JACKSONVILLE — Back in my younger days – in the early 1990s, shortly after my graduation from Tarleton State University in Stephenville – I spent roughly a year as a vegetarian.
It wasn't fun. In fact, it was a very difficult year for me. There was meat everywhere I looked. And I craved it oh, so very badly. Every dish on every menu seemed to be stuffed with meat. Meat beckoned to me over and over again.
It seemed that there was nowhere to turn. But rather than give up, I decided to instead distract myself by "upping the ante" on my diet. I eliminated milk products in addition to meat. No milk. No cheese. Or anything with milk or cheese in it.
This diet got kind of weird after awhile. Ordering pizzas without cheese meant I would get a burned crispy shell with some sauce and veggies, but nothing else. Eventually, I stuck to ordering only Pizza Hut breadsticks or spaghetti.
Anyway, after about a year, I sought advice from my old college friend Manuel Alvear. A very wise individual, Manuel told me, quite frankly, that he doesn't believe vegetarianism is a natural practice for human beings.
Humans, Manuel said, are CARNIVORES. Not eating meat, he said, goes against the natural order of who and what we are as people.
Ultimately, I decided Manuel was right. So, at the end of that year, I decided to abandon my meatless diet. Really, I had nothing left to prove. I knew I had the willpower to do it again whenever I wanted. I really, honestly, no longer had any desire to be either a vegetarian or a vegan.
There was no ethical stance behind my diet. Bottom line, I became a vegetarian while trying to impress a girl I was dating at the time. But she was better suited for this diet. She went to school in San Marcos and had the necessary moral underpinnings to enforce her choices of what to eat.
My ultimate conclusion was there was no one manipulating me to this decision. I was my own man making my own choice.
So I celebrated this conclusion by gobbling down three very greasy hamburgers I quickly purchased from three different fast food restaurants.
I remember the animal fat flooding my stomach. I actually began to get a "meat buzz." I felt like I was floating on a cloud. It was an amazing feeling.
So, to make a short story long, this was how I kind of felt when sampling ribs, chili, chicken and brisket during the recent "Smoking For H.O.P.E." barbecue cooking competition.
This audience-pleasing event, held Oct. 19, stuffed tummies and raised money for a very good cause. Nearly $3,000 went to benefit the Raymond & Eloise Teague Center of H.O.P.E., 595 S. Ragsdale.
(H.O.P.E., incidentally, serves as a clearing house for churches and charitable agencies in Cherokee County.)
District 2 City Councilman Jeff Smith – founder and creator of this event – walked away the Grand Champion of the entire affair, winning first place in brisket, chili and dessert, second place in dessert and third in ribs.
Amber Haynes was the Reserve Grand Champion, having won first place in beans, second in chili, third in chicken, and second in brisket.
Participants paid either an advance entry fee of $65 ($75 at the gate) and had the option of cooking brisket, chicken, ribs, chili, beans or dessert. There also was a $15 charge to stay at the Lake Jacksonville Campgrounds during the competition.
I was invited to judge the event along with Tim Campbell, city code enforcement officer, Diana K. Smith, a Twin Oaks Nursing Home employee, truck driver David Walley, and Blake Belyeu. a Luminant power plant employee.
I always enjoy the company of Tim Campbell, who you'll recall is the brother of Earl "The Tyler Rose" Campbell. Tim is also a former football player and I get a kick out of watching passersby slowly start to recognize him as the day goes on.
For moral support, I brought along my 2-year-old son, Camden Lee, and my stepchildren, Trent and Emily Woodall. Emily mostly slept through the day in my car. Trent mostly chased Camden around making sure he behaved while I tasted chili, chicken, ribs, brisket and homemade vanilla ice cream.
The kids got to eat a lot too; Camden Lee gnawed happily on a rib he carried around with him like a cute little caveman.
That particular Saturday was a very cold, crisp day. In between judging sets, my children and I nibbled on small samples of the available food.
There was one dessert dish – a peach cobbler with homemade vanilla ice cream that brought back fond memories of my PePa and MeMa in Dallas. (My PePa was known to make extraordinary homemade ice cream.)
Camden Lee was only one of many adorable youngsters roaming around, many of them yelling, giggling, laughing, running and generally enjoying themselves.
Mo Raissi, Jacksonville city manager, and Will Cole, public works director, were both out in full effect – both in their civilian clothes. Many city employees and officials were around the enjoy the event.
I didn't have time to stay and graze on the leftover food after judging was completed because Cam was growing restless and grouchy and really, really needed to calm down for his nap. Feeling sad that I couldn't eat more, I loaded the kids up and moved on out.
I can't say enough about people who donate their time and money to help others in need. And coming up with an event like this that can only help this effort is very commendable.
Anyway, as I drove away after downing so many of the magnificent ribs, I once again felt like I was floating on that aforementioned meat-induced cloud – hoping an invitation to judge this event will be sent to me again next year.
Reporter Ben Tinsley can be contacted by email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 903-586-2236.
Tinsley can also be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/bentinsley or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ben.tinsley.12.