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Where Y’Eat: At Hogs for the Cause, a Mission Fired up By Fun

Hogs for the Cause in New Orleans
Ian McNulty
Hogs for the Cause in New Orleans

When Hogs for the Cause gets rolling this Friday, it becomes a whirl of live music from three stages, smoke and sizzle rising from 90 individual teams set up to cook outdoors, and the general buzz of thousands of people out to eat, drink and have a good time.

Hogs for the Cause is a barbecue-based charity event that returns to the grounds around the UNO Lakefront Arena this weekend.

It can feel freewheeling, indulgent and even debaucherous, as festivalgoers and cook-off team members pig out and cut loose.

But behind the scenes, there is a hushed moment that has become an integral part of the annual springtime event.

At the final pre-festival meeting on Friday morning, team captains meet with a family who has been a beneficiary of Hogs for the Cause. Veteran participants describe this moment as galvanizing, and for some it’s been transformative.

Hogs for the Cause started out as a pig roast to support one New Orleans family grappling with pediatric brain cancer. Today it’s the most important funder for this work nationally, helping families through the wrenching ordeal of a particularly cruel cancer.

Hogs for the Cause stands out as a different kind of festival and a different kind of fundraiser, and that’s due to the cook-off teams. Many have become incredibly effective fundraisers, with some teams making six-figure contributions.

Over the weekend, they compete for barbecue awards, and also serve an array of food to from their stands that’s extraordinary in variety and creativity, from outlandish meaty creations to snacks for the kids.

The teams even build the structure of the festival, with campsites they construct just for the weekend, on a scale from tree forts to miniature theme park installations.

A mission that couldn’t be more serious plays out with much fun and delicious food, and that’s made Hogs for the Cause one of the great eating weekends on the local calendar. Because yes, this is Louisiana, and we do have special eating weekends marked in advance. At Hogs for the Cause, though, the first course is always starts the cause.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.