The buffet menu at the community 4th of July to-do this afternoon in the suburban neighborhood where my husband’s brother and parents live was pulled pork on hamburger buns, hot dogs and burgers, Cole slaw, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, banana pudding, and sweet tea.

There might or might not be fried chicken, or green beans boiled with bacon, but there is ALWAYS sweet tea, always pulled pork and slaw. With limited variation, this is the menu at almost every informal communal function in the Southeast. You can pretty much count on it, and there’s something reassuring about knowing what to expect, knowing what everything is. I’ve visited and lived and toured in most of the rest of the U.S. and, though of course other regions have specialties, their tradition food cultures are not, as far as I’ve ever encountered, so persistent or so ubiquitous.

Why is that?