Kitchen table convos from the Gulf Coast South. 
There are two individuals in history I have high acclaim for. One is the caveman (or cavewoman) who convinced the other cave people to start liking wolves rather than hunting and eating them. The other is the cave-person who demonstrated to their cave-colleagues that beef is better served with a good sear to it, rather than ripped raw from the bone using our four canine teeth. 

Barbecue, taken from the Indigenous Taino word barbacoa, began out of necessity—for thousands of years, we had little other option other than cooking over an open fire. It only recently started being recognized as an art. Thanks to the commercialization of the craft by folks like Aaron Franklin out of Austin, Texas, Americans have changed how we approach barbecue. 

The new narrative has also left out many of barbecue’s deeper histories. 

My guest this week is among the vast cast of folks who are working to change that. Meet Dr. Howard Conyers, a mechanical engineer at NASA who lives in New Orleans but who originally hails from Manning, South Carolina. Notably, Conyers has also earned high national acclaim for his craft of whole-animal cooking. In particular, hogs. Like most folks who are into the slowly disappearing cooking style, he learned it knee-to-knee, with his father. 

Speaking of food, check out my partner’s wheat blueberry muffins recipe below. 

More from Scalawag on the intersection of global and Southern foodways:

Safety looks like full bellies in a pandemic

Xander Peters: I know you’re still working at NASA these days. So, it’s not like you actually switched careers. But how does one make a jump from being a rocket engineer to a barbecue wise man? 

Howard Conyers: I grew up in barbecue. Well before I was doing anything math or science or engineering-related, I was doing whole-hog barbecue. To make that jump to go back, I can't tell you what that's like. I can only tell you from what I lived and experienced in my culture and going forward. If I had to give advice on how somebody could go from rocket science or engineering to cooking whole animal barbecue, I would say they have to practice. But I can't really tell you the opposite way, because well before I even thought about or understood what rocket science was, I understood fundamentally what barbecue was. And that was as early as like three or four years old, because I was watching my father cook barbecue. 

XP: Why do you think we’ve gotten away from whole-animal cooking, like you prefer? 

HC: Our connection to the farm itself, directly, is lost. Now with mass commercial food processing, that's the reason why we see more parts; we don't see whole animal cooking. 

XP: Do you see more folks getting back to that particular style of cooking? 

HC: Where I see the most animal cooking is when I go, I’m sad to say, to more higher-end restaurants. Where the economic income levels are not as high, you start seeing more of the parts, so that's really where I see that. I don't see it so much in the rural areas as much as I used to. But I definitely see it in places where income levels are higher, because the chefs want to use all the cuts of animal. 

 (See also: It’s time to reconsider North Carolina barbecue, in Scalawag) 

XP: What do you think it says about the fact that chefs are mainstreaming historically low-income, necessity foods, like whole-cooked animals or even a dish such as gumbo? 

HC: I don't know if I would necessarily say some of the dishes that did that in rural areas are low income. I think it was sustainable. And that's a different way of thinking—I think what they realized was that if an animal gave you his whole life, then you need to use all parts of the animal. I don't think it was necessarily about income levels, because money necessarily wasn't the biggest driver for them. It was more about sustainability and sustainable practices. Now when we see people doing sustainable practices, it costs a lot more. They say, ‘Oh, I put a label to it. I put a title to it.’ And it was just a way of life for those individuals in the past. But now, today, we put a label that says pasture-raised, or organic, and we could double or triple the price, because we have those labels. It’s an economics thing. It’s part economics and it’s part policy. 

XP: Apart from the high-end restaurants and folks like you trying to maintain their family traditions, is cooking the whole animal kind of a dying art?  

HC: I think that it’s dying because a lot of the family farms are dying. If we had people who can still process their animals, we could still weather the storm [during COVID-19] when a lot of slaughterhouses were disrupted. Hopefully, COVID-19 was a wakeup call that we still need to retain some of those traditional practices and techniques, to better have those capabilities at home and in our communities just in case. That's not a racial thing. It's a community thing, because there were slaughterhouses back in the middle of COVID-19 when the pandemic was high, that couldn't process animals. Honestly, I don't even know if they could have given out the animals to individuals, and they would have known what to do with it in a humane way. 

 (See also: The fight in swine country, in Scalawag) 

XP: Are barbecue mobiles like Aaron Franklin highlighting barbecue’s history? Or does it sometimes feel as though there has been a whitewashing of the art of barbecue in the U.S?

HC: I mean, it's definitely a whitewashing of the craft, but I don't think it's all on them. I think it’s on the media, the people who owns and control the media networks. Aaron Franklin is doing what he do. But the media who covers and tell the stories? That is who is actively involved in the whitewash. 
Continue reading...

Reopening Lincoln Beach: New Orleans activists, officials working to revive once popular Black beach

WWNO, Tegan Wendland 

“In bygone days, New Orleanians would spend summers cooling down at one of two beaches on Lake Pontchartrain. Now, the city is working to raise the millions of dollars needed to re-open one of them—Lincoln Beach.” 

Hurricane damage would be less extensive with stronger building codes

E&E News, Thomas Frank

“Florida’s codes rank high, but those of Texas, Mississippi and Alabama are low.”

Climate change isn’t fueling algal blooms the way we think, study shows

Mongabay, Elizabeth Claire Alberts

“A team of international researchers recently published the first global assessment of harmful algal blooms (HABs)—events in which toxic algae proliferate and cause harm to marine life and humans—based on nearly 10,000 recorded events between 1985 and 2018.” 

As the power grid waivers again, Texans are still recovering from the winter storm

The Texas Observer, NPR, Sumaiya Malik

“Experts say the energy reform bill signed by Governor Greg Abbott doesn’t go far enough to protect Texans from future blackouts.” 

Gov. Edwards gets bill that doubles maximum punishment for flying drones over critical infrastructure

Louisiana Illuminator, Sara Sneath

"Petrochemical facilities, pipelines and grain elevators are no-fly zones for drones.” 

Texas’s oil and gas industry is defending its billions in subsidies against a green energy push

Texas Monthly, Jeffrey Ball

“The state's energy business has long counted on special tax breaks and other largesse not available to others. Whether renewables or fossil fuels get more depends on how you do the math.”

Wheat blueberry muffins

The Ingredients: 
  • 1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour 
  • ¾ cup rolled oats 
  • ½ cup brown sugar 
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder 
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon 
  • ½ teaspoon salt 
  • 1 cup non-fat milk 
  • ¼ unsalted butter 
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
  • 1 cup blueberries 
The Steps: 
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 
  • In a bowl, stir 1 ½ cups of flour, the rolled oats, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, butter, eggs, and vanilla extract. Create a hole in the middle of the first bowl and then pour the wet ingredients from the second bowl inside it. Stir together until blended. 
  • Toss in your blueberries and the remaining flour. Then divide the batter into muffins in a pan. 
  • Bake for 18 to 20 minutes. 
  • Let cool for 10 minutes and then serve. 
Another week, another dollar. 
I hope you got enough to eat. There’ll be enough to go around next week and the week after.


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