Friday, April 21, 2006

Cow Flesh: It's What's For Dinner

Here's a fun mental exercise. Think about the names of some of the various meats that we eat:
  • Beef
  • Steak
  • Pork
  • Ham
  • Bacon
  • Lamb
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Duck
  • Salmon
  • Halibut
  • Catfish
When you look at them all in a list like that, do you notice any particular pattern? Well, since you're not very good at recognizing patterns, I'll just tell you what the pattern is. The meats that come from four-legged critters have non-animal names, while the meats from birds and fish are simply named after their respective beast. Why is that? Some may try to argue that the different types of meat that come from the four-leggers all need special names, but bird flesh produces different types of meat too—we just call it what it is: leg, thigh, breast, wing, etc.—, so that can't be it. "Cow back" is just as easy to say as "t-bone steak."

So here's my theory. People don't like to think about the fact that they're actually consuming a cute furry animal. What are the most popular two types of pets? Dogs & cats, right? Four-legged furry animals. What do people go to the zoo to see? Lions, tigers, bears, giraffes, hippos, that kind of thing—four-legged furry (well mostly) animals. People have some kind of inherent attachment to furry animals. They're easy to ascribe emotion to, and somehow we just relate to them. The thought of cutting up a cuddly critter with your knife and fork just doesn't sit well with us, so we give the food different names that won't remind us of our dinner's cuddliness. Birds and fish aren't similar enough to us to give us quite that same uneasy feeling in the pits of the stomach, so full awareness of eating them isn't a big deal to us.

The only anomaly that I can think of as far as this theory is concerned is lamb. Lambs are just about the cuddliest food source of all, and yet we don't have any special name for them at all. I guess no matter what name you gave it, non-evil people would still have a hard time eating lamb. So we just figure why bother with the special names at all. If someone is cold-hearted enough to chow down on the very symbol of innocence, they don't deserve the comfort of meat euphemisms.

Here's a fun game that I like to play just to catch people off guard. The next time you're eating or discussing some kind of cow or pig meat, be sure to refer to it actually as cow or pig. For example, "I'll have the roast beef sandwich" becomes "I'll have the roast cow sandwich." Bonus points for discussing the doomed animals emotions.

image sourceCategories: Culture


Blogger Sarah said...

That's why I'm vegatarian

1:14 PM, April 21, 2006  
Blogger LotharBot said...

mmmmm, roast lamb... *drools*

The main reason for giving different names to different cuts of meat is that cows and pigs, unlike birds, are FREAKING HUGE. With a 20-pound bird, you've got 4 distinct cuts of meat -- breast, leg, thigh, wing. With an 800 pound pig or a 3000 pound cow, you've got a few dozen distinct cuts of meat.

In my experience, lamb is usually referred to either as "leg of lamb" or using the cow/pig nomenclature of "lamb chop" or "lamb roast" or "lamb triangle tip" or whatever.

2:54 PM, April 21, 2006  
Blogger DaButtminster said...

Lamb curry. Oh baby.

3:36 PM, April 21, 2006  
Blogger Dove said...

I agree with Lotharbot. Beef has room for things like T-bone and porterhouse and round tip and flank and rib eye and tenderloin--and they all mean genuinely different things. That's because when you cut a cow up into bite-size pieces, there are a lot of different pieces there. Something like fish, on the other hand, well... it's pretty much all fish.

The small/large animal distinction seems to hold better than the cute/non-cute distinction. Let me try it out on a few more data points:

*fetches cookbook full of recipes for obscure animals & meat products*


Huh. Doesn't hold up that well, as I see venison, veal and mutton on the list, and those are arguably large animals. Then again, they're also popular animals, and would be fairly compared with beef. A revision seems to work: meat gets a special name if it comes from an animal that is both large and popular to eat.

More importantly, though, I have just discovered that I posess a recipe for squirrel meat. Yes, an honest-to-goodness recipe in a dead-serious cookbook, right there with directions on how to skin and dress a squirrel.

And no euphamisms at all. Perhaps Skor is right. Evil people don't need them.

12:05 AM, April 22, 2006  
Blogger Nathan said...

Lamb souvlaki. Mmmm.

I'm thinking we should breed food animals that are intelligent enough to speak and depressed enough that they want to be eaten so that, a la Restaurant at the End of the Universe, they can explain to us that they really prefer being food. I bet no one would be a vegetarian if we did that.

7:54 AM, April 22, 2006  
Anonymous Carl said...

I'm calling your bluff sarah. If you were truely vegetarian, you'd know how to spell it!

10:37 AM, April 26, 2006  
Blogger dufflehead said...

mutton - a non-lamb word dish

12:58 PM, May 25, 2006  

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