A couple weeks ago on our coleslaw post, I mentioned that barbecue has its roots embedded in slavery. You didn’t actually think I’d leave you hanging without more to the story, did ya? Because I’m here to go a ‘lil deeper into that history – as well as share this sweet, smoky, and tender baked beans recipe with you guys. Legggoooo!
First off, let’s get this straight – barbecue does not come from one specific culture, nor does it mean one particular thing. “Barbecue” is just as vague as the word “curry,” which essentially means something that’s been cooked in a sauce. Just like curry, barbecue is a mesh of cultural traditions stemming from several countries all over the world. Also like curry, modern barbecue wouldn’t be what it is today without world trade, but for the sake of conversation, I’m going to try to keep my focus on the events that have made American barbecue what it is today.
The word itself can be traced back to several words, such as the Spanish word “barbacoa” or the Hausa people of West Africa’s word “babbake,” both of which essentially mean to cook food over a coal or wood fire for a long period of time. Being that Spain and West Africa are in close proximity to one another, I wouldn’t be surprised if each country’s version of the word derived from their intertwining of culture.
Being that the tradition of cooking food over wood or coals for a long period of time was already common in Africa, when slaves were taken from their own land and brought to America, their cooking methods came along with them. A few years before slaves were introduced to the continent, pigs entered the Americas via the Tampa Bay and quickly spread around the Southeast in large numbers. By the time slaves came around, feral pigs were everywhere, and being that slaves had limited resources, it wasn’t long before they realized they could catch them and “barbecue” them over an open flame. As slaves were extremely limited as to what they could do on plantations, barbecuing out of holes or “pits” in the ground became their primary form of cooking.
Because their slave owners were lazy white people who didn’t want to do anything for themselves, it wasn’t long before they started to order their slaves to make them food. Coincidentally, the slave masters loved this food – despite it coming from a culture they considered to be “lesser” than their own.
At this point in time, European traditions started to blend with Africans’ barbecue traditions. Germans populated the region where the Carolinas now are, and with the Germans came along mustard. For this reason, Carolina-style barbecue sauce is usually a mustard & vinegar based sauce. In regions where the French settled, like New Orleans, meat drippings were combined with butter and used as their “barbecue sauce.” This style sauce resembles French “au jus,” which is a sauce made primarily of meat drippings and then used for prime rib.
African slaves also intertwined with native American peoples, as they shared similar ways of life – and, I gotta be honest, were both horribly oppressed by Europeans – which led to them sharing cooking techniques and ingredients. Because tomatoes are a “new world” food and because Memphis style barbecue sauce is a tomato-based sauce, it’s my opinion that Natives first introduced tomatoes to African slaves. Because many of these slaves worked on sugar plantations, they had also had access to molasses – the byproduct of manufacturing refined sugar – which was unwanted by the slave owners. Combine this molasses with the native peoples’ tomatoes, plus some of the slaves islander spices, and you have the origins of modern, sweet tomato barbecue sauce.
As time went on, cultures began to mesh even more, with African and Islander cuisines meshing with Native cuisines and then eventually with Spanish, German, and British cuisines. Nowadays, I wouldn’t even attempt to classify any sort of barbecue as belonging to this culture or that culture, but it’s important to know that bbq – now loved by millions – has its roots in oppression and poverty.
And as much as it pains me to talk about meat so heavily in this post, it’s also painful that “rednecks” get much of the credit for barbecue, when in fact European cultures merely added to a tradition that was founded by African slaves. Fortunately, the times have changed and nowadays it’s common to see white & black folks working over barbecue pits together, enjoying this fare together, and celebrating together.
In the same way it eventually brought two opposing cultures together, I think barbecue can continue to evolve the way we impact our surroundings.
While feral pigs may have been abundant throughout the 16-19th centuries, now pigs are bred in unsanitary, unhealthy, and filthy factory farms that use up horrendous amounts of food & water, pollute nearby towns’ drinking water, and ultimately kill innocent animals. And the conditions surrounding cows, chickens, and other animals bred for their meat are no cleaner. In a similar way to how slaves used what was efficient for them at the time, we now have the chance to use what’s efficient for our earth, as well as our health & the well being of others on this planet. I know that it’s a simple message we’ve all heard hundreds of times, but the truth is that your food choices have a chain reaction, and it’s up to you whether that reaction will be for the better or for the worse.
Choosing jackfruit over pork, choosing tempeh over ribs, and choosing beans without bacon may just save the world, as well as your gut, cellular integrity, and your heart.
I know we normally keep things light & funny around here, but the social & environmental aspects of our food choices mean just as much to us as does the way food’s impact on our health.
Much love earthlings,
P.S. This post is largely inspired by this article by The Guardian.
Pressure-Cooked Vegan Baked Beans (sugar-free, lectin-limited, and gluten-free)
Tender white beans in a thick, sweet & salty, smokey tomato-based sauce.
- 2 cans of great northern beans, liquid drained*
- 6 oz (1 can) tomato paste
- 1 Not-Beef or Not-Chick’n cube plus 1 1/2 c water (or 1 1/2 c vegetable broth)
- 1/2 onion, largely diced
- 3 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 1/4 c granular Swerve or other low-carb sweetener
- 2 tsp vinegar (rice, apple cider, or distilled will work)
- 1 1/2 tsp liquid smoke
- 1 tsp tamari
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp maple extract
- 1/4 tsp mustard powder
- Turn pressure-cooker (we use an InstaPot) on it’s sauté setting and set the timer for 10 minutes.
- Once hot, add in oil, onions, and a pinch of salt. Cook until onions start to turn translucent then toss in garlic and cook for another minute.
- Add in the rest of the ingredients and stir until mostly smooth. Place on lid, make sure it’s sealed, and set it to pressure cook on high for 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, you can use the quick-release valve if you want to eat them immediately, or you can keep the beans in the pot on the “keep warm” setting until you’re ready to eat (up to two hours).
- Enjoy alongside coleslaw, jackfruit, cornless bread, and anything else that’s Southern. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Reheat in a pot over medium heat with a splash of water until hot.
*Eden’s Beans are normally the go-to for Plant Paradox-friendly beans, but since we’re going to pressure-cook them anyways, you can use any organic, BPA-free canned beans here!