I love barbecue. There’s something about cooking big hunks of pig and cow flesh slowly over a low, smoky flame that brings out the best flavor from the cheapest cuts of meat*.
I love it all. Ribs. Brisket. Pulled pork. I love how cheap it is to make. I love that it imposes patience upon us in a world of drive-thrus and frenzied mawing at our desks.
Also, I’m a terrible racist.
I must be. Because every time I enjoy the succulent fruits of a good barbecue joint, I am participating in a ritual that “has yet to escape the fraught implications of savagery and cannibalism inbuilt and original to its name,” and is, to this day, “wedded to the ascent of new notions of racial exoticism and mastery.”
At least that’s the theory of Andrew Warnes, a professor of American literature and culture at Leeds University.
According to this review in Salon, Warnes — author of “Savage Barbecue” — contends that the common appreciation of barbecue as the high water mark in indigenous, democratic American cuisine is wrongheaded. Instead, barbecue is a byproduct of the horrific racial subjugation that drove our nation’s early development.
Also, he’s fucking serious!
The “true barbarians,” concludes Warnes, are not the half-naked Native Americans slow-smoking their iguanas or salmon on raised platforms above a bed of coals, but those “who wash their hands of the violence they have sent out into the world.”
The idea, apparently, is that the Europeans who colonized the new world introduced the cooking style of barbecue to their effete European brethren as an example of the savagery and backwardness of the native people. Therefore, barbecue owes its early popularity to a sort of racist European food slumming. Also, when slave-owning southerners wanted to barbecue, the slaves did all the work. Or something.
I have to stop writing now because all this talk of barbecue is making me hungry. And even more of a racist.
The dark history of burned flesh [Salon]
*Not to get too scientific, but it’s actually the collagen surrounding the muscle fibers — which can only be softened with long, slow cooking — that probably does it.