strangers stuck on the same elevator, there is nothing to do but sit down, relax, and share some Tic Tacs. Our temporary heroes and champions… Omar Vizquel, the Cleveland Ballet, Halle’s Department Store, Lebron James…make occasional appearances, but their departure is the heartache of an established bachelor who simply goes back to his usual way of things. The disappointment no longer comes as a surprise, but the relationship was lovely while it lasted.
Instead, we take pride in our common idiosyncrasies that establish an alliance of resigned souls. Mostly, these idiosyncrasies revolve around food. Example: I say, “Pop.”
Before I left the Midwest for college in Boston, I never through about my distinct, regional phraseology. Words like “pop,” instead of “soda,” or “sucker,” rather than “lollipop,” were pointed it out to me in gentle mockery, but soon I developed a fierce pride in my hometown vernacular.
The fact that my east coast colleagues did not know what an “Elephant Ear” was, cut me to the quick. They called it, “Fried Dough,” which, in my opinion, is an absurdly ambiguous name that describes everything from donuts to dumplings. In Cleveland, we are more precise. Cleveland food and its identity (both verbally and physically) will link me to my roots forever. Pirogues course through my veins and corn lives in my bones.
No one can take away the character of the local tongue. Our shared appetite may not be gourmet, but nonetheless, it nourishes us and binds us together. While celebrities, politicians and money, come and go, the deeper culture of a place establishes its soul. So, I will drink my pop, go to the Fair to eat my Elephant Ears, and continue creating foods in Midwestern girl fashion. And I shall do so proudly.