Keeping an eye on Washington

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“The South excelled in two things which the French deem essential to civilization: a code of manners and a native cuisine.” – John Peal Bishop
This might not be the best time to write about this, what with summer and cookout season upon us, but something is afoot and you need to know.
It’s about barbeque and the federal government.
Got your attention, didn’t I?
First a little background.
Did you know that our government – yours and mine – has defined barbecue? No lie. Back in 1952, folks in the U. S. Department of Agriculture declared that for canned or packaged meat to pass as barbecue, it had to be “beef or pork in barbeque sauce.” Oh, they went on to tell us how much meat should be in the sauce and how long the meat should cook (until it loses 30% of its weight), but the essence of the regulation was the beef-pork-sauce part.
Now I don’t say this often, but this time I’m gonna.
Atta-boy Washington.
At last, a rule that makes some sense.
There they were, 1952, up to their bureaucratic briefcases in the Cold War in Europe, the Hot War in Korea, the Red Scare at home and they took time from their busy schedules to say that if you put beef or pork in barbeque sauce you get barbeque.
Minimalism.
Wish that the government do that more often.
I was particularly impressed because as far as defining barbeque is concerned, when you get beyond the minimum you get in trouble.
Follow me now.
It has been said, and I believe it, that Southern barbeque is like French wine. Each region has its own.
Alsace, Champagne, Rhone and Bordeaux. Black Belt, Sand Hills, branch heads and bayou.
One taste and you know where you are.
I’m not gonna stand up as an expert on barbecue. I have eaten a lot of it and the worst I ever had was pretty good. Though I prefer mine hickory smoked with a hint-of- peppered-brown-sugar tomato-based sauce, I won’t turn down North Carolina’s vinegar/red pepper coating, South Carolina’s mustard flavored foundation, a Memphis “dry rub,” or that clear concoction they ladle on it up in the north Alabama. The USDA folks were wise just to say “barbecue sauce” and leave it at that. Start defining what the sauce should contain and you got a fight on your hands.
Now, I do sorta take issue with the government’s conclusion that barbeque, even packaged barbeque, must be “beef or pork.” But I’m not going to suggest that Washington expands the list. Beef and pork are broad enough to cover the sausages and bologna they barbeque out in Texas, and I’ll just ignore the fact that chicken and goat were left off. Start adding and someone is gonna bring up barbequed shrimp.
And so, for over 60 years, the government has stayed out of barbeque defining.
And most people were happy.
Most, but not all.
Word has reached me that a crop of new Washington bureaucrats, spurred on by lobbyists from the National Seasoning Manufactures Association, are up there claiming that the 1952 definition should be amended because it was “based on an antiquated cooking standard.” And what standard is that, pray tell?
Why the standard that holds that what is put in the can should be up to “the standards of barbequed meats.”
Whoa.
If they don’t want what they are packaging as barbeque held up to “the standards of barbequed meats,” what standards do they want it held up to?
This troubles me.
If the government can start saying that barbeque in a can shouldn’t at least aspire to being like barbeque outside the can then how long will it be before bureaucrats start saying that barbeque outside the can must match that in the can.
They could turn this right back on us. See my point?
So write your congressman and tell them to nip this thing in the bud.
The future of Southern civilization hangs in the balance.
I think.
Harvey H. “Hardy” Jackson, professor emeritus of history at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net .

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