Without Strickland Propane, It's Just Not Barbecue


Just when you thought you'd heard every possible complaint against President Bush, Mr. Cutlets comes up with a new one. The Man From Crawford now stands accused of conspiring to ruin the Lone Star State's signature meal. Sez Mr. Cutlets:

The federal requirement that only meat that had reduced 70% in volume could be called "barbecue" was at once the most far-sighted and strictest guarantor of our barbecue liberties. At every turn, food-service grandees are seeking to enrich themselves, and their running-dog stockholders, by degrading the greatest of all American culinary traditions. Deplorable! And yet, Mr. Cutlets saw it coming. Once the bloodlust of deregulation set in, a frenzy of destructiveness by the Bush administration must eventually come too to the world of smoked meats.

At issue: a revision of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "standard of identity" that defines what can be called "beef or pork with barbecue sauce." The old standard required producers to use meat that had been cooked to 70 percent of its original weight, with the lost fat and moisture eventually combined with sauce and sold as a canned or frozen product. The American Meat Institute has argued that the standard is outdated: "The standard does not reflect current production practices, nor does it reflect current commercial marketability of these products given the increased reliance on leaner beef and pork." Arguing to retain the standard was Augusta, GA-based Castleberry/Snow's Brands Inc. "The key here is that for decades consumers have understood and expected a certain type of product in barbecue sauce," the company's vice president of marketing tells the Washington Post. "Consumers who purchase pork or beef in barbecue sauce won't get the same quality. There will be a lot of confusion." Now the USDA has sided with the Meat Institute and eliminated the weight requirement.

I know from long experience that where meat is concerned, Mr. Cutlets is, as celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain indicates in his blurb for the book Meat Me In Manhattan, an unimpeachable source. If he says 70-percent reduced is the only real barbecue, that's good enough for me. I'm also inclined to side with Castleberry just as an individual company standing against another big-ass trade group trying to define the standard of progress for its whole industry.

But isn't the real issue here that the USDA has a "standard of identity" in the first place? Better to have Castleberry spend some money on advertising to clear up the public's "confusion" than use the state's monopoly on violence and unfettered access to my income in order to protect its market share from less punctilious competitors. A people that needs the government to tell them what barbecue is cannot be considered free in any meaningful sense of the word.

I've even suggested to Mr. Cutlets that he is himself the perfect free market solution to this kind of challenge. Without the government's enforcement of definitions, meat-eating citizens will turn for guidance to a revered expert on carnology like Mr. Cutlets. Alas, Mr. Cutlets has never been a guy to relish the prospect of additional work.