“For some years, I’m now prepared to admit, I somehow labored under the impression that Rocky Mount is the line of demarcation that separates the two principal schools of North Carolina barbecue. Wrong. The line of demarcation is….”
— From “In Defense of the True ’Cue: Keeping pork pure in North Carolina” by Calvin Trillin in The New Yorker (Nov. 2)
Who but the peripatetic Trillin could quote in a single (if lengthy) article not only such regional stalwarts as John Shelton Reed, Doug Marlette, Dennis Rogers and Jerry Bledsoe, but also Ada Louise Huxtable?
Kim Severson, Atlanta-based food reporter for the New York Times, calls it “a deceptively simple story about heat and meat…. I defy anyone but the staunchest vegetarians and kosher keepers to not want a pork sandwich after they read it.”
“Even if they cook over wood [rather than gas], some new places’ inclusion of ribs (not traditional in old-line barbecue joints) and brisket (from Texas, whose barbecue North Carolinians profess to despise) has created what [John Shelton] Reed dubs the International House of Barbecue. Even if they cook over wood, will new places serve a generic version of mediocre barbecue?
“Some North Carolinians also rue barbecue’s gentrification, which in some cases has turned it from a working man’s food to a pricey night out. Disappearing are the mom-and-pop places, where prices are cheap and the patrons reflect the breadth of a town’s population.
“If traditional barbecue dies, part of North Carolina dies with it….”
— From “Why North Carolina’s barbecue scene is still smoldering” by Jim Shahin in the Washington Post (Sept. 21)
“The carvers splash the pulled pork with the house barbecue sauce, which balances sugar with vinegar and mustard; [restaurant owner Hugh] Mangum calls it Texalina because it blends the styles of Texas and North Carolina….”
–– From “Big League BBQ Arrives,” restaurant review by Pete Wells in the New York Times (March 5)
Not unexpectedly, Wells’ paean to East Village barbecue has stirred a stampede of online naysayers, including “Matthew from North Carolina,” who asks, “Lemme guess, $25 for a chopped plate with slaw and potato salad?”
Can “Texalina”-style barbecue sauce be for real? Or is it a culinary cousin of the jackalope? Paging John Shelton Reed!
Unsettling news indeed: The “well-being” of North Carolinians reportedly ranks 36th in the nation. Gallup’s composite index weighs 20 factors, such as stress, obesity, job satisfaction, nighttime safety, happiness…. Happiness? Tar Heels come up short in happiness?
Why, it hasn’t been that long ago — the ’70s, actually — that John Shelton Reed was explaining why no less than 90 percent of North Carolinians considered their state “the best, all things considered.” In sum: nice neighbors, nice weather. (Among the dozen other states studied, Massachusetts came in last at 40 percent.)
Mt. Airy native Donna Fargo even claimed the title of “Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.”
So what happened? In the intervening four decades, have newcomers from Massachusetts been stealthily U-Hauling their gloom and naysaying past the interstate welcome centers? Or are 21st century North Carolinians simply unhappy, for whatever reason, in a state they may still consider the best?
Gallup asked, “Did you experience feelings of happiness during a lot of the day yesterday?” For reasons I’m sure make sense in the opinion-harvesting community, the results are presented by congressional district. Thus, North Carolina’s happiest districts are Four (Durham, Chapel Hill) and Nine (Charlotte region minus Charlotte), both at 90 percent “yes.” Its unhappiest district: Seven (Wilmington, part of Fayetteville) at 84 percent.
Finally, this caught my eye: In response to “Are you satisfied with the city or area where you live?” the 94 percent yes in North Carolina’s District Four was topped only by the 95 percent yes in California’s District 48.
Curse you, Laguna Beach.
“When John dropped out of high school to join the Navy, my father hunted him down and shipped him north [from Kingsport, Tenn.] to Deerfield and then to MIT, where he… orchestrated such pranks as planting a large cardboard missile from a military recruitment display nose-first in the floodlit MIT dome and then painting a crack down the dome as though the missile had crash-landed there.”
— From “Kinfolks,” a 2007 memoir by Lisa Alther, younger sister of John Shelton Reed, retired Kenan professor of sociology at UNC Chapel Hill