CULTURE

Nature’s animal husbandry: The male connection

While carrying out my research on meat, I realized that I ought to think about recounting all the freakish and disgusting things that we hear almost daily on the news. You will also have been regularly informed about such issues by newspapers: In an article published by Kathimerini last year, Yiannis Elafros provided a whole range of revealing details, such as the fact that pig DNA has been traced in chickens imported from Belgium to the UK. There is no end to the infringements and transgressions on all kinds of regulations, and this is not just a crime against our health but against our psychological well-being. «We have been betrayed, profaned,» Aristophanes (in the play «Birds») would say if he still lived. And so I decided not to recount all these pitiful and freakish things again, but to approach the subject of meat from another angle. If the dawn of civilization is defined as the moment that seeds were first sown and wheat, which the goddess Demeter herself had given to the mortals, first cultivated, then the beginning of animal husbandry begins with the domestication of animals. And if we accept that agriculture (the process of fertilizing seeds within the earth itself, their gestation and bearing of fruit) is the female dimension of the human race, then animal husbandry is its male dimension. It was men who hunted in order to secure food, until they realized that animals could both serve them and provide another source of dietary wealth. The animals were bred and the flock increased, providing leather, wool, milk and eggs. In order to be preserved, milk was made into cheese, and all this might have signalled the first phases of an economy. Sign of wealth Flocks of sheep, goats and cattle were a sign of wealth even from ancient times. From the time of the Iliad until today, the livestock breeder who «had the thousand sheep, the two thousand goats» had a good income as well as social status. For many peoples, and not just the ancient Greeks, meat was directly related to religious worship. The animal that was destined to be sacrificed was specially selected on each occasion, consecrated by the priests and sacrificed in the name of god. Some of the slaughtered animal’s choicest parts, primarily the entrails and a great deal of the fat, were burnt on the altar so that the god would be able to enjoy their fumes. The slaughtered animal was roasted or cooked and shared among those in attendance. Religious worship was, thus, one form of man’s communication with the divine, since both sides shared the food, and, through its symbolism, this convention confirmed their dependency upon each other. The consecrated meat was almost always cooked with wheat, and salt was usually the only seasoning used. These ancient offerings still exist today: in the past for the official and less official gods, today, for the Virgin Mary, Saint George or some other saint. This custom is so strong that it has survived the onslaught of misguided modern eating habits. Depending on the type, meat contains around five to 25 percent fat and is a major source of proteins, amino acids, valuable trace minerals and vitamins. Its value, in terms of nutrition and taste, is indisputable, while a great deal of its attraction is due to the myths surrounding it and its relative rarity. For the poorer segments of society, its price made its regular consumption impossible. This was also the motive behind its mass production, which was initially wholly justified: the mass production of meat made this exceptionally valuable food available to all. And this is what happened in the beginning. The inexcusable came later, when those in charge of production lost all measure of reason, when they realized how easily they could increase their profits. The stories which followed are well known and the dietary deadlock has become a modern-day plague that is threatening to destroy us. We are all responsible for these developments. In the past, the consumption of all types of food products followed the logic of securing availability. As soon as it was possible for the average person to easily buy meat, he also sought to buy only the best pieces and to consume them on a daily basis. In the past, however, countless imaginative ways had been invented to make the most of the less important parts of the slaughtered animal, such as offal, feet, bones, etc. (stuffed stomachs, kokoretsi, pork jelly, etc.). Now we have lost touch with these delicacies for reasons (unfortunately) of social acceptability. The fillet In the past few years, those responsible for forming society’s gastronomic trends have been promoting various pseudo-glamorous dishes prepared with that most select piece of beef, the fillet. The tendency to consume without thinking has produced situations of «Mad Cow» proportions: each animal, no matter how big it is – the average cow weighs 500-700 kilos- has only two sides which, once they have been cleaned of fat and skin, provide about 12 to 20 fillets. How is it possible for so many fillets to be served in all the countries of Europe? If we are to make a simple calculation, it is easy to realize that there are many gaps. The issue is that the marketing influencing our modern eating habits promotes as nutritionally good those dishes which include select pieces of boneless meat, so as to ensure that exorbitant prices can be charged for them.