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At least we've got the food

— It's often difficult to find regional variations in the age of mass media.

Having lived in six states - in three very different regions - during the past six years, I have noticed one unshifting regional variation - food.

In New York City, pizza has been perfected by generations of Italians. In rural Mississippi, competitive barbecuing attracts thousands of spectators. On Saturday in Little Toots Park, I had a taste of the West's gift to the culinary word - chili.

The Chuckwagon Chili Challenge, part of the third annual Downtown Hoedown, featured chilies of all types - red, green, firehouse and white. Some were thick and meaty, while others were soupy with a hint of vinegar.

As I walked past each booth, just as I had walked through a barbeque contest in West Point, Miss., or rows of Italian sausage stands during Columbus Day in New York City, I felt obliged to stop and try what each booth had to offer.

At the Routt County CattleWomen's authentic chuck wagon, three cowboy hat-wearing chili cookers laughed as I said, "ya'll." My word choice was about as interesting to them as their chuck wagon was to me.

What makes it confusing is that I say, "ya'll" with a Midwestern accent. My best friend as a kid in Atlanta was from Cleveland.

I might sound like everyone else, but there is that hint of cultural heritage. And as CattleWoman Kate Burns stirred a pot of simmering chili in an iron kettle over hot coals, I saw a hint of her own heritage.

"This is how they made it in the 'Old West,'" Burns boasted.

The devil might be in the details, but so are the things that make us different. Hoedowns and ranching are probably as foreign to me as the Civil War and antebellum homes are to them.

But as MTV has homogenized music to a nationwide top-40 playlist, and regional mobility has normalized dialects to a point where most people sound like they are from Nebraska, I'm glad that food continues to be a celebrated difference.

If the CattleWomen ever visit Cumming, Ga., my stepfather would gladly swap a deep-fried turkey for a pot of tequila chili.

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