raw power
September 2, 2005 1:28 PM   Subscribe

why don't we eat raw meat like animals?

when did we evolve away from raw foods? why must we cook our foods before we eat them when every other hunter eats its food raw? i know we were hunters before we were into grains and agriculture; was the physiology just lost somehow?
posted by yonation to Science & Nature (34 answers total)
Sushi is good.
posted by thanotopsis at 1:30 PM on September 2, 2005

Most meat tastes better cooked. Cooking also reduces the risk of disease.
posted by nyterrant at 1:31 PM on September 2, 2005

Bacon tastes good. Pork chops taste good.
posted by jellicle at 1:34 PM on September 2, 2005

We don't have to cook our foods before we eat them; we've just developed a taste for doing so, in some cases. Also, unless you're chowing down on a fresh kill, it's likely unsafe to eat your meat raw.
posted by rxrfrx at 1:35 PM on September 2, 2005

Response by poster: so its just a matter of immediacy? i had thought we were *unable* to process raw meat, such as pork, cow, chicken, etc?
posted by yonation at 1:36 PM on September 2, 2005

I'll clarify to say that we haven't been eating cooked meat for very long, on an evolutionary timescale. It's a preference, not an innate trait.
posted by rxrfrx at 1:36 PM on September 2, 2005

yonation- are you serious? You've never eaten a steak that was so rare, it was just brown on the outside and rare on the inside?

There was an AskMe discussion a few weeks ago about the non-safety of raw chicken, something owing to the conditions under which domesticated chicken is raised.
posted by rxrfrx at 1:37 PM on September 2, 2005

Carpaccio. Beef Tartare. Etc, etc. People do eat raw meat-we just prefer it cooked, and it's usually not too safe. You might also like to look into meats that have been "cooked" by methods other than heat, such as smoking or whatever the term is that is the process by which ceviche is made.
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:39 PM on September 2, 2005

People still eat American Tartar (err, wrong on the name I'm sure) which is raw hamburger served with two raw eggs. It's less common in America because of certain "laws" the man tries to bring you down with.

Raw meat is hard to chew and must be tenderized beforehand unless you are hardcore. It's not that our bodies can't process it, but do you really want worms, parasites and the possibility of food poisoning?
posted by geoff. at 1:39 PM on September 2, 2005

yonation-- Errrr.. sushi?
posted by xmutex at 1:40 PM on September 2, 2005

I could tell you why we shouldn’t but this isn’t an appropriate environment for doing so. :)
posted by ed\26h at 1:48 PM on September 2, 2005

Men as animals are not meat eaters. We switched to meat eating by necessity ; most probably initially absorbing large quantities of raw meat created health problems but conservation was in fact the issue. I believe that the first step was sun-dried meat still common in black Africa (called Biltong). Of course, cooking was much faster and maybe required in colder climates.

By the way, I switched recently to vegetarian; the only reason is that I like it. After a few months, I started to have the same repulsion for cooked meat as I had for raw meat previously.
posted by vieuxmaitres at 1:51 PM on September 2, 2005

I'm trying to remember where I read this, but the author claimed that cooking meat (as well as veggies) makes it easier to digest and thus we get more nutrients out of it. Maybe if we had a couple of extra stomachs like cows and horses, we wouldn't need to cook our food.
posted by idiotfactory at 1:59 PM on September 2, 2005

Men as animals are not meat eaters.

Hmm, that's funny, I seem to have canine teeth for some strange reason then? Does everyone have these? Must be for wild vegetables or something. I also seem to have a pancreas, spleen and appendix as well as diverticuli, I wonder why?

Truth is its all for meat eating. Canines are fro tearing meat. Your digestive organs (some of which have little use now) are for breaking down raw meat and fats, they are our extra stomachs (except extra stomachs would be if we ate more vegetables and needed to break down the cell structures for more vegetable nutrients).

It's the parasite/disease issue that is the biggest for cooking. Raw meat is still eaten widely in many cultures. Christians in the middle east eat raw pork organ meat washed down with Arak, though that is to disgust and piss off the muslims and jews as much as for taste in my experience. they never seem to do it in private, only in very public venues.
posted by Pollomacho at 2:11 PM on September 2, 2005

Cooking (or sundrying - well, sundrying & smoking &c. allows enzymes to work at breaking up some of the tougher connective tissue) tenderizes meat = easier to chew up and eat.

It also breaks down some of the macromolecules so the smaller amino acids are easier to taste? (total speculation on this point)
posted by PurplePorpoise at 2:42 PM on September 2, 2005

Eating uncooked meat takes a lot of jaw muscles. You might recall that proto humans had huge jaws. When these proto humans discovered how to control fire, and in turn how to cook meat, it allowed us the freedom to loose our huge jaws.

Changing directions slightly at this point, we need to talk about the birth canal and the largest size possible of a baby human head. Before the widespread use of fire, baby jaws were big and in turn took up some of the maximum allowable size of a head that could make it through the birth canal without killing the mother. Once fire allowed for us to breed out our big jaws (by making them no longer a trait that made us more fit) we were able to use that unused allowable space to grow our brains. Smaller jaws = larger brains = same size head overall, but greater intelligence.

Cooking meat = larger brain.

Other animals would cook their meat too if they could figure out how to control fire.

If you're interested in this sort of thing, I'd suggest checking out Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, by Carl Sagan.
posted by pwb503 at 2:53 PM on September 2, 2005

Is sliced turkey raw? It dosn't seem like cooked turky.
posted by delmoi at 3:12 PM on September 2, 2005

eskimos eat raw meat. In fact, "Eskimo" means "Raw meat eaters".
posted by delmoi at 3:15 PM on September 2, 2005

eskimos eat raw meat. In fact, "Eskimo" means "Raw meat eaters".

And it's also seen as quite an insult by the Inuit, too.

Just sayin'.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 3:29 PM on September 2, 2005

Animals are perfectly happy to eat cooked meat (and many prefer it if given a choice), it's just that they rarely have the opportunity to do so in the wild and they're not very good at reading recipe books. They don't eat raw meat out of preference, they eat raw meat out of necessity. Unless you feed your pet a raw food diet (which has pluses and minuses), your pet eats cooked food.
posted by biscotti at 3:38 PM on September 2, 2005

delmoi: first, does eskimo mean "raw meat eaters"?. Maybe, but most likely not. Second, if you mean like turkey sandwich meat, it is probably cooked or well smoked, or a little of both. It's also often processed into a more uniform and pliable material.
posted by RustyBrooks at 3:39 PM on September 2, 2005

I think good quality meat tastes FAR better raw. Beef certainly does, as does most fish and shellfish. Certainly, though, if you're not catching it yourself and the stuff needs to be transported after butchering, it's certainly far safer to cook first after a day or week of transport - even refridgerated transport - than eating that meat raw. And fresh raw pork - yum! I had raw horsemeat once in Aix en Provence and that was good too. Raw crab and shimp are sublime.

That said, I still prefer tartare, kitfo and the like over the cooked counterparts and have never been ill as a result of something I ate.
posted by luriete at 4:11 PM on September 2, 2005

A few people have touched on the excellent points regarding the easiness of digesting cooked meat as compared to raw meat, but there's an incredibly important point that I believe has been missed: cooking our meat, and thus making it easier for our bodies to digest, means that our bodies can process that food material far more efficiently. This means that less of the energy we consume will be used to digest more food, freeing up lots of calories, carbs, sugars, and what-have-yous for other activites- like being awake longer, being able to sustain heavy physical activity for longer, being able to perform physical tasks better (i.e. lifting more weight), etc. Most importantly, though, it allows our brains to start taking advantage of some of that unused energy.

Think this probably had a huge impact on the development of humans as a culture, analytical species? You're damn right.
posted by baphomet at 4:30 PM on September 2, 2005

About human meat-eaters...there's also the fact that we have predators front-facing eyes, unlike prey animals (cows, chickens, etc.) that have eyes on the sides of their heads better able to see predators around them.

Between that and our canines and our ability to digest meat at all, I'd say we're quite clearly meat-eating predators. We're just lucky that we can also digest veggies and therefore have a wider array of food choices.


When we meet aliens for the first time I'm going to be very much more cautious if they have front-facing eyes.
posted by Kickstart70 at 4:33 PM on September 2, 2005

eskimos eat raw meat. In fact, "Eskimo" means "Raw meat eaters".

Yes they do, and they're Inuit. In Inuktitut, 'inuit' means 'people' (as opposed to animals; singular is 'inuk'). Entertainingly, this means that on surveys, you can't ask: "Are you Inuk?" to determine their ethnicity, because they will ask, "Are you giving this survey to dogs? Or perhaps other animals? WTF?" One of my old profs had to ask this question on a survey and ended up having to invent a super-long word in Inuktitut to get the point of the question across. Anyways.

According to a woman I know from Iqaluit, they eat cooked meat hot and raw meat frozen, and she says the frozen raw meat is quite good.
posted by heatherann at 4:51 PM on September 2, 2005

baphomet has it right on. To support modern homo sapiens relative brain size and its' high caloric demands, Jared Diamond estimated that we'd have to chew raw meat for 14 hours a day. A little less if it's raw fish.
posted by xyzzy at 4:59 PM on September 2, 2005

"Between that and our canines and our ability to digest meat at all, I'd say we're quite clearly meat-eating predators. We're just lucky that we can also digest veggies and therefore have a wider array of food choices."
Bullshit. We're clearly omnivores who evolved from insectivores and herbivores who ate a primarily fruit-based diet.
Koalas and pandas both have front-facing eyes and canines. Nearly all primates have canines. Nearly all primates are omnivores, with a focus on fruits and insects.
And Pollomacho: Do you even know what your spleen does? Cows have spleens. Guess that means they eat meat. Dumbass.

Cooking meat made it safer, last longer and more efficient. That's led to a pretty big cultural preference.
posted by klangklangston at 6:21 PM on September 2, 2005

Steak Tartare, as mentioned, also Filet Americain which is ground beef, and filet Americain prepare, with spices mixed in. I ordered a random dish from a Korean joint once and got a plate of at least 2 lbs of cold, raw, salted ground beef - and no, there wasn't a place to cook it

If you were a raw food hunter, you'd try to find a healthy looking animal, slaughter it while avoiding contaminating your meat with stomach contents, etc.. and then you'd either eat it in short order, or leave it in a place that's somewhat free of pathogens. In that scenario, it might be quite safe.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 9:16 PM on September 2, 2005

It seems like there have been some evolutionary changes for eating meat cooked. It seems like the insides of our mouths (or at least mine) are much less sensitive to heat then our fingers.
posted by delmoi at 11:14 PM on September 2, 2005

Humans are omnivores.
posted by madman at 12:18 AM on September 3, 2005

[severely offtopic] Eskimo and Inuit are different people. Please refer to your dictionary (see usage notes). Eskimo may be seen as an insult to the Eskimo people (who probably do have a different name for themselves) but at least it is accurate when referring to the said ethnic group.

Saying eskimos are inuit is like saying commonwealthers are british. It's just not factually correct, even if it is politically correct. Personally, I take fact over politics any day of the week.

[ For those too lazy to click, eskimo are Alaskan and Siberian. They typically speak eskimo, not inuit. Inuit are Canadian and Greenlandic. They typically speak inuit and not eskimo. I don't know of a fully inclusive term, sorry. I'd make up the term "Arctican" if I were given the responsibility. ]

[Thank God for dictionaries to solve these problems]
posted by shepd at 2:10 AM on September 3, 2005

"Dumbass." Is this really the place for that?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:10 AM on September 3, 2005

shepd, your basic point is good but you're not making it very well. The Inuit and Eskimo are not "two different people"; Eskimo is the inclusive term you want, and the Inuit are a subgroup of the Eskimo. The Yupik are another subgroup, and they do not like to be called Inuit. And it's an overstatement that "the Inuit" see Eskimo as an insult; some do, some don't give a rat's ass, and as usual the ones who care are the most vocal and get the most attention. I personally try to call everyone by the name they prefer, but it amuses me that so many people who will never meet an Eskimo in their lives get all self-righteous about other people using the word, not realizing that the Inuit they're so proud of using would offend a non-Inuit Eskimo, and also not realizing that it's impossible to avoid using ethnic terms that some people find offensive unless you spend your entire life obsessing about it. Suppose you get into a discussion of Ethiopia and you remember that an important segment of the population is Galla and bring it up, proud of yourself for knowing this ethnographic detail. Imagine your shame when someone haughtily informs you that Galla is an insulting term and that the people in question are called Oromo these days. Oops! While, as I say, I'm sympathetic with the desire to avoid offensive terms, I also think we should be aware of the complexity of the issue and not play "Gotcha!" with each other. (While we're on the subject, a lot of Bushmen prefer to be called that rather than "San.")

RustyBrooks, thanks very much for the alt.usage.english article -- I'm blogging that sucker!
posted by languagehat at 7:00 AM on September 3, 2005

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