Sunday, September 14, 2008

Pg. 99: Andrew Warnes' "Savage Barbecue"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Andrew Warnes' Savage Barbecue: Race, Culture, and the Invention of America's First Food.

About the book, from the publisher:
America's first food as an invented tradition

Barbecue is a word that means different things to different people. It can be a verb or a noun. It can be pulled pork or beef ribs. And, especially in the American South, it can cause intense debate and stir regional pride. Perhaps then, it is no surprise that the roots of this food tradition are often misunderstood.

In Savage Barbecue, Andrew Warnes traces what he calls America's first food through early transatlantic literature and culture. Building on the work of scholar Eric Hobsbawm, Warnes argues that barbecue is an invented tradition, much like Thanksgiving-one long associated with frontier mythologies of ruggedness and relaxation.

Starting with Columbus's journals in 1492, Warnes shows how the perception of barbecue evolved from Spanish colonists' first fateful encounter with natives roasting iguanas and fish over fires on the beaches of Cuba. European colonists linked the new food to a savagery they perceived in American Indians, ensnaring barbecue in a growing web of racist attitudes about the New World. Warnes also unearths the etymological origins of the word barbecue, including the early form barbacoa; its coincidental similarity to barbaric reinforced emerging stereotypes.

Barbecue, as it arose in early transatlantic culture, had less to do with actual native practices than with a European desire to define those practices as barbaric. Warnes argues that the word barbecue retains an element of violence that can be seen in our culture to this day. Savage Barbecue offers an original and highly rigorous perspective on one of America's most popular food traditions.
Among the acclaim for Savage Barbeque:
"Warnes has written a well-researched book in Savage Barbecue. The historical and contemporary ideas he shares makes this a fine contribution to the ever-expanding discussions of food and foodways. We will, from now on, look at Barbecue as more than a way of preparing food on a grill."
—Psyche Williams-Forson, author of Building Houses out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power

"This is a rigorously researched and argued cultural, literary, and etymological study. While most useful to those interested in how language creates reality, serious barbecue enthusiasts might also appreciate its uncommon angle.... [I]t is ... fascinating to learn how the bite in ’cue comes not just from its sauce but from a creation basted in oppression, fear, and myth."
Naomi Millán, ForeWard Magazine

"Meticulously researched and filled with copious notes and a small number of illustrations, this is an enlightening look into one of America’s most popular foods. An enjoyable read for historians."
—Nicole Mitchell, Library Journal
Read more about Savage Barbecue at the publisher's website.

Learn more about Andrew Warnes' research and publications at his faculty webpage.

Andrew Warnes is Senior Lecturer in American Literature and Culture at the University of Leeds. He is the author of Hunger Overcome? and Richard Wright's Native Son.

The Page 99 Test: Savage Barbecue.

--Marshal Zeringue