I was recently forwarded the rules of The Game by a friend and fellow alumnus. I don’t think I have ever really read the tailgate rules Yale prints annually to guide students about dos and don’ts, but this year I was inclined to see what stipulations would need to be met to be considered a “Yale Man” at The Game. On first glance things seemed to make sense, mostly there to protect students, especially those experiencing The Game for the first time.
But item 10 stopped me in my tracks: “Open fires are prohibited in all parking lots. Gas grills are permitted provided they are self-contained and all contents are removed from the parking lots upon departure. Charcoal grills are prohibited.”
I immediately scrolled to the top of the page to make sure I hadn’t been reading the Communist Manifesto or, worse, Harvard’s rules for The Game. Alas, no; sure enough, I was reading “Yale University: Tailgating Rules of The Yale-Harvard Football Game 2011.” I was shocked, and it wasn’t the “open fires” or “gas grills” that fueled my disbelief. It was the final searing sentence: “Charcoal grills are prohibited.” Barbecuing is an essential element of tailgating. To barbecue without coals removes the core of barbecuing: community. Let me tell you why.
Eight years ago, some close friends and I founded a barbecue community. We called it Yale University Barbeque Outreach, or YUBO. We weren’t the Texas Club or the Eating Club or even the Meat Club. Though we enjoyed eating — and eating meat — that wasn’t our main thrust. We were a barbecue community that believed barbecue was fundamentally built upon friendship and sharing.
We crowded close around the coals in the dead of winter, warmed not by the hot white ash or the sapphire blue licks popping out of their coal encampments beneath the oak embers, but by the bonds of friendship and community forged in the fires of the barbecue. It was around the indirect heat of the barbecue that I pondered my deepest thoughts. We all believed that we would meet the men and women we would one day marry around a grill. Some of us have.
Some friends hypothesized that Yale banned charcoal grills because coals burn crimson red. But every true griller knows that the hottest fire is blue, and a true griller strives to “blue” their coals. Yale knows better, and their reasoning can’t be that obtuse.
Sometimes when I search for inspiration in my own barbecuing and the community that I want to create through its glow, I turn to a favorite book called “Los Secretos de Los Asados,” an Argentine masterpiece on barbecue. Roberto Marin, the author, writes, “600,000 years ago early man experienced a major cultural turning point: he learned to keep and manage the fire that was generated by lightning. This allowed him [man] to develop … cooking techniques … and the well earned recognition [of] hunter-griller.” Marin goes on to write that our development as “hunter-grillers” transformed from day by day subsistence to grilling as a form of developing life-long friendship. Grilling isn’t a means to an end — taking raw meat and making it into edible food — but a doorway to new experiences, new friendships and new hope. Charcoal isn’t just fuel. It’s a foundation — of the grill, of life, and of some dang good meals.
I implore Yale University to not be so draconian with its rules on grilling. Consider the lack of alternative possibilities for those who are looking to roast a pig, for example, and can’t do so on a gas grill. Think of alternatives to banning, such as reserving a section of the parking lot for charcoal grills, a dumping pile for hot coals or a license for grilling earned through a series of questions developed by the University. A “license to grill” has a nice ring to it.
Since its founding, Yale has stood for light and truth — for reason where others fall too easily to a hard line. I urge the University to return to reason and reinstall the most timeless of community centerpieces to one of Yale’s most enjoyable traditions. Stand with me and live what you were born to do: Live by Charcoal or die.
John Petersen is a 2006 graduate of Silliman College.