Monday, May 30, 2005

ARCADIA, N.C. (AP) — Fourth-graders here expected a civics lesson when they suggested that the Lexington Barbecue Festival be named the state’s official food festival.

Instead, they got a lesson in the fierce intrastate rivalry over barbecue.

“I didn’t know so many people would be asking questions and wanting to know how I feel about it,” said Kaylyn Vaughan, 10. “You have to realize it is a very big deal.”

North Carolinians are divided about their two distinct barbecue styles. Crowning one style as “official” would be a mistake, said Bob Garner, author of the book “North Carolina Barbecue,” which doesn’t take a stand on which version is supreme.

“The whole story of barbecue in North Carolina is about these two distinct styles and this fun, family argument that we just refuse to get rid of,” Mr. Garner said. “People love to argue about this.”

North Carolina’s western barbecue, also known as Lexington or Piedmont, is made from the shoulder of the hog and has a red, tomato-based sauce. Eastern style takes seriously an old North Carolina adage — “We use every part of the pig except the squeal” — and uses a vinegar-based sauce.

Carolinians have long argued about which is better, although Mr. Garner said eastern style came first. Eastern style won by a snout when the state’s tourism division conducted an online poll in 2002 — although the head of the Lexington visitors bureau demanded a recount.

The students at Friedberg Elementary School in western central North Carolina fired up the fight innocently enough in February when they decided to undertake a civics project. They wrote letters to lawmakers asking that the Lexington event be named the “state food festival.”

Two lawmakers obliged, but when the bills were filed, they mistakenly called for Lexington’s event to become the “state barbecue festival.”

“Remind lawmakers that while our humble pig may not get the publicity Lexington gathers from the lying Yankee press, we still put on a pretty good show,” columnist Dennis Rogers, a protector of eastern-style barbecue, wrote in the News & Observer of Raleigh.

The High Point Enterprise defended the western style, calling it barbecue from “a lean, filet of pork shoulder in Lexington, not all of Old McDonald’s pig.”

A House committee recommended that the festival receive the state designation last month, but the bill ended up in another committee. In the Senate, the bill has been stuck in committee since it was filed.

“I don’t really expect that the bill will be heard,” said one of its sponsors, Sen. Stan Bingham, a Republican from the Lexington style’s home turf of Davidson County.

He denies that his bill was meant to say Lexington-style barbecue tastes better than eastern style.

“It’s just indicating that 150,000 people come to Lexington for the festival,” Mr. Bingham said.

That’s what the Friedberg children say as well.

“I wish we could all get along,” said James Lumley, 10, but adds that he and his friends “all think western is better than eastern.”

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