David Lauderdale

Even legislature can't make a mess of the collard green

The humble collard green has been rightfully exalted in South Carolina.

Which leads to the bigger question: Can the smoked pork neck be far behind?

Last week, while you may have been worried because the state Senate couldn't pass a budget, much less fix an unfair tax system, the legislature anointed the collard green the official state vegetable.

It was a move championed by a 9-year-old third-grader with the beautiful double name "Mary Grace." Her family grows collards in the top-producing county (Lexington) in a state that has 2,600 acres covered with collard greens. It's a $6.6 million crop for South Carolina, which ranks second nationally in production of collard greens.

The legislature heard that collards are good for you. But surely there was an asterisk by that statement. That would be collards that are not cooked in South Carolina. By the time we simmer them for 16 days with smoked pork parts, salt, pepper, a dash of vinegar and big splash of hot sauce, our collards are as good for you as fried Twinkies.

But who would quibble with Mary Grace over such details when the collard green has held the Lowcountry together like pluff mud for generations. At one time, every house had a patch of collard greens by the back door. Collard greens sustained us -- unless it was the pot likker they swim in, or the slice of crusty corn bread and red rice to the side. We might have to settle that debate with an autopsy report, but suffice it to say that life in the Lowcountry wasn't worth living without collard greens.

Still, one legislator -- from the Lowcountry, no less -- objected. Rep. Paul Ryan, a Republican from Pawleys Island, said he didn't have anything against collard greens, but he cast a vote against the legislature wasting time ranking vegetables.

Poor thing. You can tell he's a 22-year-old rookie. His brain has not yet turned to mush. Make that grits, our official state gruel.

His colleagues argued the bill didn't consume much of their valuable time, which otherwise could have been spent congratulating winning softball teams and reading resolutions to honor the dead.

But young Ryan tweeted during the House discussion on collards: "For a piece of legislation that does not take much time, we sure are wasting a lot of time on it."

This may be the greatest contribution of the collard green.

At least for its one shining moment in the oily sheen of the Statehouse chambers, the collard green kept our legislature from interfering in our lives. For an instant, it kept them from passing yet another version of the Millionaires' Relief Act, like the one that restricts the rights of the common man for fair redress in civil court when he has been wronged.

Over the years I've learned that the less the legislature does, the better. Long live the collard green.