Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Barbecue Qua Barbecue

I've recently spent time in several of the nation's major barbecue regions, and I've come to the conclusion that the term "barbecue" is misleading, a misnomer that implies that these widely disparate food items are in some essential way the same thing. By my reckoning they aren't.* I'm no expert on either the detailed taxonomy of the various species or their preparation techniques, but a pork sandwich from North Carolina strikes me as a very different thing from Texas smoked brisket.

Is there a counter argument? Is there some unifying quality** of either method or result that sets barbecue apart from all other foods?

* The genesis of this thought came from a conversation in which someone made the same point about chocolate and white chocolate.

** If we wanted to get fancy (and why shouldn't we), we could point out that Wittgenstein has already covered this territory, although in his particular example he was talking about the definition of games, not barbecue. And his point was that no single unifying quality is necessary. And I agree. So I guess I just refuted myself in my own footnote. Damn!


  1. Anonymous9:41 AM

    Yes, I thought John's mom Vivian (from Memphis, hardcore land of pork BBQ)was going to hit me in the mouth when I stated "I didn't know people ever preferred pork to beef barbecue" (or some similarly careless statement). -I grew up worshiping beef BBQ from FLINTs and EVERETT & JONES' in Oakland...fortunately she is a good person and just made sure I got a nice pork sandwich instead...and then there's the bread, the sauce, baked beans?
    I think Marx was referring to localized fidelity to "widely disparate food items" in the following:

    "'The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of their dominance'. Since one goal of ideology is to legitimize those forces in a position of hegemony, it tends to obfuscate the violence and exploitation that often keep a disempowered group in its place (from slaves in tribal society to the peasantry in feudal society to the proletariat in capitalist society)." the iron fist of the cattle ranchers in Texas and California, to the heavy-hitting mostly-egg potato salad cronies in Alabama, etc..

    So perhaps what you're eating is the result of a power struggle on the local level which offers a taxonomy of the superstructure at hand. (I never get the baked beans, but now that I live in Boston...)

  2. Golly, Miss Molly! Fanciness abounds. You're undoubtedly right.

  3. Anonymous5:55 PM

    it's cause they're both cooked slowly with smoke, either in a barbecue pit or one of those metal things they use in the city. and they're both delicious. two common traits, i guess, then.

    your picture looks awesome, and i am so hungry now, and i live in nyc, and real barbecue is hard to come by here.

  4. Anonymous5:57 PM

    hey, are you in fort worth right now? that place angelos is awesome. oh god, now i'm really hungry...

  5. Flints BBQ in Berkeley....mmmm, mmm, good!!!