Meat Week: The holiday that time forgot (It's here!) [UPDATED]
At a small party last week (that included more than a few tipsy attendees from Jacksonville, Fla.), I was informed of the existence of a hallowed holiday called Meat Week. Its creators, Jacksonvillians Erni Walker and Chris Cantey, refer to the week, which begins Sunday and ends Feb. 1, as the "holiday that time forgot."
It's hard to believe that time could forget a celebration with a mandate to organize carnivorous zealots into traveling units, with the sole purpose of consuming barbecue every night for eight days straight. But apparently it did, and it took Meat Week prophets Walker and Cantey to uncover it and commit it to posterity.
The story of Meat Week's creation is simple: In 2005, Walker and Cantey were bored at work, editing footage of an insurance seminar, when they began toying with a random word generator, which suddenly hit upon the "holy combination" of meat week. For the friends, this was no random event. They have strong Southern roots and many of their childhood memories involve being fed barbecue. It seemed only natural that they try to conjure up a feeling of family and home by creating a lasting tribute to a way of life they were close to leaving behind (the pair both live and work in L.A. now).
To Walker and Cantey's surprise, the event took off, and chapters were created in cities across the country, including Boston; Atlanta; Baltimore; Charlotte, N.C.; New York; and Kansas City.
"In L.A., it's just gotten bigger and bigger," says Walker, who works as a video editor, along with Cantey, at Soapbox Films in Burbank. "Last year, our biggest night brought in 45 people, but we never had less than 20." She says that what started as a gathering of friends has turned into a genuine community of meat eaters. "A lot of new and lasting friendships have been forged over meat," she says.
Cantey adds that the bonds extend into the professional arena. He and Walker have met people through Meat Week that they've ended up editing videos for and working with on other creative projects.
Unlike Fight Club, there are no rules to Meat Week, only traditions. The main one being that each night of the week participants pose for a group shot beneath the sign of whatever barbecue restaurant they have gathered at for the evening. Walker says new chapters create new traditions; for example, some have begun incorporating Korean and Hawaiian barbecue into their Meat Week schedules.
In L.A., tradition has it that the Meat Week culminates with a bring-your-own-barbecue house party that "accidentally coincides" with the Super Bowl.
What are the downsides of eating barbecue eight days in a row? Walker can't think of many, but jokes, "We're probably shaving years off our lives." She adds that some people complain about weight gain. Oddly, that hasn't been a problem for Walker, who says she loses weight during Meat Week.
"I get so excited about Meat Week that my heart starts pounding really hard, and my adrenaline starts going crazy," explains Walker about this fortuitous, slimming phenomenon.
For all the details on Meat Week, go to www.meatweekisreal.com. There you'll find a schedule of events (the first gathering is at Spring Street Smoke House near Chinatown), as well as a blog and links to other chapters. To participate, just show up, but consider dropping a comment announcing your intentions onto the site's page, as Meat Week is expected to be bigger than ever this year.
-- Jessica Gelt
Updated, Jan. 26, 6 p.m.: As Southern California fans of barbecue know, Dr. Hogly Wogly's Tyler Texas Bar-B-Cue is not quite that far a drive -- despite the name, it's in Van Nuys, not Texas, as an earlier version of caption said.
Photos of Meat Week: Clockwise, from top left, Erni Walker and Chris Cantey enjoy barbecue in Meat Week starter jackets; Meat Weekers gather for a shot in front of Dr. Hogly Wogly's in Van Nuys; a Meat Week plate, post feeding frenzy; and carnivores at the table. Credit: Meat Week.