Making Sense of Meat

I have always been so intrigued by all of the different ways that people can cook meat across the world. My favorite ways to eat meat are a pot roast in the winter on a snowy night in DC, or Swedish meatballs with my family during the holidays at Lake Shoecraft, or of course, a burger in the summer at a backyard barbecue. Meat is often one of the most celebrated parts of any meal across the world, especially since it has historically brought families together after long days of hunting for food. Let’s discover why meat has continuously been one of the most highly anticipated parts of any meal.

Meat and Pop Culture


Source: Wikimedia Commons

Singer-songwriter Lady Gaga created a buzz as she performed at the 2010 MTV Video Awards in a dress made entirely of raw meat. The singer claimed the dress was a statement about how “she is not a piece of meat” and that people should fight for what they believe in (Marpes). The famous dress is on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Keiran).

Meat and History


Source: Royalty-Free Image

In prehistoric times, the primary duty of human beings was to hunt in order to feed the family. Bovine and other wild animals were consumed in many different styles. In fact, “some of the oldest cave paintings, such as the one in Lascaux, France, depict aurochs, the ancestor of domestic cattle, being hunted” (Oster). Since 8,000 BC, man began to raise cattle for food production purposes. The cattle came in two forms, one type Bos taurus came from Europe, and the other Bos indices came from South East Asia and Africa.

The Spanish, Portuguese traders, and even Columbus himself brought cattle through Mexico to the Americas in the late 1400s. Following this, during the 1600s, the English and French continued to domesticate cattle throughout eastern North America as the colonies became better established and the Revolutionary War ensued.

Beef, on the other hand, did not become a major player in the American diet until the end of the Civil War. “Up until then cattle was used for milk, butter, hides and for drafting” (Oster). Wild game increased meat consumption significantly. Then, in the 19th century, cattle moved west.

 The cattle were primarily raised in the west where traditional food crops were harder to cultivate. The cattle grazed on native grasses and were moved, in cattle drives, to feedlots where they were fattened up. They were transported by train to the mid-west where they were slaughtered and shipped via refrigerator cars to the east where the majority of the population was. (Oster)

Because the stockyards were the focal point for trains, the Chicago Bulls Baseball team was created and continues to maintain its strong presence today.

Industrialization has changed the way that “cattle are raised, slaughtered, and processed” (Oster). The process mirrors the systematic production line of a Ford Model T factory. Feedlots are now seen as a highly effective butchering and processing method. Due to heavy feedlot usage, antibiotics are now in higher demand because of their health and sanitation risks.

Over time, there has been increased demand for organic and grass-fed beef, or “beef that is raised in open pastures and not put through the feedlot/packing house system that has dominated the landscape of beef production in the US,” mainly because of growing public health concerns (Oster). Today, while we can find a variety of beef products on grocery store shelves, from roasts to steak to ground beef, the journey of beef through time has been one filled with adventure and internal passion.

 Meat and Politics

Meat is a highly gendered food that is used to perpetuate stereotypes in modern society. The reason meat contributes to sexism, according to food and gender author Sherrie A. Innes, is because the connection between men and meat is not merely about food preferences—it is about power (Innes). Whether a man eats steak or a hamburger, meat consumption symbolizes power over animals and other humans (Innes). Meat carries with it a complex iconography; it is linked in our imagination with prehistoric times when a man (not a woman) had to hunt for his meal. In Western culture, meat has long been associated with wealth, power, and masculinity (Innes). American assumptions about these “natural” connections are so ingrained in our minds that we rarely question them (Innes).

Eating meat becomes a potent signifier of manliness, while eating tofu reinforces the stereotype that men lower their social status by eating foods like tofu, despite their health benefits (Innes). Similarly, Inness suggests points out the common assumption that women eat, cook, and serve “sissy foods,” such as salads, marshmallows, and Maraschino cherries, and are not as adventurous or capable as men in the kitchen (Innes). When women cook, it is not considered to be prestigious, simply because cooking has long been an expectation of women, whereas when a man cooks, he is considered naturally superior to his female counterparts, and displays his cooking as an art form. Media portrayal of muscular, strong men and thin, frail women as the idealized versions of their genders also contributes to these stereotypes about what men and women eat, how they cook, and what their gender expectations are.

Celebrity chef Ree Drummond, Food Network’s “The Pioneer Woman” has combated these stereotypes, since she has made a name for herself as a woman who knows how to cook meat that is not afraid to cook or consume hearty meals. In fact, one of her first tutorials about how to properly cook a steak would be the beginning of a blog launched that soon garnered millions of page views per month, that would be named one of Time Magazine’s “Best 25 Blogs in the World” (Andrani, McNichol). Drummond exemplifies, contrary to modern stereotypes, that both men and women are equally capable of cooking and eating whatever they desire, and that both men and women can cook dishes with great skill, creativity, and taste.

Mama’s Sweet and Spicy Meatballs

1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
2 large eggs beaten
1 c grated parmesan cheese
4-5 slices of bread (soak in milk) or 1 cup bread crumbs
2 cups milk
2 T minced garlic
1 t dried oregano
2 t dried parsley
2 t kosher salt
Fresh black pepper

Mix all ingredients together in large bowl and shape into balls. Saute meatballs in olive oil at med-high heat. Brown meatballs on all sides. Place them on cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for ~15 minutes or until meatballs are cooked completely cooked.

2 cans chili sauce
2 cans jellied cranberry

Heat chili sauce and cranberry until creamy. Add meatballs and serve.


Andriani, Lynn. “Cooking the Books with Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman.” Publisher’s Weekly [New York] 28 September 2009. Print. 3 January 2016.

Inness, Sherrie A. Dinner Roles: American Women and Culinary Culture. Iowa City: Iowa University Press, N.D. Print.

Keiran, Maeve. “See What Lady Gaga’s Meat Dress Looks Like Now-5 Years Later.” MTV News [New York] 28 August 2015. Print. 3 January 2016.

Marpes, Jillian. “Lady Gaga Explains Her Meat Dress: ‘It’s No Disrespect’.” Billboard [New York] 13 September 2010. Print. 3 January 2016.

McNichol, Tom. “25 Best Blogs of 2009.” Time Magazine [New York] N.D. Print. 3 January 2016.

Oster, Grant. “The History of Beef.” Hankering for History [Memphis] 11 January 2013. Print. 3 January 2016.

© 2016 Meagan Nelson & Dinner and Democracy. All Rights Reserved.