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Culinary Darwinism

August 6, 2008 - Eric Paddock
I saw a barbecue apron the other day emblazoned with this: “I didn’t fight my way to the top of the food chain to be a vegetarian.”

Now, I have nothing against vegetarians, unless they try to convince me to join their ranks while I’m enjoying a medium rare Delmonico or extracting the last bits of heaven from a baby back rib.

I am convinced that human beings are omnivores, the result of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. Had we been destined for herbivore status, our mouths would be filled with teeth that look like those you find in horses or cows. We would be able to digest cellulose. We might have ended up ruminants. Now wouldn’t that make for a lovely scene at Thanksgiving as each of us in that Norman Rockwell depiction chewed, swallowed and then regurgitated to chew and swallow again...several times?

Don’t get me wrong, I believe vegetables are important. I always try to include them with almost every meal. I like them, with notable exception of brussels sprouts, creamed corn and most squashes.

I ramble on like this because of an epiphany I had on Sunday as I was being lulled into a state of euphoria by a rack of baby backs at Smokey Bones.

What is it, I wondered in my dream-like state, that makes barbecue so satisfying? Just as I was cleaning the last bit of meat from a rib, making sure that the bone was clean enough that a museum could use it to reconstruct a hog skeleton, it dawned on me. Cell memory.

Suddenly I was taken back 10,000 years to a cave in what is now northern France. I was just finishing up one of my wall masterpieces depicting the mastodon Unk and I had killed that morning. The smell of the animal’s tender flesh roasting over our wood fire provided all the inspiration I needed to give the creature’s image the magnificence it truly deserved. I was a pretty good artist in those days; now I am challenged to produce stick figures on paper. But the slow cooking thing stuck.

Yep, I think the reason we love barbecue so much is that it contains so many of the elements of our earliest epicurean endeavors — smoke, bone-in meat, a natural source of heat, and slow roasting. To this add 9,000 years of perfecting the sauce.

For those of you who read the first Gastronomy blog, you may remember that I started it this way: “Food, the first frontier...”

That’s the reason I have a hard time driving past a rib joint.


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