Were it not for the fact that it looked a little weird on the cover, I would’ve insisted that we call this a food issue, not the food issue. Magazines are always putting out what they call “the Food Issue,” and this is precisely what we set out to do six or so months ago. But almost immediately we were confronted with the problem of there being too much Texas food for us to fit into a single issue. Our eyes were bigger than our page count, as it were. Not only did we have to consider the heavies—chicken-fried steak, chili, steak, fried catfish, barbecue, pecan pie, and Tex-Mex (a cuisine that, all on its own, could supply the material for a library)—but we quickly became absorbed by the study of bygone regional curiosities unknown to most contemporary Texans. An entire food issue could be devoted to such things—mayhaw jelly, for instance, a preserve made from the berry of the hawthorn tree, which grows wild in East Texas and used to be prized throughout the Piney Woods for its tarty sweetness.
Then there was another problem, one more philosophical and less specific to Texas and our rich abundance of cuisines: How can any food issue, no matter how comprehensive, claim to be the food issue, when food itself is such an inherently subjective topic? The nutritional value of a dish can be empirically established, but it’s the taste and personal/cultural/historical significance that make it mean so much to us that we go around devoting issues of magazines to it. And good luck finding consensus on taste! The delight of food is that it is a pure experience; we like what we like for one reason—that what we like is, for each of us, an absolute truth. In other words, we could do an entire food issue about whether chicken-fried steak is good or not. And then another. You see the problem? Pretty soon the whole thing devolves into a tiresome and surprisingly metaphysical debate about perception versus reality. There is no last word on food.
So although we have gathered here a great number of stories about and photos of Texas food, let’s be honest (even if the cover can’t)—this is a food issue, not the food issue. It cannot hope to be as definitive as that definite article implies. On the other hand, would you want it to be? Would you want to foreclose on the possibility of there being another Texas Monthly food issue at some future date? I wouldn’t. I’m still looking forward to dealing with the #2 Combo Platter, and the Dairy Queen, and jerky, and fried chicken, and Czech sausage, and the Imperial Sugar Company, and the outsized culinary influence of the relatively small number of German immigrants who came to Texas in the nineteenth century, and grits, and the Southern influence, and Vietnamese food, and the chuck wagon, and so on and so forth. The feast is large. We saved room. We’ll eat again.