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Rick Perry's BBQ 'insult': Really, North Carolina?

September 27, 2011 |  1:58 pm

This can't be real:

Last week, in the Raleigh News & Observer’s "Under the Dome" politics blog, staffers Rob Christensen and Craig Jarvis wrote:

According to "Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue," in 1992 when Perry was a promising Texas politician but not yet governor, he tried some Eastern North Carolina barbecue from King's of Kinston, which was served at the Republican National Convention in Houston.  "I've had road kill that tasted better than that," Perry was quoted as saying.

The offending quote took a circuitous journey to the 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination. It first appeared in 1992, in a Raleigh News & Observer story about the convention,  then was borrowed by the authors of “Holy Smoke” in 1998, then was resurrected last week.

Reaction was surprisingly swift, given the quote was 19 years old.

“People across North Carolina are outraged over a presidential candidate's comments on ENC [Eastern North Carolina] barbecue,” said a story on the website of WCTI-TV, the region's ABC affiliate. ENC barbecue is known for smoking the whole hog and dousing it with a vinegar-based sauce. (Western North Carolina is known for using pork shoulders with a tomato-based sauce. In South Carolina, the preference for a mustard-based sauce makes North Carolinians crazy.)

Texas barbecue is all about the beef, which inspired mock incredulity in some North Carolina quarters. “Now I have heard that Texans like to drink a lot, and I guess it must be true, because only a state full of drunken cowboys could come up with the crazy idea that you make BBQ out of cows,” wrote Jeffrey Weeks in the Charlotte Examiner. “People of America, you make steaks out of cows. Read my lips, BBQ comes from a gosh-darned pig.”

Look, North Carolina, California has been taking it on the chin for the better part of 20 years -- and deservedly so, considering our dysfunctional government and elevation of an action hero to governor (full disclosure: I voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006). So our skin is thick. We brush off insults by conservative pundits incredulous over the fact that California bucked the national trend in 2010 and sent a slate of Democrats to Sacramento. We barely bristle at (false) claims of our status as a sanctuary state. And we're surely not included in what Sarah Palin would call the more "pro-American" parts of the country.

So when the great state of North Carolina fiercely stakes out a side in the cow vs. pig barbecue row in reaction to flippant comments Texas Gov. Rick Perry made 19 years ago, it suggests one of two things: Either today's political culture of umbrage-taking, and over the smallest offenses, is fed primarily by the media (thus this story is way overblown), or we snobby coastal dwellers are right to regard anything between Miami and Seattle as flyover country.

I hope (and believe) it's the former.


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-- Paul Thornton

Photo: Texas Gov. Rick Perry eats a pork chop on a stick at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 15. Credit: Charles Dharapak / Associated Press

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