The Sweet Tea Line - the Real Border Between North and South
Is the Line evidence that Northern culture is advancing deeper into the South?
From a young age, Frank was fascinated by maps and atlases, and the stories they contained. Finding his birthplace on the map in the endpapers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings only increased his interest in the mystery and message of maps.
While pursuing a career in journalism, Frank started a blog called Strange Maps, as a repository for the weird and wonderful cartography he found hidden in books, posing as everyday objects and (of course) floating around the Internet.
"Each map tells a story, but the stories told by your standard atlas for school or reference are limited and literal: they show only the most practical side of the world, its geography and its political divisions. Strange Maps aims to collect and comment on maps that do everything but that - maps that show the world from a different angle".
A remit that wide allows for a steady, varied diet of maps: Frank has been writing about strange maps since 2006, published a book on the subject in 2009 and joined Big Think in 2010. Readers send in new material daily, and he keeps bumping in to cartography that is delightfully obscure, amazingly beautiful, shockingly partisan, and more.
Where does the American South begin? Not at the Mason-Dixon line, but much further south, according to this (admittedly nonscientific) attempt to locate the Sweet Tea Line, as the actual, lived border between North and South.
As mentioned on the now-defunct website eightoverfive, “an interesting phenomenon exists in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The northern and urban areas of the state do not generally offer sweet tea in restaurants, whereas it is a staple beverage in the southern part of the state. Many clear present-day distinctions exist between the cultures of the north and south, but could the availability of Sweet Tea be a quantitative example?”
This map shows the results of a survey of over 300 McDonald’s restaurants in Virginia as to the availability of sweet tea in their premises. The result is a dividing line between northern and southern culture quite distinct from other, more commonly used dividing lines, such as the aforementioned Mason-Dixon Line (marked 1760 on the map) and the border between the Union and Confederate states during the Civil War (1860 on the map).
That line was established by calculating a median line between the southern range of non-sweet tea and the northern range of sweet tea.
Sweet tea is not available in the northernmost parts of Virginia, while non-sweet tea is available quite far south in the state. The resulting line of best fit dissects Virginia in roughly equal northern and southern halves, implying that ‘northern’ (i.e. non-sweet tea drinking) culture penetrates far more south than the older demarcations suggest. Is the Sweet Tea Line evidence of the North’s slow but inexorable cultural conquest of the South?
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