Well, this post has been a long time in the making. In fact, it stretches back to somewhere around the fall of 1990 or maybe spring of 1991. Even to the spring of 1988 if I include talk of Ollie's Barbeque in then Professor (now Judge) Gerard Lynch's constitutional law class. (One of the best intellectual experiences of my life, though that's a story for another time.)
Recently I was at a book party hosted by Sally Greene--one of our nation's most thoughtful politicians. The party was for Holy Smoke--a book about North Carolina barbeque written by John Shelton Reed and Dale Volberg Reed. The book's fabulous, by the way. It's a great read and has some recipes and lots of stories about barbeque in North Carolina history. It's the perfect book for barbeque lovers everywhere, not just those in North Carolina.
This is great stuff, all of which makes me think that we ought to open up a new front on the legal history and cultural studies front: law and barbeque. Oh, the criminal law you could talk about, as people fight at barbeques and picnics; the contract law, as people dispute over the delivery of hogs (or perhaps steers); the tort law. There's no end of the fun. And it would fit nicely alongside such classics as Amy Wilson's note on the jazz influence on property law and Leah Green's note on the Erie Canal in American legal development.
But to return to my story. As I was reading Holy Smoke, I thought about my long career with barbeque. As I said, it began somewhere around the fall of 1990 when I was living in Richmond, Virginia. There was a barbeque stand near where I lived, which advertised "North Carolina Style Barbeque." So wondering what that might involve, I stopped by one day to read the sign: North Carolina meant (in their interpretation) pulled pork. Huh--pulled pork.
Ok. Cut to Somerville, Massachusetts in the fall of 1993 and I went with one of my friends, a Duke graduate, to "Red Bones." Even the name was unappealing. And a meal of ribs and mashed potatos and gravy later, I had the sense I wouldn't be eating barbeque again anytime soon. Then in 1994 I found myself living in Oklahoma City, where the barbeque was Texas style: beef, rather than pork. And somehow, though I assiduously avoided it, I was stuck at a lunch with some faculty colleagues at "Big Beef" on Classen. That's when I realized ... I like barbeque! A monster had been born or perhaps awakened is the better analogy. After that I took the opportunity to go to Big Beef, which there weren't a whole lot of chances to enjoy back in those days. Simply too much work to do to get away to it. Sometimes I had the chance to go over to Classen Barbeque and then the County Line BBQ. All of this makes me think Dan Filler needs to add to his best of... series: the best barbeque of ... like the best barbeque of Austin, Birmingham, Atlanta, Athens, Memphis, Nashville, Richmond ... heck, maybe even Chicago fits in there.
Now cut to the fall of 2000 when I was interviewing for a job at the University of Alabama. Here my Oklahoma experience (and Richmond experience) came in handy in two ways. First, unbeknownst to me at the time, the most beloved barbeque joint in Tuscaloosa is "Dreamland." So it was indeed fortunate that my job talk was entitled "Reconstructing the Dreamland." The talk was about the Tulsa riot of 1921 (and there was a movie theater in Tulsa called the Dreamland, but that's a story for another time). The hiring committee there must have liked me because they ordered ribs from Dreamland, which was sure to put my audience in a good mood. (Anyone else notice a correlation between the quality of a meal for a job talk and the faculty's assessment of a candidate?!) Second, when I was talking with one of the faculty, he looked rather quizically at me--probably trying to size up how I'd fit in there--and said, "Oklahoma. What kind of barbeque do they have there?" To which--before I could get out "beef!"--to added, "is that pulled pork?" Now in hindsight I realize that he knew full well what kind of barbeque they had in Oklahoma. He was testing me. But I said, "pulled pork?! Now that's North Carolina style." And thereon may have hinged my prospects for a job in Tuscaloosa. (On that question and on the question by one of the students of what I thought of Alabama football--a topic on which I was shamefully ignorant. Though Oklahoma came through for me again.) Well, things worked out well and I had the chance to sample a lot of barbeque over many years in Alabama. There were the lunches over at Horne's on 15th Street, at Archibald's, Dreamland, of course; sometimes when I was down to Moundville I'd go to Pappy's Barbeque or maybe Foxfire if I was on the way back from Moundville. (The directions I received to Dreamland are priceless--drive on McFarland, past the interstate, go left on Jug Factory Road (at the McDonald's); keep going until you're sure you've gone too far and right at the billboard. They work perfectly.)
All of this reminds me that the people who talk about food history are really onto something. We define ourselves by our affection for food. It's a common bond that we share.
This story is also further evidence that you never know what will come up during job interviews!
Alfred L. Brophy