Players: Rick Perry, Texas Governor and Republican 2012 hopeful; Paul Thornton, a writer for the Los Angeles Times; North Carolinians who prefer their barbecue to be pork and are known for "smoking the whole hog and dousing it with a vinegar-based sauce (Western North Carolinians are known for a tomato-based sauce)"
The Opening Serve: On Friday The Raleigh News & Observer's "Under the Dome" blog uncovered an incendiary comment by Rick Perry. They report in the book, Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue, the promising Texas politician was served Eastern North Carolina Barbecue at the Republican National Convention in Houston. "I've had roadkill that tasted better than that," Perry was quoted as saying. The quote incited swift outrage from North Carolinians who live and breathe barbecue. "While we acknowledge Texas-style barbecue is different from Eastern North Carolina Bar-B-Q," wrote Richard Averrite of the Smithfield's Chicken 'N Bar-B-Q chain. "We are stunned that you feel barbecue from the Old North State pales so greatly in comparison." Averrite sent two pounds of Bar-B-Q, a pound of slaw, and a pound of hot sauce to the governor. The Charlotte Examiner's Jeffrey Weeks wasn't as diplomatic. "Rick Perry is not fit to be president of the United States," wrote Weeks. "In fact he is apparently not fit to be a guest in my house. I hereby demand that the Republican Party renounce him now and quickly throw this so-called candidate out of the race, revealed as the utter fraud that he obviously is." He continued, "Gosh darn it, Eastern NC BBQ tastes great. It’s like sunshine on a rainy day, or a perky kiss from a pretty girl, or the dance of a catfish hanging on the end of your line." He continued: "Now I have heard that Texans like to drink a lot, and I guess it must be true, because only a state full of drunken cowboys could come up with the crazy idea that you make BBQ out of cows. People of America, you make steaks out of cows. Read my lips, BBQ comes from a gosh-darned pig."
WCTI-TV caught up with the restaurant owner who Perry dissed, Wilbur King of King's BBQ. "He has admitted to eating road-kill, and knowing what it tastes like. How can this person possibly judge any food," asked King. He added, "Hey Gov, if you're going to ask somebody to vote for you, you better not slap them before you ask them."
The Return Volley: There's been no response yet from the Perry campaign, but out in Los Angeles Thornton could not sit idly by and watch North Carolinians spear Perry. "This can't be real," he wrote in an op-ed yesterday. He went on to give the state some advice. "Look, North Carolina, California has been taking it on the chin for the better part of 20 years -- and deservedly so, considering our dysfunctional government and elevation of an action hero to governor (full disclosure: I voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006). So our skin is thick," wrote Thornton. Adding:
So when the great state of North Carolina fiercely stakes out a side in the cow vs. pig barbecue row in reaction to flippant comments Texas Gov. Rick Perry made 19 years ago, it suggests one of two things: Either today's political culture of umbrage-taking, and over the smallest offenses, is fed primarily by the media (thus this story is way overblown), or we snobby coastal dwellers are right to regard anything between Miami and Seattle as flyover country.
I hope (and believe) it's the former.
What They Say They're Fighting About: Texas Barbecue vs. North Carolina Barbecue and the faux pas of insulting someone else's food. Barbecue is a source of pride for both states and the people who live there. One North Carolinian transplant told the Wire that their barbecue holds as much, if not more, currency as children. Pig vs. Cow? Is this really something that will cost Perry votes? Perhaps. And notably (and perhaps rightfully so) chickens are left out of this barbecue battle.
What They're Really Fighting About: Rick Perry's Texas Pride; Southern stereotypes; A Sense of Humor; California Elitism. Plenty of this has to do with Rick Perry's pro-Texas platform (i.e. the Texas Miracle, the justice system, and now barbecue). Thornton seems to think he's above this, in his mind, savage hoopla, which adds a dash of California snobbery to this Southern spat.
Who's Winning Now: North Carolina and her North Carolinians. They're guilty of... defending their delicious foods? Perry probably owes them an apology and giving himself a harsh sentence of eating some N.C. barbecue while smiling for cameras. Thornton has done himself no favors. Hasn't he seen enough mayors challenging each another with regional foods during the Super Bowl? This contest is in the same vein. And barbecue, whether it's from Texas or North Carolina or any other place that takes smoked meat seriously (located in what Thornton calls "flyover country") will always be superior to a Californian without a sense of humor.