It’s an unfortunate truth, but barbeque is the last allowable macho in North America. It’s the one remaining place where any man still capable of gripping a pair of tongs can fulfill his genetic imperative without fear of pissing somebody off. Ever since sensitive became the new orange, masculine has been fighting a losing battle for its very existence and the backyard barbeque is the Alamo. It’s a sad commentary, but if the eulogy for the manly art of being a man ever comes, it’s going to be written in hotdogs and hamburger patties. You’ve come a long way, buddy!
Personally, I’m not a barbeque kinda guy. It almost makes me weep to see a beautiful cut of meat thrown into a crematorium, flipped around, pushed around and slathered with bottled brown something that looks and tasted like mesquite flavoured mud. Cows aren’t exactly noble beasts, but they do deserve better than that. Besides, trying to saw my way through shoe leather with a plastic knife, while balancing a paper plate that insists on sliding the potato salad into my crotch, is not my idea of a good time. Give me tables, chairs, china and candlelight anytime.
However, barbeque isn’t actually about food. It’s about the need men have to shape their environment, harness fire to do their bidding and manipulate tools. It was born in the primeval when ability and accomplishment accounted for something — namely, survival. Like it or not, a big part of how we got here depended on male strength and aggression that let our species eat better than the species who were trying to eat us. And even though we no longer value linear thinking, for 40 some millennia, it served us well.
Today, in general, ordinary men don’t see that kind of action. They watch it on television. Male aggression is frowned upon, and the emotional strength which accompanies it is considered a debilitating weakness. Vulnerability is the watchword—which, ironically, in the great pissing contest of history, would have got us all killed.
Thus, men, now useless for killing the food and dragging it home, have been relegated to the summer patio where, at least, they’re encouraged to cook it. And they do this with all the masculine genetic programming at their disposal: secret strategies, methodical planning and specialized tools. It’s amazing how the slightest sniff of barbeque coals can turn the most oh-so-sensitive man into a Cro-Magnon, brandishing his weapons and bragging on the quality of his feast. “Me. Meat. You. Eat.” And it’s perfectly acceptable because, here in the 21st century, it’s the only place left where ordinary men are allowed to be men. It might not be the hunt, but it’s the next best thing.