College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Big Apple BBQ Block Party: ‘To Live and Die in Avoyelles Parish’

Smell that cinema! Last month, the Mississippi filmmaker Joe York visited Mansure, La., deep in the heart of Cajun country, where he discovered that “you can pretty much stand anywhere on the road down there and you’ll meet someone who’ll invite you to come eat a pig.” Mr. York ate a lot of pork on his trip, which he documented in the short film “To Live and Die in Avoyelles Parish.” The piece, which makes its premiere Sunday as part of the annual Big Apple BBQ at Madison Square Park, details a different hog-roasting celebration: the Cochon de Lait Festival. The annual Mother’s Day tradition sees some 30-odd hogs hoisted up on metal racks that resemble giant coat hangers and cooked for several hours near a roaring blaze. The results, named for the suckling pigs that often are used in the recipe, are tender white flesh encased in the crispy skin known as “cracklin.'”

“When you screw up the skin, you screw up the whole pig,” Mr. York said, adding that in ideal form, the pig turns into a sandwich, with the skin used like slices of bread. The film is one of two dozen or so documentaries Mr. York has made since 2001, distributed by the Oxford, Miss.-based Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. Like those, “Avoyelles Parish” captures an intimate encounter with regional tradition, usually in the form of, say, a family that runs a South Carolina barbecue house (“CUT/CHOP/COOK”), a Georgia cattle rancher (“CUD”) or a legendary Nashville poultry cook (“Hot Chicken”).

Mr. York, who holds a degree in anthropology from Auburn University and a master’s degree in Southern studies from the University of Mississippi, calculates he has driven 40,000 miles in his Ford Taurus station wagon just in the past 18 months—he covers a 13-state expanse that rambles from eastern Texas to Virginia—collecting hundreds of hours of footage. The encounters are edited into short documentaries that can be viewed online (at http://www.southernfoodways.com/), but will become part of an epic mosaic due for completion next summer: “Southern Foodways: The Movie.”

“I love being an insider looking at your own region almost in an outsider way,” he said. “I’m constantly amazed at how much diversity there is right next door. I don’t have to go to Italy or South America to get my fix.” Mr. York will join his producer, SFA director and professional foodie John T. Edge, along with other guests for a panel discussion after the screening, scheduled for 4 p.m. in Demonstration Tent 1 at Madison Square Park. He’ll also be on hand Friday at Jazz Standard for a $100-a-head barbecue extravaganza, with screenings of such venue-appropriate titles as “Ride That Pig to Glory.”

Published in www.bigapplebbq.org  by Steve Dollar