Audience Participation Time: What Does the Word “Meat” Mean to You?

Anyone up for a little audience participation here? (And yes, I’m prepared to be completely mortified if no one responds.) I

just realized that the working title of my new book may not make any sense. The working title  is Carnivore Nation: Meat and the Making of Modern America. (We hot-shit writers refer to the titles of works-in-progress as “working” titles.) (What? You didn’t know I was a hot-shit writer? What’s the matter with you?) (I’m kidding.)

It’s not perfect (the word “nation” as part of a book title is on the verge of becoming a limp cliche), but it’s not bad.

In fact, given the book’s theme and content, it’s a good description: I’m using the production, processing, and consumption of “meat” to examine the fundamental conflicts that Americans experienced as they shifted from an agrarian to an industrial economy, and from a rural nation to an urban one. It will cover the period from 1870 to the present, and will look at beef, pork, and poultry.

But today, it occurred to me that “meat” may not be the most appropriate word choice. So after my long-winded introduction (and if you’re a regular, you know I’m prone to windy), here’s my question:

What does the word “meat” mean to you? If you saw that title, would you assume the book was about beef? And only beef? Or would you assume or expect that the word “meat” includes the three major flesh categories: beef, pork, and poultry?

Any and all comments are welcome and appreciated. (As they always are!) And if you’ve got ideas for a new title, let’s hear ‘em.

13 thoughts on “Audience Participation Time: What Does the Word “Meat” Mean to You?

  1. When you’ve mentioned the topic in the past, I’ve always assumed that the topic of meat in America would be primarily about beef. My perspective could be skewed by spending the first 18 years of my life in Texas.

  2. Meat, to me, is the universal word for “eating animal flesh.” I do not think of it as solely beef. Though I will admit that chicken is *not* the first thing I think of when I hear the word — and as you know, the per capita rate of chicken consumption is now nearly double the rates of beef.So, if the underlying concern is that the word “meat” may undermine the chicken’s role in modern meat consumption — and thus, your own research and writing — well, I won’t cry fowl.I’ve got it! “Cry Fowl: How Chicken Crossed the Road (and Passed Pig and Steer Along the Way).”(wow, that’s terrible)

  3. I love “Carnivore Nation”, and i always assumed it would be about beef, but i suppose that to some/many it could be about chicken etc…. well, actually, you’re not going to talk about chicken or pork at all? loldave

  4. I think of beef, pork, chicken *and* wild game when you say “meat”. Take that! 🙂 The title is good, and meat means all non-aquatic animal flesh to me. I’m really looking forward to reading this when it comes out.

  5. I take “meat” to mean all 3 of the major kinds of meat. If the book was to be primarily about beef, I would expect the word “beef” to supplant “meat” in the title.

  6. Wait, didn’t everyone read the fine print — ya know, about how you’re supposed to arrive at a consensus? (Kidding, again.)So, so far we’ve got 1. a former Texan to whom “meat” = beef.(Jacob, I’ve got to say that TX was about the last place I’dve expected you to be from… Must be those cordoroy pants and pipe that don’t *quite* fit the stereotype.)2. a good catchall definition (meat = non-aquatic flesh — which is JUST the kind of concise characterization that I’d been hunting for and not been able to come up with. 3. Bill’s excellent point: If I were writing only about beef, the title would have indicated that. (One of my early title ideas was “In Beef We Trust,” which I rejected precisely because it used the word beef and was therefore too narrow.)So — this leaves me . . . precisely nowhere. But at least not mortified that no one replied.

  7. Meat is that which sizzles and sputters on the grill. When I hear meat, I think of pork, beef, chicken, lamb and turkey. Meat is the flesh of domesticated livestock produced for human consumption.

  8. The flesh of an animal; that’s what it means to me.If I were going for a narrower defination, I’d go with beef, pork, lamb.Birds are poultryfish is fishshellfish is shellfishBut when I hear “meat” it means all of the above to me.

  9. I agree that ‘meat’ certainly includes beef, poultry, and pork. I don’t think it is a stretch to include fish, either.When I’m planning dinner, I usually try to include something from each of three categories: meat, vegetable, and starch. Any one of beef, poultry, pork, or fish can go in the ‘meat’ slot there.

  10. I just realized that I had sort of assumed it was only about beef as well. Hrm. But it IS meat, and of course when I was a vegetarian I didn’t eat meat and that meant no, I don’t eat chicken and yes, that includes fish too. So I suppose I should know better.

  11. These comments are all SO useful. THANK YOU!I have to say that now that I’ve thought about it, I, too, fell into the category of “if it’s flesh, it’s meat.” True, if someone is at a restaurant and says “I’m hungry for meat,” chance are they’re going to order beef or pork, rather than fish or poultry. (But maybe poultry.)But as my husband pointed out, if we’re at a grocery store and say we’re going to the “meat” department, we’re going to the part of the store that sells flesh of all manner.So for the time being, I’m thinking I’ll stick with my existing title (which, no doubt, some editor will change anyway.)But Sean, your alternative title IS pretty damn funny.

  12. When I hear meat, I think of a succulent, plump human baby! Nom-nom-nom!Actually, I’m surprised that so many would equate “meat” with only beef. That strikes me as a very 1950’s, Betty Crocker use of the word meat.I think you’ve got the title right as it is. I would agree with “if it’s flesh, it’s meat.”

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