ARCADIA, N.C. -- Fourth-graders in this west-central North Carolina town expected to get a civics lesson when they suggested to lawmakers that the nearby Lexington Barbecue Festival be named the state's official food festival.
Instead, they got a lesson in the fierce state debate over whether the barbecue style in eastern North Carolina is better than western BBQ.
"I didn't know so many people would be asking questions and wanting to know how I feel about it," said 10-year-old Kaylyn Vaughan. "You have to realize it is a very big deal."
Here's what you need to know about barbecue in North Carolina: Western style, also known as Lexington or Piedmont, is made from the shoulder of the hog and has a red, tomato-based sauce. Eastern style uses every part of the pig except the squeal, in a vinegar-based sauce.
The argument about which is best has waged nearly forever. The state's tourism division even conducted an online poll in 2002. Thousands of votes were cast, with eastern winning by a snout, although the head of the Lexington visitors bureau demanded a recount.
The kids at Friedberg Elementary School fired up the fight innocently enough in February as part of a civics project. They could have studied the state tree, the state bird or the state fish. They chose food.
They wrote letters to lawmakers asking that the one-day Lexington event, which attracts 150,000 people every year, be named the "state food festival."
But when the bills were filed, they mistakenly called for Lexington's event to become the "state barbecue festival."
And that's how fourth-graders started a statewide debate and got a lesson in politics.
A North Carolina House committee recommended that the festival receive the state designation, but the bill ended up in another committee. In the state Senate, the bill has been stuck in committee since it was filed.
As for the kids, they don't quite understand why their little petition has set off a state civil war.
"I wish we could all get along," said 10-year-old James Lumley.
-- Associated Press