Chow Town

Will Chow Town go vegan?

In Chow Town, “barbecue” means grilled or smoked meat — pulled tofu, carrot ribs and burnt asparagus ends are not on our barbecue menus.

The vegan topic comes up frequently these days from economic, political, scientific, ethical and culinary angles. My focus is culinary. Are changes in taste and lifestyle putting us on a certain path to veganhood?

Are you a “Pending Vegan,” like Paul Espeseth in Jonathan Lethem’s recent

short story in “The New Yorker” magazine


Bill Flexner, a friend from my high school days, stopped in town recently en route home from an artist immersion and rejuvenation workshop at Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch. We met for dinner. Flexner is strictly vegan — no meat or animal products touch his lips. That would limit us to salad and fries at local barbecue joints, provided that the fries are cooked in vegetable oil. No beans, since barbecue beans include meat. Thai, Italian, Mexican and Chinese cuisine gave us more options. We chose Thai.

As Flexner savored a fiery fried tofu and vegetables in curry sauce entrée, he raised the question, “Why don’t you consider doing a vegan barbecue book?” He pointed out that vegan numbers are growing and that there could be a niche market for such a book.

The only book I was aware of that has reached out to vegans, I told him, is “The Sensuous Vegetarian Barbecue” (1994). I also noted that many of Anna Thomas’ “Vegetarian Epicure” recipes could be adapted to smoking or grilling. Later we discovered more than a dozen vegan barbecue cookbooks that have appeared since the 1990s.

I have long maintained that if not for barbecue I could easily become a vegetarian. The aroma of a meat fire stirs primal urges in me that demand satisfaction. Grilled carrots won’t do. I want fire-cooked meat — ribs, pulled pork, brisket, burnt ends, steaks, pork chops, lamb, cabrito, chicken, turkey, duck, bacon, burgers and sausage.

CBS Sunday Morning’s recent report on the role of genetics versus training in the making of star athletes made me wonder if the findings apply to our culinary genes and training. The example of major league baseball sluggers unable to hit softball pitches from star softball pitcher Jennie Finch stood out. The sluggers are trained to hit small overhanded fastballs, not slower, larger underhand-pitched softballs. It was like trying to feed salad to a lion.

I wonder what it would take for humankind to make a major permanent shift from meat to vegetables. Are we irrevocably wired to demand meat in our diet? Could vegan barbecue go viral in America? The jury is still out.

Will vegan barbecue go viral in Chow Town? Yes, when pigs can fly.

Ardie Davis is an iconic figure in the barbecue community. He founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS’s Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on numerous food shows and writes for a variety of barbecue-related publications. He is also the author of a number of barbecue books, His most recent release book is “America’s Best BBQ Homestyle: What Champions Cook in Their Own Backyards.”