Beef… It’s What’s For Dinner…

Beef was a big part of my childhood. As I’ve mentioned before, we were a real “meat and potatoes” kind of family. Both of my parents worked, cooking in general wasn’t a big thing in our house (aside from my dad’s meat dishes, especially summer barbeques), and we ate stuff that was quick and easy. That included lots of beef dishes—meatloaf, hamburger (and Hamburger Helper), steak, roasts, tacos, meatballs, crockpot stew, and of course, corned beef. Hamburgers in particular were very common.

“Beef—It’s what’s for dinner” advertisement from 1992.

I was never a big fan (aside from corn beef. That was the one meat I did really like, I guess it was the inner Irish calling out), and I used to argue relentlessly about eating meat every night (or silently feed chunks to the dog under the table).

Life is really different now, and although I’m happily meat-free, our freezer is occasionally stocked with P’s meaty pleasures—chicken, pork, goat, fish, unusual game meat from my dad–but no beef. His mother is very religious (a combo of Buddhist and Hindu), and would never dream of bringing beef into her house. I’m sure she had nightmares that an American daughter-in-law would not only eat beef herself, but also corrupt her son and grandchildren into eating it. My veggie-ness helped win over her heart. She sees me as an ally in keeping P’s meat consumption down, and can rest assured there will be no unholy beef eating in her son’s home.

That doesn’t mean that every friend of ours who grew up in a Nepali Hindu household has a strict “no beef” philosophy. Our friend AD jokes, “Only Nepali cows are sacred, so an American cow is fine. I have no problems eating burgers in the US” while others seem less worried about breaking taboos and eating beef in general (if you aren’t particularly religious, then the taboo probably doesn’t mean that much anyway).

But sometimes you eat things you don’t intend to, without even realizing it, which reminds me of a funny story from last Thursday. I was driving south (to the Gori meetup) and of course dropped in for dinner at R and S’s house (plus they were babysitting my dog, who wasn’t feeling great. Thanks guys, you’re the best!). They made homemade pizza for a quick dinner so I could get back on the road, one veggie and one meat with pepperoni. There was a debate over whether pepperoni was beef or pork, and whether pepperonis in general are made from beef, pork or some combination of both.

During the discussion R stated, “I prefer not to eat beef, I really try not to…but sometimes it happens… For instance, I knew that cheeseburgers were beef… but I always thought that hamburgers were made from pork.”

“Why would you think that? The only difference is a piece of cheese.” I said.

“No… don’t you see… cheeseburger meant beef, but hamburger meant pork.”

“I still don’t get it, it’s just a  slice of cheese.”

“Cheeseburger and hamburger” she said, adding an extra emphasizes to the ham part, “People know that ‘burger’ means beef, so cheeseburger means made with beef, but why would you call a plain beef burger hamburger unless it was made with pork? Don’t they have chicken burgers made of chicken?” She rationalized.

“Yeah, I guess that makes sense.” I reflected.

“So I always assumed hamburger was pork, and one day I was sitting with my cousins talking about how I don’t eat beef, while eating a hamburger. They said, ‘R—you are eating beef right now!’ and I said, ‘But it isn’t a cheeseburger!’ and they had to explain! It took a while for me to believe them!”

Isn’t English fickle?

Oh… I had to add this… From a British comedy sketch on “what it means to be Hindu”–

“My son… you are indeed right… [Hinduism] is a very complex and intricate religion. There are many gods, there are many texts, but they all point to one universal principle… no beef” (ha ha ha).

6 responses to “Beef… It’s What’s For Dinner…

  1. I was having lunch with a Jewish friend the other day and she ordered a dish with bacon. I asked her about it because she’s told me before that she doesn’t eat pork. She replied, ” I don’t eat pork…no ham, no pork chops. I only eat bacon.” What?

    My husband is not religious at all and I have seen him eat beef before, but he prefers not too. For him, it’s not a religious matter, but it sort of grosses him out because he grew up not eating it. It just shows what strong influences cultural norms are on our habits.

  2. In Hindu society, diet determines caste ranking, with vegetarians on top, meat eaters next and beef-eaters on the bottom

  3. Some muslims don’t eat commercially available meat in America, choosing instead to keep strict about buying meat only from “halal” muslim butchers. When my husband relaxed his views about this and began eating meat in non-muslim restaurants, he still wouldn’t eat a hamburger for many years because he thought it was pork. :)

  4. Tee-hee. I think the explanation of the term “hamburger” has something to do with the city of Hamburg, though it may be quite different from its German incarnation.

    I love the GGM skits about religion! They hit a little close to home sometimes–I can never get coherent answers about religion.

    I really love fake meat, including fake beef and fake pork (I think fake pork is a zillion times yummier than real pork), but my husband is completely grossed out by it. If I eat some fake sausage or fake bacon (fakon, as I call it) he thinks it stinks and he can’t be around it, which is just hilarious.

  5. Aditya has a really funny story from his first day in the US. He and most of the other Indian international students had arrived at the same time, and, being the hungry teenagers that they were, they all went straight to the only campus eatery that was open (it was still summer break for most students). This place, called The Hub, had a number of stations with different types of food available, so they all broke off from each other to find something appetizing.

    After everyone had their food, they all returned to a table and started chowing down. After a few minutes, one girl mentioned how delicious her cheese sandwich was… which prompted Aditya to look over and realize that this girl, who had introduced herself as veg, was munching happily away on a cheeseburger.

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