Monday, February 9, 2009

REVIEW: Savage Barbecue

Savage Barbecue

By: Andrew Warnes

Pages: 208

Publisher: University of Georgia Press

Savage Barbecue is a book that forces you to come to conclusions on issues you may have never considered before. Whether your conclusions are in agreement with the authors or not, you are left with a respect for his efforts and scholarship. This is a dense, well researched tome that makes a statement about the evolution of thought regarding barbeque, its practitioners, its history and its place in our culture.

The book traces the history of barbeque from the time of Columbus and presents a view that the impression that barbeque was seen as a barbaric food prepared by savages has lingered to this day. In the opinion of the author, the supercilious, colonialist attitudes of westerners has forever linked the cuisine of barbeque to violence, savagery and all things antithetical to civilization.

This is not a book about the people of BBQ and the whimsical hyperbole that seems to be an intrinsic part of any cultural discussion about our native cuisine. This is a scholarly tome that traces the etymology of ‘barbeque’ from its earliest found use, but doesn’t limit itself to the history of the word. The author clearly demonstrates how the paternalistic western colonialists were aghast at the early progenitors of our favorite food and attempts to demonstrate that we view BBQ through that same prism today.

This is an erudite book by a learned author. Interwoven through the book are discussions of the works of Ralph Ellison and Aphra Behn amongst others. Time after time, the author shows how barbecue is associated with violence and the lower social class. The question is whether or not that association is as prevalent today.

It can’t be argued that there are no lingering remnants of this myopic and condescending association, but I believe that this outlook has been ameliorated over time by the popularization (and unfortunate gentrification) of barbecue. With nationwide restaurant chains, cook-offs on television and a homogenized lack of regional idiosyncrasies, from my view point BBQ is now as innocuous to most everyone as Pizza Hut.

In an odd parallel, we seem to be losing the condescending racial and cultural connotations that the term used to carry with it while simultaneously losing whimsical, tall-tale aspects of the culture and food. There is a continual need to fight against the over commercialization of BBQ as it loses its soul and national identity. If only we could lose the negative connotation and maintain the positive cultural history.

If you are even a casual fan of the cultural aspects of barbeque, this needs to be on your bookshelf.


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