The Politics of Chili
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In the current issue of TEXAS MONTHLY I wrote a piece called “Bowl of Dread” recounting how much I dislike chili—and how disappointed I still am at the Sixty-fifth Legislature, which declared it the state dish more than 35 years ago. Everyone knows that brisket is far superior. But as I lamented, perhaps the barbecue lobby had been caught napping?
I had assumed that my story would end the debate over the releative merits of chili and barbecue for all time. But no. My epistle was met with a rebuttal by the Chili Appreciation Society International. President Jim Ezell writes:
The “Bowl of Dread” article in your December issue truly maligns a wonderful Texas tradition, even if meant sarcastically. Mr. Burka does not realize that chili is Texas. Nobody ever said chili is “fine cuisine”. It is the frontier, the spirit and a dish your momma used to make. Like the “Beans and Cornbread” it has been with us through thick and thin.
You are correct that the original Terlingua chili event was a publicity stunt, but as we approach our Fiftieth Anniversary in a few years, it has not diminished in significance or recognition as an iconic annual ritual. We all have every respect for a good brisket, but there is certainly the precedent by the legislature in naming chili the official state dish that should not be trifled with.
Chili heads come together in all shapes, sizes, religious and political pursuits.
I appreciate the letter and am williing to let bygones be bygones. I invite Mr. Ezell to join me for lunch at Franklin Barbecue, where we can spend our time in line in conversation about our respective dishes, then, hours later no doubt, sit down to eat and let the true culinary icon win.
In the meantime, I think Mr. Ezell should know that TEXAS MONTHLY is intent on righting the wrong that was committed way back in 1977. We are going to lead the charge to replace chili with barbecue as the official state dish in 2015 when the 84th Legislature convenes. I have no doubt that true statesmen will reveal themselves this time around and make this state proud.