What Do We Eat When We Eat Meat?

Reader Contribution by Cole Ward
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If you look up the word “meat,” you’ll usually find it defined as muscle tissue from a meat animal. Meat animals are many, of course, but to most North Americans, are typically cattle, or pigs, or sheep, or chickens, or turkeys, or ducks, or geese, or (less commonly) rabbits and goats. But many folks hunt, so for them the definition will include deer, as well as —perhaps— elk, possum, moose and bear. Anybody out there dining on beaver?

Butcherly speaking, the word “meat” extends beyond muscle tissue to include offal (also called variety or organ meat). The name comes from the old days, and refers to the bits that “fall off” the carcass when the animal is slaughtered. So “meat” would also include liver, kidney, heart, sweetbreads, tripe, gizzards and (not recommended) brain. Chicken feet are a big delicacy in many Asian countries. No, I do not have a handy recipe for them. Stop begging.

Back to muscle tissue meat. Most animal muscle consists of about 75 percent water, 19 percent protein, 2.5 percent intramuscular fat, 1.2 percent carbohydrates and about 2.3 percent other substances like amino acids and minerals. Muscles are made up of bundles of cells called fibers, each of which contains filaments of two proteins: actin and myosin, which give the muscle its structure. Other muscle components include connective tissue like collagen and elastin. Meat also contains extramuscular (outside) fat, which the animal uses to store energy, and intramuscular fat, which contains things like cholesterol and other substances, and is usually referred to as marbling.

As for the word meat itself, it’s tough to trace its roots. Some claim its origin is the Old English word mete or maet, meaning any food. Others say it goes back further to the Indo-European word mad, meaning moist or wet. Up until about the 13th century, meat simply meant food— any food. Eventually the word began to be associated just with animal flesh.

And now there you are— meat eaters!

Photo by Karen Coshof

Cole Ward (AKA “The Gourmet Butcher”) is a teaching butcher who lives in Vermont. His 2-DVD butchery course is available online atThe Gourmet Butcher websiteand his book “The Gourmet Butcher’s Guide to Meat” will be released by Chelsea Green Publishing in late 2013, and is available for pre-orderhere.