This weekend, I’m going to my favorite steakhouse for a reward. I’ve been dieting for the past four months and I deserve it. My reward will be a burned piece of a dead cow’s carcass. Doesn’t sound very appetizing put that way, but, essentially, that’s what cooked steak is.
That idea set me musing how the concept of cooking meat came about in the first place. Being the amateur historian that I am, I looked into it. I found no definitive answer to “when and how,” but I came across an interesting (possibly true) story.
Back at the dawn of civilization, when man changed from being nomadic hunter-gatherers to settling down to an agrarian life, legend has it that there was a tribe in ancient Asia that dwelt in grass huts. There was an abundance of wild hogs in the area. One day, one of the grass huts caught fire and burned to the ground.
The villagers combed through the ashes afterward and came across the burned carcass of a wild hog, which had been trapped inside. One of the villagers touched the hog. It was still hot, and it burned his fingers. Instinctively, the villager struck his burned fingers into his mouth, and for the first time, man experienced the taste of cooked meat.
And boy! Was it good! Other villagers crowded around to also burn their fingers and put them in their mouths, too. It didn’t take long for the concept to catch on. Soon, the villagers were all burning their huts down to get more cooked meat.
From there, cooking has come a long way. Today, cooking savory meat is an art form, in every sense. Go down the condiments aisle of the supermarket and notice all the sauces and marinades for sale. Then go over to the spices section and notice all the rubs and spices and combinations thereof one can use to flavor meat. Then consider all the pans, grills and appliances one can cook it on or in. It’s a far cry from ancient Asia — or is it?
Our modern choices of meat include the Big Mac, the Whopper, and the Jumbo Jack. Seems to me, we’re regressing to ancient times’ eating habits.
And speaking of cooked meat, why do we call it “beef’ instead of “cow?” Why “pork” instead of “pig” or “hog?” We call chicken, “chicken” and fish, “fish.” Why not say “cow” and “pig?” The answer, again, lies in history. During the Renaissance when modern English was developing, the upper-class in England were French. They ate cow and pig.
The lower class ate chicken and fish. The French word for “cow” was “beof” and “pig” was “porc.” The French kept their food terms, which were adopted by the lower class, who corrupted the French into “beef” and “pork.”
I wonder if the menu at the local steakhouse will have burned dead cow on it? Probably not. I may have to order something else.