Do Black-Eyed Peas Really Bring Good Luck in the New Year?

And do you have to believe, or just eat?

You chew and swallow these, see, and you do it just on the right day and presto, change-o, good luck!

What is this "black-eyed peas on New Year's for good luck," anyway? Jack and the Beanstalk notwithstanding, how can you reasonably expect eating a couple of lousy legumes to bring good fortune? And are you telling me something bad is going to ensue if I don't? "Out of everything bagels" bad, or hurricane bad?

That's the thing with altering your behavior in the expectation of receiving some sort of luck. What counts? Whose luck takes precedence?

Did, for example, Obama win the election this November because my kindly sister-in-law remembered to stop off with some hoppin' john and I forked up a few bites before the clock struck 12 on January 1? How will I ever know if McCain supporters ate even more black-eyed peas, perhaps whirred into dirty martinis? What if Barack himself undermined me by refusing to succumb to superstition and instead ate grilled tenderloin on a bed of baby Bibb lettuce that day? I have no way of calculating whether I scored, or someone else did, or if—perish the thought!—the election results had nothing at all to do with black-eyed peas.

And that leads me to another question about black-eyed peas, which easily are confused with mushy ham-flavored little bean things and interchangeable with crowder peas, because they are in fact the exact same thing. Aren't they just another reminder of a harsh, unfair world, where fate is determined by your birthplace, or your locale, another example of us American Southerners being blessed beyond belief? What, perchance, happens to people who live in countries, are born into lacking socioeconomic environments, where black-eyed peas do not flow freely come New Year's? Are the Russians who must farm tundra and have little access to Luck's factories any less worthy of good luck for the coming year? Or people who live in Washington State?

But let's get down to the nitty-gritty. I want to know—need to know—what caliber, what scope, of luck these black-eyed peas might yield. Because, as you might have guessed, I'm not that fond of them. Even as a child, I could only bring myself to swallow one pea, pill-style, each New Year's—you didn't taunt Lady Luck at our house.

Now, though, no one's around to cook up a pot of black-eyed peas, and neither of my daughters will kowtow to the tradition. Just what are we risking? Could our pea consumption turn around the economy, or generate sweet and good-looking dates for the prom? Or was that time someone pulled out of the metered spot on State Street and left me four hours of pre-paid parking—street value $1.34 or so—the payoff for last year?

For years, I didn't have to dither like this. My sister turned up this recipe for "Poor Man's Caviar," an improbable tortilla chip dip involving hominy, oil and vinegar, salsa-type stuff, and, yes, black-eyed peas. I consumed enough of that to counterbalance Jesse Helms and four or five of his black-eyed-pea popping buddies, no problem. Then a couple of years back I saw that my precious recipe had a different name in another book: Texas Caviar! Talk about your election-karma backlash! No more of that for me, and I profusely apologize to my fellow Democrats for eating that evil dip Jan. 1, 2000 and 2004.

I've had to start fretting again. How many black-eyed peas are enough black-eyed peas? Am I risking an election or a stubbed toe if I don't cave in? This year, I'm going with hot sausage/Downtown Grill and Brewery Blonde Ale/adobe sauce/black-eyed pea chili. It's plenty hot, so I'll probably never taste the peas.

But they better still count.