Sunday, June 19, 2011

My thoughts on local health departments.....

.....and BBQ contests.

It seems like every time I look at the calendar it is the 15th of the month. The deadline for some of my monthly scribblings is the 15th and no matter when I have just sent in a submission, the next time I look at the calendar, it is the 14th or 15th. This month was no exception.

Sometimes I sit and stare at an empty screen just waiting for a random thought to pop into my head so I can begin my article or story for the month. Occasionally it is somewhat of a struggle, this month was a bit different. I needed a story, the deadline was fast approaching (of course it was) and I had nothing (of course I didn’t). The upcoming weekend had us cooking a contest, no problem; I would just knock it out my article on Sunday after the cook-off. Just what you feel like doing on the Sunday after a BBQ contest is sitting down at your work station and trying to be creative. Of course that wouldn’t have been so much of a problem if I had already selected my topic, this time, being completely honest, I had not.

While at the contest it hit me, the subject just dropped out of the sky like a huge rock, right onto my alcohol soaked brain. The contest rep was giving us their short informational pep talk during the meat inspection process.

Authors note: The upcoming bit of commentary and banter is by no means directed towards the contest reps or organizers, who by the way did a swell job of organizing and running this first time event.

“The County health department, wants to make sure that all teams are building their boxes underneath their canopies or easy-ups, you are required to wear gloves when handling any and all food products”, we were told by the contest rep. “Also, you shouldn’t be surprised if you receive a visit from a County Health Department representative to look over your site.” I had no problem with the overlying theme of the message, to use your head and practice safe food handling, which for the most part, is SOP at a BBQ contest.

The more I thought about his message, the more I realized I had my story right in front of me and didn’t know it. I had heard about more and more Health Departments poking their noses into the world of competition BBQ cooking, inspecting teams, wanting to see thermometers, requiring coolers to be placed on wood blocks up off the ground. I even heard of an instance a while back where some dolt from the HD thought it should be a requirement that all BBQ teams cover the ground of their assigned contest site with a plastic tarp while preparing their submissions for the judges.

In this instance, what if I didn’t have a canopy or an ezy-up? What then? Would the Health Department official ask me to prepare my boxes in the cab of my truck? (I’ll bet after some minion from the HD took one look at the inside of my vehicle they’d be rethinking that request.) But seriously, what if I didn’t bring a pop-up cover? Is this going to be a requirement for the future?

Of course, the supposed reasoning behind all of this madness is they are simply looking out for the general food consuming public right? WRONG!!!!!!!! JUDGES AT A BBQ CONTEST ARE NOT THE GENERAL PUBLIC, THEY ARE NOT PAYING FOR, OR PURCHASING FOOD FROM THE TEAMS. (Sorry for screaming, but this is a topic that really gets me going, so much in fact that my fingers hurt just from punching the keys while typing)

The fact of the matter is teams are actually paying an entry fee, driving long distances, getting very little sleep, spending large amounts of other monies on sauces, rubs, cooking equipment, and really working their butts off to get their products to the judges on time. We aren’t selling anything to anybody; we are spending money to pursue our passion. The judges are volunteers; they do not have to pay to sample our wares, they are there freely and are not being forced to eat our que.

How in the world can any reasonable thinking person in their right mind justify this process? Is this where we are headed? Do we need the Government to protect us from ourselves? What is next, will you have to draw a permit and subject yourself to a complete Health Department inspection just to have a few of your family and friends over for dinner? Don’t laugh, think about it. If I think about it too much it makes my head explode.

A BBQ contest is nothing more than a large scale family picnic. Some of the competitors and judges are friends, some are even family. The organizers have invited them in to eat a little BBQ. At some of the more prestigious and popular events, judges are asked to remain on waiting lists for years an years before being given a chance to judge.

Do we really need to have the Government involved in this process? My answer is a resounding no. With all of the recent talk about local and State governments being strapped for operating capital, does it really make sense to encourage more and expanded inspection processes? I have got news for you out there in BBQ land, this stuff is not going away, it is here to stay and will get nothing but worse. More and more of these local jurisdictions are going to be sticking their long and pointed noses into more and more places where they don’t belong, and of more concern to me, where they "think" they belong.

I am by no means encouraging civil unrest or asking people to cause a scene when the person with the pocket protector meat thermometer shows up at your contest site. I am, however, just suggesting that when presented with this situation you not just roll over and comply. Voice your displeasure with their interference and meddling all in the name of public safety. Ask THEM a million questions, play dumb, make them work for their money while costing them time. If just one team in 50 does this, they will think he is a nut job and probably ask him to leave. But if all 50, I say ALL 50 pit masters do it they will think it is a movement. And you know what? They’ll be absolutely right. (thanks to Arlo Guthrie)

Maybe, if it takes these inspectors 6-8 hours to work their way through a 50 team competition which then causes them to show up late at their favorite Friday night martini bar, they might think twice about picking on a few guys and gals that are doing nothing more than making a little something for their friends and family to nibble on. The next time a Heath Department employee shows up at your site to poke around before a contest, just tell em to THINK SMOKE!

1 comment:

Greg Prothero said...

I like to think of contest's as a "private party" I believe we can still (for now) have a party among friends without the health department. They are a bunch of party crashers that were not invited. I will be glad to ask a bunch of question next time they show up. And, the ground tarps they required in Mt Airy were dangerously slippery. Now there is the next lawsuit.