There are some topics that people take very personally, as my cousin Ted Maclin has discovered. "We say in the book that there are four things that you don't want to bring up in conversation unless you want to get into an argument: religion, politics, college football and barbecue, not necessarily in that order."...
There are some topics that people take very personally, as my cousin Ted Maclin has discovered.
"We say in the book that there are four things that you don't want to bring up in conversation unless you want to get into an argument: religion, politics, college football and barbecue, not necessarily in that order."
The book to which he refers is "The Slaw and the Slow-Cooked: Culture and Barbecue in the Mid-South," which he co-edited with James R. Veteto and which will be released this month by Vanderbilt University Press. The book is an anthology, containing essays by Maclin and Veteto individually as well as by other contributors.
Ted is my first cousin once-removed, the son of my cousin Judy. It's been years since I've seen him in person, but I've kept up with him over the years. He and his wife were living in New York on 9/11, when Ted was managing the historic Children's Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and I got permission to use one of his photos in the Times-Gazette a few days later. Now, I follow him on Facebook, and when he talked about getting ready to release the book, I had to find out more.
The book started with a Society for Applied Anthropology conference that Maclin and Veteto both attended. At the time, both were in graduate school; Veteto has since graduated, while Ted is still pursing a PhD in ecological anthropology at the University of Georgia, researching the cultural and social influences on Arctic conservation within the World Wildlife Fund, while at the same time working as a small farmer. He holds a Master's Degree in Botany from the University of Tennessee.
The conference included a change-of-pace presentation on the cubano, a wonderful pressed sandwich of ham, sliced pork, cheese and pickle which is popular in Cuba and in areas of South Florida where Cuban refugees have settled. (Can you tell I like cubanos? But I digress.)
Maclin, whose parents live in West Tennessee, and Veteto knew that the Society would have its conference in Memphis the following year.
"Someone should really do a lunchtime session on barbecue," one of them said.
"Why don't we do a lunchtime session on barbecue?"
Their proposal was accepted, and they conducted the session at the Bluff City's famous Rendezvous restaurant.
Later that year, an acquisitions editor at the VU press, looking to publish a book on barbecue in the Mid-South, found a video of the presentation online and asked if Veteto and Maclin would be interested in writing a book.
The two weren't sure they had time to write a book while continuing their academic work, so they proposed editing an anthology. While this approach was born of practical concerns, Ted told me it actually seems appropriate for the topic.
Barbecue is a food which is unusually tied to family and identity, said Maclin. There are various and passionate differences between various parts of the country -- North Carolina barbecue is quite different from Memphis barbecue, which is quite different from Texas barbecue. The book focuses on the Mid-South, including Arkansas, Louisiana, West Tennessee and Middle Tennessee. Maclin said East Tennessee tends more toward North Carolina barbecue.
"There's already a pretty good book out on North Carolina barbecue," he said, and so he and his co-editor wanted to focus on the Mid-South.
The title of the book, "The Slaw and the Slow-Cooked," is a play on "The Raw and the Cooked," a book by Claude L?vi-Strauss, one of the fathers of modern anthropology.
The book includes an essay by noted food writer John T. Edge about a barbecue in Arkansas.
Another essay, by Jonathan Deutsch, takes a look at a competitive barbecue team. Rien Fertel discusses the West Tennessee tradition of whole hog barbecue. Angela and Paul Knipple discuss barbecue in the context of the "slow food" movement.
"It's coming from an academic publishing house, and we're both academics, but we wanted to do something that would straddle the line between the academic press and the [popular] press," said Ted. They hope that the book, which avoids academic jargon, can be used in academic settings but also read for enjoyment.
People have their favorite places for barbecue, said Maclin.
"They stick to their guns about what they like and what they think is best."
In Memphis, for example, several prominent barbecue places have their proponents.
Maclin said he and his co-editor have similar tastes in barbecue, although Veteto is partial to whole-hog barbecue while Maclin prefers pork shoulder.
Passion, combined with modern technology, has led to changes in the world of barbecue. Barbecue has a culture of being a very local food, a food slow-cooked for special occasions.
"Barbecue is so tied up into families," said Maclin.
But Memphis' reputation as a barbecue capital has combined with its status as the home of Federal Express. Rendezvous and Corky's both offer to ship their popular barbecue anywhere in the world.
"It doesn't mean the barbecue's not good," said Ted, "but it changes the barbecue experience.
"Barbecue is really an experience -- it's not just about a plate of food."
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