Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Maple Ridge Times week of July 26, 2010)


Politicians ruin a good barbecue


  By John Martin


Political pundits typically refer to the summer months as the "barbecue season." This is in reference to politicians touring the land and taking their turns flipping burgers and wieners at fairs, rodeos, picnics and other community gatherings where they attempt to press the flesh and show how down-to-earth they are.

Almost every serving politician of every party engages in this long-established summertime ritual. But the combination of barbecue and politicking is hardly a Canadian original. It's as American a tradition as, well, barbecue. George Washington wrote of his attendance at barbecue events as early as 1770.  Horseshoes were thrown, pigs were slow smoked, and there was music and dancing. It was the most efficient way to meet people and make connections. In 1793, Washington's team served a 500-pound barbecued ox at the nation's capital. Supporters, detractors and the undecided lined up for blocks.

Barbecue has long been an essential component of US electioneering. Presidents, senators, governors and a host of others have long relied on the lure of slow cooked ribs and hickory smoke in the air to rally the base.

Lyndon Baines Johnson was so famous for having hosted so many star spangled barbecues that his personal caterer published the LBJ Barbecue Cookbook.  Jimmy Carter brought a good old-fashioned Georgia whole hog barbecue with him wherever the campaign trail led.  Both the Bush presidents hosted annual congressional barbecues during their terms in office. When George W. was first elected to the White House he hired the owner of Cooper's Old Time Pit Barbecue in Texas to cater his victory celebration.  When Barack Obama was campaigning to be the Democrat nominee his team made a point of dropping in on some of the most revered BBQ joints in the country, including one of my very favourites, the Iron Works in Austin.

Barbecue, politics and campaigning have essentially been inseparable for hundreds of years and it's a tradition and strategy that has reaped many a dividend.

Canadian political strategists have long looked to the US for campaign lessons, although some will defiantly deny doing so.

The summertime barbecue meet and greet is one of the very best tricks of the trade so it stands to reason it has been a fixture in this country for many years.

So I ask, why not do it up proper? Instead of flipping pre-made, frozen patties with the artificial grill marks painted on them, why not serve up real barbecue? I've been to my share of political events in the summer months that indicated the word "BBQ" on the invite. But thus far, I have yet to see anything even resembling actual barbecue. Sorry folks, but processed patties and hot dogs aren't going to do the trick.  There is something almost sacrilegious about taking such a time-honoured tradition and turning it into a junk food parody of what it should be.

The political-barbecue connection is all about showing how real and genuine the candidate is.

These events are an opportunity to meet the person, not the manufactured, public image. So if genuineness is what these gatherings are after, let's have some genuine barbecue served up. Ribs, brisket, sausage coils and pulled pork sandwiches.

Or should that be pulled pork-barrel sandwiches?

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2010