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Release date: 12/28/2004.
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"For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat"
--St. Matthew

"The best vegetable is meat"
--Old Alsatian saying

"God sends meat, but the Devil sends cooks"
--Thomas Deloney (16th century)

"Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things."
--Genesis (1000 BCE)

"Let us eat flesh, but only for hunger not for wantoness. Let us kill an animal; but let us do it with sorrow and pity and not abusing it, or tormenting it."
--Plutarch (c. 75 AD)

"Give them great meals of beef and iron and steel, they will eat like wolves and fight like devils."
--William Shakespeare in King Henry V

"It is only by softening and disguishing dead flesh by culinary preparation that it is rendered susceptible of mastication or digestion; and that the sight of its bloody juices and raw horror does not excite intolerable loathing and disgust."
--Percy Bysshe Shelley in Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem (1813)

The food in Yugoslavia is fine if you like pork tartare
--Ed Begley, Jr.

"Beef is the soul of cooking."
--Antonin Careme in Le Cuisinier Parisien (1828)

"Greater eaters of meat are in general more cruel and ferocious than other men."
--Jean-Jacques Rousseau

"Doctor, do you think it could have been the sausage?"--Last words of French Poet Paul Claudel (1955)

"Tongue: well that's a werry good thing when it ain't a woman's."
--Sam Weller in Dicken's The Pickwick Papers

"One good oxtail is worth a thousand words...I'm in favour of rice and Burgundy with it, especially when writing a novel of sex and violence."
--Alex Hamilton, British writer

"Any of us would rather kill a cow than not have beef."
--Dr. Samuel Johnson, reported by Boswell (1760)

"Some hae meat and cannot eat,
And some would eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit."

--Robert Burns (1759-96) in "Grace before Meat"

"Pig--let me speak his praise--is no less provocative of the appetite than he is satisfactory to the criticalness of the censorious palate. The strong man may batten on him, and the weakling refuseth not his mild juices."
--Charles Lamb in Dissertation upon Roast Pig (1823)

"Veal is the quintessential Lonely Guy meat. There's something pale and lonely about it, especially if it doesn't have any veins. It's so wan and Kierkegaardian. You just know it's not going to hurt you."--Bruce Jay Friedman in The Lonely Guy Cookbook (1976)

"I saw a woman, solitary, brooding."
--Riddle number 76, in the Old English Exeter Book, first made public in 1072 by Leofric, first Bishop of Exeter. The answer is "A Hen."

We didn't starve, but we didn't eat chicken unless we were sick, or the chicken was.
--Bernard Malamud (1914-1986).
NB: Ann Evans of New York City notes that Malamud took this from an old Jewish saying about "if a poor man gets to eat a chicken..." knowing that people would recognize the source when he said it.

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Meat and Fowl

Consider how ancient man exercised himself to bring food sources under control. Imagine yourself in a hostile world. Plants were around--but were tough, spiny, and poisonous as often as not. All things considered, animals were a safer bet...especially when they viewed you as an equally viable food source.

So, the domestication of animals--that is, of a steady, reproductive food source--was surely a top priority. And not very easy to accomplish. Consider the time line:

The Domestication of Animals, from the Neolithic Period onward
Date Animal Location
9000 BCE sheep Middle East
8400 BCE dog Eurasia, North America
7500 BCE goat Middle East
7000 BCE pig Middle East
6500 BCE cattle Middle East
6000 BCE guinea pig South America
3000 BCE horse Russia
2000 BCE chicken India

Where did beef originate?

Most breeds of cattle go back to the wild Bos primigenius, the stone age cattle that were painted on the cave walls at Lascaux, France. To see them, click here.

So why is veal pale? Beef, red? Why do chickens and turkeys have white and dark meat?

The pink or red coloration of meat is NOT due primarily to blood and its oxygen, carrying hemoglobin. Rather, it is due to oxygen-storing myoglobin, which is located in the muscle cells proper and which retains the oxygen brought by the blood until the cells need it.

The muscles that require a lot of oxygen have greater storage capacity than those that need little, so they are consequently darker red.

Chickens and turkeys do a lot of standing around and strutting, but they hardly ever fly--so their breast meat is white and their legs dark.

Wild duck and game birds, by contrast, spend more time on the wing, exercising their pecs--so their breast meat is quite dark.

Speaking of chickens, part I: Where'd they come from?

The Romans actually developed the first distinctive breed of chickens, but the originals most likely derived from the red jungle fowl in Southeast Asia--and were tamed in prehistoric times, perhaps in India. Ancient records show them being raised in China in 1400 BCE. Eventually they arrived in Europe (hence the Roman breeds)--and on to the New World on the ships of Spanish explorers in the 1500s and of English settlers in the 1600s.

Speaking of chickens, part II: Isaac Newton, distracted

Louis Figuier tells the following story about a classic Newton dinner party: "Newton's friend Dr. Stukely came to dinner with him. After waiting a long time for him to come out of his study, the doctor decided to help himself to some of the chicken that was already on the table. When he had finished, he left the remains of the bird on the plate and covered it with the silver cover. At the end of several hours, Newton finally made his appearance, saying that he was very hungry. He sat down at the table and lifted the cover from the chicken, but when he saw the carcass, "I thought," he cried, "I had not yet dined. I see I was mistaken."

Speaking of chickens, part III...a tragic story

In March of 1626, while riding in a coach from his rooms in London to the suburb of Highgate, Sir Francis Bacon decided to take advantage of an fresh snowfall "to try an experiment or two, touching the conservation and induration of bodies." He stopped at a cottage, bought a chicken, and stuffed it with snow to study the preservation effects of freezing. In the process, he caught a chill and died of bronchitis two weeks later.

What about turkeys?

These birds were New World creatures--and were raised as food by Native Americans as early as 1000 AD. There are two kinds: the brilliantly colored ocellated turkey (native to Guatamala and Mexico's Yucatan peninsula) and the North American turkey (native to the United States and parts of Mexico). It was the latter type in the wild that Benjamin Franklin wanted to designate as the American national bird, not the bald eagle.

And how'd they get their name? In a VERY roundabout way. When guinea fowls first came to England, they were called "turkey cocks" and "turkey hens" because they'd been shipped there by Turkish merchants in the spice trade. The same name was then used to designate the New World big birds, as they tasted the same and were equally exotic.

Poetical geese?

English poet laureate and Lake Poet Robert Southey had these fine thoughts "To a Goose":
If thou didst feed on western plains of yore;
Or waddle wide with flat and flabby feet
Over some Cambrian mountain's plashy moor;
Or find in famer's yard a safe retreat
From gypsy thieves, and foxes sly and fleet;
If thy grey quills, by lawyer guided, trace
Deeds big with ruin to some wretched race,
Or love-sick poet's sonnet, sad and sweet,
Wailing the rigour of his lady fair;
Or if, the drudge of housemaid's daily toil,
Cobwebs and dust thy pinions white besoil,
Departed Goose! I neither know nor care.
But this I know, that we pronounced thee fine,
Seasoned with sage and onions, and port wine.

When is a veal not a veal?

No precise ages standards are set to differentiate veal from beef, oddly enough, but the term usually means the meat from a young calf that is 1 to 3 months old. Lots of places sell meat from animals up to 9 months old, though--and the darker the meat, the older the calf...and the more likely it was fed on grain or grass. "Milk-fed veal," of course, is the creme de la creme, with firm delicate flesh that is creamy white with a pale gray-pink tinge. In soup, it shouldn't be paired with strongly flavored ingredients, lest it be completely overpowered.

The glory of pork

Pigs, which descended from wild boars in Asia and Europe, were not so easy to domesticate. They couldn't be driven out into the sun to forage, like sheep. They didn't give milk. They couldn't digest grass, leaves, or straw. In fact, they ate human food--and competed with humankind for whatever was digestible.

Nevertheless, they were incredibly good to eat. Consider the Norsemen, who led such a scrappy existence they had to fan out as Vikings over Europe looking for food: their fantasy conception of Valhalla included a divine hog called Saetherimni, who allowed itself to be killed and eaten every day, obligingly coming back to life on the morrow to be killed and eaten again. And consider the unbelievably silly "Dissertation on Roast Pig," written by Charles Lamb (1775-1834).

Then again, it was Launcelot in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice (III, 5) who said: "This making of Christians will raise the price of hogs: if we grow all to be pork-eaters, we shall not shortly have a rasher on the coals, for money."

It was around 7000 BCE that the intrepid natives of what is now Turkey succeeded in domesticating the brutes. To this day there are only two basic varieties: the longbacked Chinese pig and the heavier European/Danish pig--which last was introduced to America by early settlers. But a key breeding breakthrough occurred in 1760 when Robert Bakewell of Leceistershire crossed the fat Chinese pig with the lean pigs of West England.