Friday, September 5, 2008

Ramblings: Ethics of BBQ

Is BBQ an Ethical Hobby?

What is ethical? How do we define what is ‘right’ and morally acceptable? Ethics is a major branch of philosophy that deals with how we value and assign judgment to behavior. Although there is a widely accepted codified definition of what is ethical and what is not, there is serious ‘wriggle room’; specifically in the discussion of subjective vs. objective reality.

As BBQ enthusiasts, where do we stand in the spectrum of ethical behavior? Is our hobby neutral, positive or negative? Are we in support of something that is deleterious to society in general by engaging in our favorite pastime? Is there a simple and categorical answer to these questions?

Most competitors travel a considerable distance to attend an event. They travel with a significant weight burden in a vehicle that is engineered for strength and stability as opposed to efficiency of fuel usage. In addition to themselves, competitors haul hundreds and hundreds of pounds of equipment that they will need over the course of the event. A prodigious amount of non-renewable energy is consumed in merely getting to and from an event.

The average competitor at a serious BBQ cook-off will cook enough food to feed an army. Multiple racks of ribs, at least one full pork shoulder, and a couple of briskets (point and flat) will be cooked over the course of a weekend for the primary purpose of choosing a few select specimens to present to the judges. No matter how you cut it, this is an ostentatious display of culinary wealth that would beggar the imagination of people from most of the world.

The primary sources of fuel for cooking at these events are charcoal and wood. These fuels deplete the limited resources found in our declining woodland reserves while promulgating the pollutants found in our air.

Serious competitors spend countless hours in preparation for and participation in cook-offs. These hours are a resource that could be spent on other activities, such as education, family time, volunteerism and self discovery.

Doesn’t sound so promising.

On the other hand, more and more events are finding ways to help competitors get left over food agencies such as America’s Second Harvest. Many teams donate their food to local food pantries or altruistic organizations. If there is a concerted effort to avoid gratuitous and gross consumption and if there is an attempt made to address the concerns of found in Isaiah 58 and in Matthew 25 to feed the hungry and provide drink for the thirsty, I believe that we can easily justify the amount of food prepared.

If providing for those in need moves from a tertiary concern to one of secondary importance only behind finding the most delectable and attractive portions for the judges, than sacrifice of fuel and time also becomes more reasonable. Many teams couple their food donation with using their knowledge and skills to assist in community events, such as potluck dinners. There are a number of competitions that have a charitable aspect and serve as fundraisers for worthy causes. Supporting the event and participating by extension supports that cause.

I know of numerous competitors who use their time at events as an opportunity to bond with their children or mates. Father son teams are not uncommon and husband and wife teams are very popular. In a society that seems to continuously encourage separation and isolation, any activity that has such a strong familial and societal aspect should be encouraged.

It seems that on the surface BBQ Competitions can be emblematic of conspicuous over consumption. If we look a bit deeper we will see that competitors often use the opportunity to do what good that they can. Like most things in life BBQ is a neutral and how it is approached by the participants is what determines its value.