Primary barbeque

Yesterday on the NYT‘s op-ed page, in advance of today’s primary elections (in FL, IL, MO, NC, and OH, plus the Northern Marianas), a wryly funny piece by the great sociologist of the South and authority on North Carolina barbecue (and old friend of mine) John Shelton Reed, “North Carolina and the Politics of Barbecue”, beginning:

Chapel Hill, N.C. — Tuesday is Primary Day in North Carolina, and while things like trade, immigration and the deficit will help people pick their candidate for president, there’s another issue that has an outsize impact on how the Tar Heel State votes: barbecue.

Year in and year out, the way a politician approaches the question of cooked meat determines how he fares at the polls. As Herbert O’Keefe, the editor of The Raleigh Times in the 1950s, once said, “No man has ever been elected governor of North Carolina without eating more barbecue than was good for him.”

Two pieces of background: One, the (pork) barbecue food contest has the vinegar-and-cayenne sauces of eastern North Carolina vs. the sauces of the Piedmont, which add a touch of ketchup. (Some details in my 11/2/15 posting here, with a section about Calvin Trillin on pork barbecue in North Carolina, featuring John and his research.)

Two, here are the political contestants, in caricatures (for which I’ve been able to find no attribution) showing them in sizes roughly proportional to their current standing in the races:


Clinton, Sanders


Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Kasich

John Reed again:

North Carolina is a so-called purple state, just as likely to go blue as red, which means we’ll get a lot of attention from the presidential candidates this year. My advice: When it comes to barbecue, watch what you say.

If obliged to say something, you should, like Elizabeth Dole, stand by your place [the Piedmont]. When President Obama comes to North Carolina he eats ribs with a sweet, sticky red sauce, and I don’t think anyone holds that against him. Even though ribs barely count as barbecue in these parts, he’s from Chicago, so that’s what he should like. “I’m from Chicago and I’m a rib man” may be a sadly mistaken position, but it is not a contemptible one.

Generally speaking, honesty is the best policy. So Bernie Sanders should say, “I’m from Vermont and don’t know anything about it.” Ted Cruz should say, “I’m from Texas, so let’s not discuss it.”

If possible, though, try not to say anything. You’re very likely to offend some North Carolina voters, and it’s possible that you will offend them all. Just shut up and eat.

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