Passing the Salt: Activism and Food an Interview with Nate Walls

By Etan Sllaw

People have been giving to those in need for thousands of years, willing to “Pass the Salt” in their communities. Today in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a community and a man on fire are following suit.

Local barbecueman Nate Walls, owner of Secondhand Smoke BBQ, had a crazy idea to cater barbecue for social events and to combine his gift and love for old-fashioned BBQ with Community Service.

This idea wasn’t novel to him. He had always grown up around food and helping people in the community. Walls comments, “I was reared by food; our house was where everybody went to get fed. My mama babysat and cooked for the neighborhood, so I didn’t really pursue cooking—it was kind of like a calling.” An entire community is behind him supporting his dream: local churches, non-profit organizations, universities, radio stations, and businesses, as well as many private citizens, have continued to embrace and support him.

What makes this food movement so unique is that it is a melting pot of different events and functions where you can find all walks of life at the same venues on any given day of the week.

Walls started from his passion, saying, “when I started this [business], it was an accidental conception. I would get invited to barbecues and would end up taking over the grill. Eventually they started paying me for my work. But going into this, I wanted my food to blend the community. One of my mottoes is, community first. When the people of Northwest Arkansas patronize me, they, in a sense, contribute to helping the impoverished, the abused, and the homeless and housing insecure. It’s all about food, love, and hope!”

Walls has been fortunate enough to have everybody from a guy sitting on a park bench to the City of Fayetteville officials onboard. He’s also become involved with the Fayetteville Housing Authority as an activist for human rights after recent poor living conditions came to light. The community has come together to raise money for 58 residents of a housing project to receive brand new air conditioning units and paid the bill for their installations. A local assistance organization, 7Hills Homeless Shelter, has also stepped in to fund some food events and partnered with Secondhand Smoke, City officials, private citizens, and The Salvation Army to raise money and provide shelter for the citizens of Fayetteville. Secondhand Smoke has also been able to reach troubled teens by the way of a local group called FayetteVillage, an outreach program that works with at-risk youth and the Juvenile Detention Center in order to give kids a second chance.

“Through it all, I just trusted the process, Family, Religion, Faith, and the community. I would challenge anybody to find a more devoted, involved, and committed group of people than what’s in these here hills!” Walls said. “We’re not all where we want to be, but we’re following the smoke signals and you know what they say; where there’s smoke, there’s fire!”

*This essay was originally published in print in Parlor Issue #1.

*Photos of Second Hand Smoke food and event provided by Nate Walls