Of Maps And Men — Bemused By Belts

The constant barrage of news about squabbling politicians frustrates me so much I just want to belt something. Violence, of course, is not the way to go. Why not shift focus and learn about the numerous belts which exist here in the good ole USA instead? At least we’ll be distracted from all the political nonsense for a bit and learn some fun facts.

According to worldatlas.com, there are about 20 belts in our country. No, the site is not referencing the fashion accessory clearly not utilized by males whose pants are sagging and whose drawers are visible to anyone and everyone. These belts are areas which have shared characteristics such as agriculture, climate, or industry.

The term “belt” was first applied to agricultural areas which often follow lines of latitude and call to mind a long clothing belt. These agricultural belts include the Cotton Belt, the Corn Belt, the Rice Belt, and the Wheat (or Grain) Belt. It seems odd to think of belts and farmers together. I tend to picture farmers in overalls which, of course, don’t require a belt to keep them up.

The Corn Belt, located in the Midwest, is characterized by fertile soil and level land making it suitable for farming. This area has dominated corn production in the U.S. since the 1850’s. Four states in this belt produce more than 50% of our country’s corn–Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota. Thus, it’s no wonder that Nebraska’s football team is known as the Cornhuskers.

Just below the Corn Belt is the Rice Belt. Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas are located in this belt. And guess where Rice University can be found? Pardner, it is in the Rice Belt–Houston, Texas to be exact. Rice University has nothing to do with rice the grain though. It was founded out of funds from the estate of William Marsh Rice, a businessman, who made his fortune in real estate, railroad development, and cotton trading.

At least one belt involves a food product. I give you the Grits Belt. This belt is where 75% of the grits sold in the U.S. are bought. Those living in this belt are as likely to say “Kiss my grits” as they are to eat some grits. The Grits Belt covers a large swath of the South stretching from lower Texas to Washington, D.C.

One belt I’d never heard of is one in which I grew up–the Stroke Belt. Located in the Southeast, the Stroke Belt is an area with a high incidence of strokes and other cardiovascular diseases. The Centers For Disease Control (based in Hotlanta where I grew up) first noticed this concentration back in 1962. Diet is partially cited for this bad belt; folks in the Stroke Belt tend to eat food high in fat and fried foods. Yes, we love fried chicken, fried okra, etc. Eleven states, including Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee, make up this belt.

Largely overlapping the Stroke Belt is the Bible Belt. This area of the South lays claim to a higher church attendance than any other part of the U.S. And the church affiliation is mainly Evangelical Protestants. Pass the fried chicken and say “Amen!” at the church potluck! Interestingly, the U.S. is not the only country with a Bible belt. Canada and Australia, among other countries, also have such a belt.

Changing circumstances have required a name change for one belt. The Steel Belt, situated in the Midwest and Great Lakes area, was once dominated by steel production and manufacturing. Nevertheless, deindustrialization beginning in the 1980’s as the result of increasing automation, the decline of the steel and coal industries, and the use of overseas manufacturers resulted in a new belt designation–the Rust Belt. This pejorative term aptly describes the significant change in the area caused by deindustrialization. For example, the population of Detroit declined dramatically, by 29%, between 2000 and 2016. Residents were motoring out of Motor City at a brisk pace.

Climate belts such as the Sun Belt and the Snow Belt are easy to pinpoint. To no one’s surprise, the Sun Belt is in the South, and the Snow Belt is in the north. The former stretches from the southeast to southwest and receives a higher amount of sunshine than the rest of the country does. States in this belt, such as Florida and Arizona, generally have warm and sunny climates. Snow Belt states, in contrast, experience severe wintry weather with heavy snowfall. These areas are mostly around the southern and eastern shores of the Great Lakes.

The traditional belts make sense. But I’m thinking there are at least two belts out there which have not been officially recognized. First, shouldn’t the Washington, D.C. area be dubbed the Bureaucratic Belt? It’s the seat of the federal government, for Pete’s sake, so who could argue with that designation? The area is populated by government operations (can you say “bureaucracy?”) which is run by government employees (can you say “bureaucrats?”). You can’t shake a stick around there without hitting a bureaucrat or the bureaucracy for which he works. And the way the government spends money, some belt-tightening is in order.

The other missing belt is the Sin Belt. We here in the Bible Belt are certain that it’s not located in the Southeast. No, the Sin Belt is in the Wild Wild West. Think of all that gambling in Las Vegas (it’s called Sin City for a reason, you know) and Reno. Think of the brothels which are legally run in Nevada. Think of the hedonistic lifestyle of those in the entertainment industry in the neighboring state of California. Yee haw! It’s the Corn Belt because corn grows there. It’s the Sun Belt because the sun shines there. It’s the Sin Belt because sin occurs there.

Our country is big and diverse. Even though they share common characteristics, some belts cover different states or even different regions. Regardless of what belt you may be in, one thing belts us all together–we are Americans. So let’s embrace our commonality and quit hitting each other below the belt.

JUST WONDER-ING:

What belt or belts do you live in? Is a belt a good way to visualize an area with common characteristics such as climate or agriculture? Are there any belts you think should be recognized?

 

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