Copyright ©2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

For our series This I Believe, we're asking people from all walks of life to compose statements of personal belief. So far, more than 13,000 have responded. On this Memorial Day, our essay comes from Jason Sheehan, a food critic from Denver, Colorado.

Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON reporting:

Jason Sheehan heard our series on his car radio and told us he liked the concept because for many people, belief is just a nebulous clutter of half-held convictions. But the process of putting them down on paper helps cement those few things a person truly believes, the core of a principled life. He also noted that the subject of his belief was sitting on the seat next to him in two plastic bags.

Here is Jason Sheehan with his essay for This I Believe.

JASON SHEEHAN reporting:

After listening to the results of this project for several weeks, I knew I could do three minutes, too. Certainly not on world peace or the search for meaning in an increasingly distracted world or anything as grave and serious as all that, but on a belief just as true.

I believe in barbecue as soul food and comfort food and health food, as a cuisine of both solace and celebration. When I'm feeling good, I want barbeque. And when I'm feeling bad, I just want barbecue more. I believe in barbeque in all its regional derivations, in its ethnic translations, in forms that range from white tablecloth presentations of cunningly sauced costillas, to Chinese take-out spareribs that stain your fingers red, to the most authentic product of the tarpaper rib shacks of the Deep South.

I believe that like sunshine and great sex, no day is bad that has barbecue in it. I believe in the art of generations of pitmen working in relative obscurity to keep alive the craft of slow smoking as it's been practiced for as long as there's been fire. A barbecue cook must have an intimate understanding of his work, the physics of fire and convection, the hard science of meat and heat and smoke, and then forget it all to achieve a sort of gut-level, Zen instinct for the process.

I believe that barbecue drives culture, not the other way around. Some of the first blows struck for equality and civil rights in the Deep South were made not in the courtrooms or schools or on buses, but in the barbecue shacks. There were dining rooms, backyards and roadhouse juke joints in the South that were integrated long before any other public places.

I believe that good barbecue requires no decor and that the best barbecue exists despite its trappings. Paper plates are okay in a barbecue joint and paper napkins and plastic silverware. And I believe that any place with a menu longer than can fit on a single page - or better yet, just a chalkboard - is coming dangerously close to putting on airs.

I believe that good barbecue needs sides the way good blues need rhythm, and that there is only one rule, serve whatever you like, but whatever you serve, make it fresh. Have someone's mama in the back doing the taters and the hush puppies and sweet tea, because Mama will know what she's doing - or at least know better than some assembly-line worker bagging up powdered mashed potatoes by the ton.

I believe that proper barbecue ought to come in significant portions. Skinny people can eat barbecue, and do, but the kitchen should cook for a fat man who hasn't eaten since breakfast. My leftovers should last for days.

I believe that if you don't get sauce under your nails when you're eating, you're doing it wrong. I believe that if you don't ruin your shirt, you're not trying hard enough.

I believe, I know, there is no such thing as too much barbecue. Good, bad or in-between, old-fashioned pit-smoked or high-tech and modern, it doesn't matter. Existing without gimmickry, without the infernal swindles and capering of so much of contemporary cuisine, barbecue is truth. It is history and home and the only thing I don't believe is that I'll ever get enough.

ALLISON: Jason Sheehan with his essay for This I Believe. If you would care to summarize your personal philosophy, as Jason did, please visit our website at NRP.org, where you can find information about submitting your writing. You can also read and hear all the essays in our series.

For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: