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BBQ, The Perennial Flavor In North Carolina Politics

In North Carolina, barbecue and politics have been served up together for generations. (Peter O’Dowd/Here & Now)
In North Carolina, barbecue and politics have been served up together for generations. (Peter O’Dowd/Here & Now)

[Note: This show is from a previous interview that aired on October 6, 2014.]

If you’re a politician in North Carolina, you’d better have an appetite.

For generations, barbeque has been dished out at political events. It started in the 1930s and 40s when politicians on the campaign trail would pull into town for a speech and then stick around for food and mingling, according to Bob Gardner’s “Book Of Barbeque.”

Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson met with Gardner on his home turf – the Pit Authentic Barbeque in Raleigh – where he explained the deep ties between the food and the art of campaigning, and what happens when a politician makes the mistake of dismissing the popular food

“People would argue barbecue has almost everything to do with politics,” Garner said. “First of all, political gatherings just featured barbecue very often because it was a cheap way to feed a crowd…so it’s always been the food of politics for North Carolina, more for practical reasons.”

Garner says there are different styles of barbecue in North Carolina, with their distinct flavors.

In Western North Carolina, the sauce is milder and sweeter than in the Eastern part of the state.

“It’s very peppery and a very vinegary type sauce,” Garner said. “That particular flavoring survives only in Eastern North Carolina.”

One former politician knows the importance of barbecue in the Tar Heel state almost too well.

When running for governor in 1984, Rufus Edmisten was asked if he had enough barbecue to eat. He made a fatal error.

“Something came over me that no one in their right mind would ever do,” Edmisten said. “I said, ‘Yes I certainly have, I’m tired of it. I hope I never see another drop of it as long I live.’ I said that, and I was joking of course!”

The comment created a media storm. Edmisten says the “barbecue faux pas” was a major factor in his loss.

“I never stopped liking barbecue,” Edmisten said. “I have withdrawals at times. I sometimes have to go four, five days on these fancy trips now that I have to make for clients, and I get these distinct barbecue hunger pangs.”

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