'The Magic Bristle Theory'


As a rule, I never blog about things unrelated to food. Whether it's about restaurants, recipes or even a bag of chips, if it's something related to digestion, I'm cool with writing about. Even when I have an ulterior objective like talking about personal issues or non-food topics like voting, I try to couch it in a food review. Until now, the only exception I made to my rule involved responding to a loud mouth, belligerent douchebag who attacked me (verbally, although we almost came to blows) and trashed the blog. At the time, I stated that would be the only time that I write about something that wasn't a food/restaurant review. Well, after watching an episode of one of my favorite television shows, I have added another exception: people maligning Memphis food culture. By that, I don't mean criticism of a certain food or restaurant, but mischaracterizing it as something that it's not.

A scene from NBC's Chicago Med

In the latest episode of NBC's "Chicago Med" (strangely titled "These Are Not The Droids You Are Looking For") that aired February 7, 2024, one of the stories involved a man having abdominal pains who was afraid of having surgery because his HMO wouldn't cover it. After he was initially discharged from the hospital, he returned feeling so bad that he needed emergency surgery. Chicago Med's Crockett finding a brush bristle inside a man's intestinesThanks to the expertise of Gaffney Chicago Medical Center's top surgeon, the smooth-talking Dr. Crockett, he discovered what caused "Floyd" to nearly die: a brush bristle. Specifically, a nylon brush bristle that could have come from anywhere. However, during Floyd's initial visit, he confided to Nurse Maggie that he was travelling the country and made many stops prior to arriving in Chicago. Because one of those cities was Memphis, Nurse Maggie (the lady in the blue scrubs in the picture above) made the "brilliant" conclusion that the bristle in question was consumed by Floyd (the man in the picture above who is writhing in pain) when he had some of Memphis' legendary barbecue. The "astute" Dr. Crockett concurred, stating that there are "a bunch of documented cases" related to loose bristles found in barbecue. "One patient even died" according to the "doctor." Another doctor coined this "phenomenon" "The Magic Bristle Theory" that apparently afflicts anyone eating barbecue, especially if it comes from Memphis. Afterwards the two doctors, believing that having a barbecue was a bad omen, decided to have a fish fry instead, because fish is soooo safe to eat (I say that with a lot of sarcasm).

Okay, where should I start in debunking this B.S.? There is no such thing as a "magic bristle theory" involving barbecue, something that I'm saying not as an expert but as a Memphian who ate a lot of barbecue in my fifty-plus years of living without incident. Also, I can not recall anyone having an experience remotely related to Chicago Med's "theory" about barbecue. Although I'm primarily defending Memphis barbecue, I've had other styles of barbecue that didn't put my life in jeopardy. That's not to say that a bristle (or, more realistically, bone chips) could never appear in a pulled pork sandwich or a slice of brisket, but "Floyd" could have swallowed that bristle while eating a Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich or a deep dish pizza ("Floyd" said he ate that before returning to the hospital) or anything else. No one food corners the market on potential hazards, so I suggest that the writers for "Chicago Med" to not use a broad brush to malign barbecue, particularly if it comes from Memphis. It's misleading and downright insulting to the barbecue community (by the way, if there are "documented cases" of foreign objects dropped in barbecue, mention them by name so the public can know).

Generally speaking, Chicago Med (one of NBC's "One Chicago" shows) is a good show that's pleasantly entertaining. If the writers and showrunners are looking for ideas for another episode, I have one that's a doozy. It goes like this: Dr. Crockett (an Iranian-American with a strong Creole accent) gets the "hots" for Nurse Maggie, sweet talking her into going out on a date. But before Crockett's shift ends, he gets a patient who desperately needs open heart surgery. Crockett performs the surgery while thinking about "knocking boots" with Nurse Maggie. After the surgery, Crockett and Maggie go out on the town and eventually make it back to his apartment for, well, you know. Overall, a happy ending for everyone accept the patient, who needs another surgery to remove the clamps that Crockett left in his chest.

By the way, medical tools like clamps and scalpels are left in patients quite often, probably outnumbering incidents involving foreign objects in barbecue. Does that mean all doctors are idiots? No, but bad things happen sometimes and that shouldn't be distorted to represent a false reality. Overall, Memphis barbecue is both good and safe, despite what any TV show says.

NOTE: For this episode, click here to read the transcript.

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