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The Grits Belt is a cultural phenomenon in the eastern half of the United States, where grits are a staple food. While political borders are well-defined, cultural borders like the Grits Belt are more porous and diffuse. Grits are rare in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Midwest, but they become abundant once you enter the Grits Belt. The Southeast is the heart of the Grits Belt, but the border shifts as people travel and preferences change.

The history of grits goes back to the 1630s when European settlers adopted the ground corn porridge from Native American culinary culture in coastal Virginia. The name “grits” quickly evolved from the texture of the dish, and it became a staple in what would become the southeastern United States. High-profile chefs in cities like Nashville, Birmingham, and New Orleans are devoted to elevating the humble grits dish, adding their own twists and innovations to the traditional Southern cuisine.

Erin Byers Murray, author of “Grits: A Cultural and Culinary Journey Through the South” and editor-in-chief of The Local Palate magazine, notes that the border of the Grits Belt moves with time, tastes, and trends. The Grits Belt is not marked on any map, but New Yorkers traveling south will know they have entered it when they find grits on the menu in a country café. Conversely, road-trippers from South Carolina will know they have left the Grits Belt when they find meals served with potatoes instead of grits.

According to a 2014 study by scholars, the Grits Belt is strongest in a relatively small number of coastal localities in the Low Country. The South has a general preference for grits over the rest of the country, but it is mainly the Southeast that has the strongest connection to grits through social media. As people travel and preferences change, the location of the Grits Belt shifts, indicating that it is a continuously evolving culinary and cultural phenomenon.

Despite the cultural divisions within the United States, there are certain foods like grits that serve as unifying factors within specific regions. Grits have a long history in the southeastern part of the country, originating from Native American culinary traditions and European settlers adopting the dish in the 17th century. Today, chefs in cities across the South are exploring innovative ways to reinvent and elevate grits, showcasing the versatility and deep-rooted cultural significance of this beloved Southern staple. Whether you are a lifelong fan of grits or have never tried them before, the Grits Belt offers a rich culinary experience that highlights the unique flavors and traditions of the American South.

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