Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Elementary School Stirs Up Big Debate in North Carolina

An elementary school in Arcadia, NC, has cause a political upheavel in the State Legislature. It's not Bibles in schools, it's not Gay books, and it's not low test scores, it's what's the best Bar-B-Q.
ARCADIA, N.C. (AP) - Fourth-graders here expected a civics lesson when they suggested that the Lexington Barbecue Festival be named the state's official food festival. Instead, they got a lesson in the fierce intrastate rivalry over barbecue that pits west vs. east, tomato vs. vinegar and whole shoulder against whole pig.

"I didn't know so many people would be asking questions and wanting to know how I feel about it," said 10-year-old Kaylyn Vaughan. "You have to realize it is a very big deal."

While Texas generally unites behind beef brisket, Kansas City has its slathered ribs and South Carolina holds dear to its mustard-sauced pork, North Carolinians are divided about their two distinct barbecue styles.

Crowning one style as "official" would be a mistake, said Bob Garner, author of the book "North Carolina Barbecue," which doesn't take a stand on which version is supreme.

"The whole story of barbecue in North Carolina is about these two distinct styles and this fun, family argument that we just refuse to get rid of," Garner said. "People love to argue about this."

North Carolina's western barbecue, also known as Lexington or Piedmont, is made from the shoulder of the hog and has a red, tomato-based sauce. Eastern style takes seriously an old North Carolina adage - "We use every part of the pig except the squeal" - and uses a vinegar-based sauce.

The argument about which is best has waged forever, although Garner said eastern style came first. The state's tourism division even conducted an online poll in 2002. Thousands of votes were cast, with eastern winning by a snout, although the head of the Lexington visitors bureau demanded a recount.

The pupils of Friedberg Elementary School in west-central North Carolina fired up the fight innocently enough in February when they decided to undertake a civics project. They could have studied the state tree, the state bird or the state fish. They chose food.

They wrote letters to lawmakers asking that the one-day Lexington event, one of Travel & Leisure magazine's Top 10 food festivals, be named the "state food festival."

Two lawmakers obliged, but when the bills were filed, they mistakenly called for Lexington's event to become the "state barbecue festival."

The damage was done.

"Remind lawmakers that while our humble pig may not get the publicity Lexington gathers from the lying Yankee press, we still put on a pretty good show," columnist Dennis Rogers, a protector of eastern-style, wrote in The News & Observer of Raleigh.

The High Point Enterprise defended the western style, calling it barbecue from "a lean, filet of pork shoulder in Lexington, not all of Old McDonald's pig."

From there, the students' lesson became political. A House committee recommended the festival receive the state designation last month, but the bill ended up in another committee. In the Senate, the bill has been stuck in committee since it was filed.

"I don't really expect that the bill will be heard," said one of its sponsors, Sen. Stan Bingham, a Republican from the Lexington style's home turf of Davidson County.

Bingham denies the bill was meant to say Lexington-style barbecue tastes better than eastern style. "It's just indicating that 150,000 people come to Lexington for the festival," he said, somewhat unconvincingly.

That's what the Friedberg children say as well. And they manage to say it without an arched eyebrow in the bunch.

"I wish we could all get along," said 10-year-old James Lumley.

Then he gets down and dirty.

"I know that we all think western is better than eastern," he said, pointing around the table at three friends, "and I think western is better."

Garner gives the nod to western-style barbecue on two counts: its aficionados have done a better job of sticking to pit-cooked barbecue than their eastern counterparts, who have no big barbecue festival comparable to Lexington's.

But Garner believes it is heresy to pass a bill that essentially gives western-style the imprimatur of being the best.

"I just think it would be a shame to set up either eastern or Lexington as the official thing when it's all about the friendly debate."

They are both wrong, it is mesquite smoked brisket with western style tomato based sauce on the side. Yankees don't understand this, but we in the South take our Bar-B-Q very seriously, and to try and single one style out and make it the official style, is grounds for a fight. I always said, you can speak badly of a man's house and wife, but never speak badly about his truck, dog or his Bar-B-Q.

Mr Minority