The United States continues to be a house divided. The so-called Grits Belt lays it bare. 

Political borders are well-defined, the line on the map matching the “welcome to” sign on the road. 

On the other hand, cultural borders are undefined and unmarked — yet their existence is undeniable. The Grits Belt, largely a phenomenon in the eastern half of the country, is a perfect example. 

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It does not appear on a map, AAA guide or smartphone app. Yet it’s as obvious as the delicious joy that comes with eating the creamy ground corn drenched in butter and love. 

“The Grits Belt is a real geographic phenomenon,” Matthew Zook, a professor of geography at the University of Kentucky, told Fox News Digital. 

“But like all cultures, it has porous and diffuse borders.”

The Grits Belt separates an America in which grits are at best a novelty from an America in which grits are gloriously abundant.

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Grits are rare in New England, the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest. 

But during a drive south, New Yorkers will, without notice, enter the Grits Belt. 

They will know only when they pull over at the country café and find grits on the menu with their sunny sides, shrimp or fried chicken.  

The Grits Belt in a map

Road-trippers from South Carolina, conversely, will at some undetermined point leave the Grits Belt. 

They will know only when they look at a menu and find that meals come with some sort of potatoes: home fries with their eggs, French fries with fried fish, mashed potatoes with chicken dinner.

“A relatively small number of coastal localities in the Low Country … have the strongest connection to grits.”

Zook and other scholars mapped the Grits Belt in 2014 on the website floatingsheep.org, by surveying geotagged posts on X (formerly known as Twitter). 

“The South in general demonstrates a general preference for grits over the rest of the country,” they wrote. 

Grits with beef

But, they noted, it “is actually a relatively small number of coastal localities in the Low Country that have the strongest connection to grits through social media.”

The Southeast is the heart of the Grits Belt, said Zook. 

But “it shifts as people travel and preferences change.”

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Erin Byers Murray of Nashville, Tennessee is the author of “Grits: A Cultural and Culinary Journey Through the South” and editor-in-chief of The Local Palate, a South Carolina magazine devoted to Southern food culture.

“I don’t know where the line is, but I think it’s pretty firmly in Virginia,” she said, while agreeing that the border of the Grits Belt moves with time, tastes and trends.

Chef Frank Stitt

She is far more certain about the history of grits — and its gritty name. 

Corn is native to the Western Hemisphere and its ground, softened form was a staple of the Native American diet. 

European settlers arriving in coastal Virginia in the 1630s, she notes, adopted it from indigenous culinary culture. The texture of the corn porridge was similar to the grist mashed from grains known to Europeans.

The name quickly evolved into grits.

Breakfast of grits, eggs and fried catfish

“This moment launched the official archive of grits: written accounts, and trackable moments of a now named dish that could be etched into historical records,” Murray writes in her book, “Grits.”

“Through that naming process, grits, the term and the dish, were then permanently tied to what was about to become the southeastern United States.”

She listed several high-profile chefs devoted to Southern cuisine and to elevating humble grits: Sean Brock in Nashville, Frank Stitt in Birmingham, Alabama, and Dominic Lee in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

“These are the folks who are doing grits fancy right now,” said Murray.  

For more Lifestyle articles, visit www.foxnews.com/lifestyle.  

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