The tradition of eating black-eyed peas dates back to the Civil War. When General William T. Sherman led his Union troops on their destructive march through the South, the fields of black-eyed peas were left untouched because they were deemed fit for only animals. As a result, the humble yet nourishing black-eyed peas saved surviving Confederates from starvation. The peas are said to represent coins.
Greens represent wealth and paper money, as they’re flat and green like U.S. currency. Any greens will do, but in the South the most popular are collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, and cabbage.
Throughout history, owning pigs and livestock was a symbol of prosperity, so today pork is eaten in the hopes of prosperity and a bountiful harvest in the coming year. Pigs are also a symbol of progressing into the year ahead since they move forward using their snout to root for food.
Cornbread symbolizes gold and is used for soaking up the pot likker from the greens. When wheat was a rarity in the region, Southerners made cornbread as a regular meal staple.