The Barbecue Wars

One long-running point of contention in United States cookery is where, exactly, one is to find real barbecue. Half the states in the nation will lay claim to the title of the true ‘cue, but for most people this neverending battle is merely good fun and an excuse for big cookoffs in the summer.

Chalk up another social issue made much worse by memetics.

In 2079, a Houston neurologist and amateur chef, having just finished digesting The Propagation of Human Ideas, decided to test his grasp of the new principles by devising a memetic campaign to tout the superiority of Texas-style barbecue. His campaign was crude, and any effect it had was not above the threshold of random chance. However, the project was noticed by some Texan scholars of memetics and a few marketing professionals in barbecue-related industries, who found it a very promising experiment.

Unfortunately, some months later, his jerry-rigged memetic engineering was noticed by a young student in the new Memetics program at Clemson University in South Carolina, who was incensed and decided to retaliate with his own memetic campaign promoting South Carolina barbecue, recruiting the aid of several meat-loving classmates.

The South Carolina meme blitz caught the attention of a group of psychotherapists in Memphis who had monthly get-togethers at a local barbecue joint, and another faction joined the struggle just in time to meet the Texan counter-offensive. The barbecue wars were on in earnest.

Across the country, people saw mouth-watering fauxflesh, grilled or smoked (according to the faction behind the communique), and went out to scratch that barbecue itch. Local barbecue proponents, of course, were invariably enraged by interlopers trying to obscure real (that is, local) barbecue, and embarked on their own promotional campaign.

Soon, dozens of small memetic engineering cabals were vigorously cooking up propaganda campaigns with the fury that only a rabid hobbyist can muster. Fauxflesh sales were through the roof, along with all barbecue supplies. Different styles had the upper hand at different times, as different factions acquired more resources. It’s estimated that, at the height of the barbecue wars in 2081, over half the people with memetic training in the United States were involved at least peripherally with a barbecue faction.

Naturally, a downside to all that barbecue emerged. To begin with, the age of memetics was new, and many of these ambitious memetic campaigns were put together by a room full of people with a dog-eared copy of The Propagation of Human Ideas and a head full of cock-eyed notions. A lot of the freshly-minted memes just didn’t work, but a number of them went rather badly wrong. The “contaminated molasses” scare flooded emergency rooms with hysterical parents. People reported that the Santa Maria Tri-Tip Man repeatedly appeared in their dreams, threatening them with a deadly spice rub. And the notion that slow-cooked pork promotes arthritis persists in some populations right up to the present day.

Secondly, the barbecue warlords were often a bit overzealous. Many of the memetic engineers who did work on barbecue-related projects report having been threatened, overtly or subtly, into contributing — sometimes with physical violence, other times with job repercussions or blackmail. This level of zealotry also sometimes broke out into violence with the rise of the infamous cookoff hooligans.

The savage fighting which broke out at cookoffs and parks across the nation in the summer of 2082 was the last straw for many. A good lunch just wasn’t worth this kind of hassle, no matter how tender and smoky. Negligent memetic engineering was accepted as a basis for civil action following Parker v. Santa Maria Barbecue Advocacy Council, driving most of the barbecue warlords out of the field. The barbecue craze collapsed. Thousands of the barbecue joints which had sprung up all over the country dried up and blew away.

Most people have tried to forget the barbecue wars, though some annual cookoffs now have “veteran” get-togethers. Memeticists value the period for the massive amounts of field data they were able to collect on the techniques laid out in The Propagation of Human Ideas. Responsible and sober experimentation would have taken decades to accomplish as much as the barbecue wars did in just three years. And all that data, the memeticists say, was collected without having to tamper with anything really essential.

The memeticists don’t get invited to barbecues anymore.

This setting element is intended for use with Transhuman Space from Steve Jackson Games. It is not official, nor is it endorsed by Steve Jackson Games. Transhuman Space is a registered trademark of Steve Jackson Games. All rights are reserved by SJ Games. This material is used here in accordance with the SJ Games online policy.