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With a Battle Over Barbecue, the Ag Commissioner’s Race is Officially a Food Fight

What could follow Nutella banana crepes? A war on Texas BBQ.

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Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller on December 30, 2016.
Photograph by Evan Vucci/AP

“Barbecue might be America’s most political food,” wrote the New Yorker earlier this year. The claim certainly applies to the 2018 race for Texas Agriculture Commissioner. Instead of farming or ranching issues, it’s Sid Miller’s recent history on barbecue that his Republican primary opponent, Trey Blocker, is using against him.

For some brief background, the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) launched a program called Operation Maverick in 2015 to enforce, among other things, the requirement that barbecue joint scales be certified and registered, a rule that hadn’t been enforced in the past. Backlash from small business owners resulted in House Bill 2029, aka the “Barbecue Bill,” during this year’s legislative session. The bill, which exempted barbecue joints (and yogurt shops) from the regulation, easily passed the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in June. The TDA then revised the wording of the bill—which had exempted “food sold for immediate consumption”—by adding “on the premises” in the rewritten regulation. Those three new words meant that any barbecue joint selling food to-go was no longer exempt. The Texas Restaurant Association cried foul, and the TDA asked Attorney General Ken Paxton for a ruling that is forthcoming. This has all become fuel in a food fight between the candidates.

The first shot came a few weeks ago from Miller, who mocked Blocker for holding a fundraiser at a restaurant that served Nutella crepes. Miller acted as if he didn’t know what Nutella was, despite only seeing the “tella” portion of the word on the blackboard sign behind Blocker in a photo from the event (which, for the record, was held at the Old German Bakery & Restaurant in Fredericksburg).

Blocker fired back with a fundraising email that described Miller’s stance as a “war on Texas BBQ.” Now, calling a Texan anti-barbecue is about on par with calling them un-Texan, but Blocker didn’t stop there. Over the weekend, he followed up with two campaign videos focused squarely on barbecue.

The ads star three barbecue joint owners from around the state: Brent Harman, of Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse; Skeeter Miller of County Line BBQ; and Mike Cotten of Cotten’s BBQ in Portland.

 

We’re not taking sides here, but I can’t help but relish in the fact that barbecue has taken center stage in a Texas political campaign. These might be the first political advertisements where the message is solely from pitmasters. There’s not even a voiceover from the candidate. Blocker’s name is simply shown at the end over barbecue being sliced on a cutting block.

There’s also the emotional response that each candidate is looking for in their food fight. Miller used the barb about Nutella crepes to question Blocker’s rural Texan bonafides, and Blocker shot back by weaponizing our favorite food. His claim that Miller is at war with our state’s beloved food is on par with accusing him of torching fields of bluebonnets. We’re awaiting Miller’s next move, lest he be labeled all hat and no brisket.

 

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  • wannabe_fake_tough_guy

    “We’re not taking *sides* here, but I can’t help but *relish* in the fact that barbecue has taken center stage in a Texas political campaign.”

    You’re killin me, Smalls!!!

    • Martha

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  • Ken Goldenberg

    Gotta say this seems to be a bit strange to me. I live in California – Yes I can hear your comments now, but let me say we have a goofy State gov. and I wish I lived in a RED state! We have a lot of silly overbearing laws, but as a consumer (and lover of BBQ, and a member of the KCBS and had some fine Austin BBQ), I do like that California has this law in place via the Div. of Measurements Standards (https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/dms/).

    I expect to get what I pay for, whether that is yogurt, produce at the supermarket, or BBQ.

    Why would the BBQ operators be against this? It protects them just as much as it protects the consumer! I could imagine some consumer taking the BBQ home, seeing that it looked like less than they paid for, maybe weighting on their own kitchen scale, and if it was less suing the restaurant (yep, that would happen out here).

    So how much would this possibly cost a BBQ joint operator? $100?, $1,000? — Would this be done once a year? Every other year?

    That is something that should be included in this article. But overall I think it is warranted. And a big operator like County Line BBQ can certainly absorb the cost – come on!

  • Linda RYan

    “Focus on agriculture and stay out of my kitchen.” This is the kind of political campaigning that makes me want to throw up. I am not defending or endorsing either candidate here – frankly BBQ crepes are awesome. However, the work of the state agency that oversees metrology for this state, the Texas Department of Agriculture, is critical to our everyday lives. Whenever I purchase a pound of BBQ, fish, quinoa, or fill my truck with diesel, I want to know that I’m getting a true pound, a gallon, and my money’s worth. While I certainly don’t mind if my personal scale reads “light” this time of year, I’m willing to bet that the pit master wants to know the beef he’s purchased to smoke into Texas BBQ awesomeness weighs what he paid for. Without certified scales in places of business, we have no way of knowing if a scale used for trade (the exchange of money for weighted or measured goods) is true, or reading “willy-nilly.”

    The responsibly of the metrology lab to protect us as consumers is just one of many critical services that take funding, support, and highly trained inspectors. With all due respect, everything edible in our kitchens IS agriculture, and I would challenge each and every one of us to remember this as we wade through these next few months of campaigning.

    • Sharon

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