A hog day afternoon at Southern Foodways
October 19th, 2012
03:00 PM ET
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Editor's note: The Southern Foodways Alliance delves deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of barbecue across the United States. We'll be sharing dispatches live from their 15th annual Symposium "Barbecue: An Exploration of Pitmaster, Places, Smoke, and Sauce" in Oxford, Mississippi, over the nest few days. Dig in.

We're off and running! We began this morning fueled by Texas brisket-and-egg breakfast tacos, a collaboration between Tim Byres of SMOKE Restaurant in Dallas and Lolo Garcia of the fabled Plantation Barbecue truck, which roams the Houston suburb of Richmond.

First, Nathalie Jordi led a panel on food politics with rancher Will Harris, restaurateur/pork aficionado Nick Pihakis and Greg Asbed of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. To be honest, politics aren't always a huge part of our narrative here at the SFA, but if we're truly going to pay attention to the stories behind the food, we need to know the often-hidden stories about who raises our animals and who picks our produce. And we need to honor their work by compensating farm workers fairly and by treating animals with dignity. Nathalie, Greg, Nick and Will brought those issues to the table, and we're grateful that they did.

Randall Kenan of North Carolina gave our keynote address this year, entitled "The Hog of Life." Hailing from southeastern North Carolina, where pigs outnumber people by - well, by a lot - hogs figure prominently into Randall's writing. He says that students frequently ask him what the hogs symbolize in his fiction. Here's how he answers that question: "The hogs don't mean, the hogs are. They aren't symbols, they are characters."

Randall went on to speak about traditional early winter hog-killings, community barbecues and his most formative hog memory: the mechanics of mating. Some children learn the birds and the bees; Randall's older cousins showed him the boars and the sows. (When he was eight, no less. He was always a precocious child.)

Kenan also hinted that his forthcoming novel will feature a hog stampede down Franklin Street, the main artery of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. We can't wait.

Hog killings and hog - um - lovin': What better way to whet our appetites for a lunch of ribs?

Cue Mrs. Desiree Robinson, the longtime matriarch of Memphis's Cozy Corner BBQ restaurant. She smoked us 80 racks of ribs for lunch, and Andy Ticer and Mike Hudman of Andrew Michael and Hog & Hominy restaurants (also in Memphis) masterminded the sides. Playing up their Southern-Italian heritage, the boys dreamed up barbecue spaghetti made with cold-smoked flour, collards with hominy and white beans with smoked jowl meat. Oh, did we mention the deviled eggs garnished with lardo?

Since it's hard to blog with sticky fingers and we haven't eaten our ribs yet, we hope you'll excuse us.

Back with more later!

Today's installment comes courtesy of Sara Camp Arnold, the editor of SFA's quarterly publication, "Gravy."

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