By Lorna Piatti-Farnell
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Additional info for Beef: A Global History
On occasion, however, the most sought-after quality of ‘the barbecue’ is not necessarily the grilled meat, but the event itself. The barbecue as social function takes many shapes and forms around the world, although, admittedly, on all these occasions meat is more likely to be served than not. A significant exponent within this category is the South African braai. The term is an Afrikaans word meaning literally ‘to grill’. The word has been widely adopted by English speakers in South Africa and is usually interchangeable with the term ‘barbecue’.
The attraction that the prehistoric cattle exercised on our early ancestors clearly went beyond their perspective potential as food. In 1896, anthropologist Eduard Hahn already presupposed that, as far as the human relationship with first wild and later domesticated cattle was concerned, the connection was reliant on the symbol of the moon, already an emblem of fertility in 7000 BC. Hahn contended that the distinctively curved shape of the cattle’s horn was reminiscent of the moon’s nascent crescent, inspiring early humans to associate with the animals on a more permanent basis.
As was the case with North America, cattle were not indigenous to South America. Cattle were introduced to what is now Argentina in the early sixteenth century by – unsurprisingly – Spanish conquistadors, who obviously had a penchant for taking their cows and oxen with them wherever they went. The Argentine pampas proved an excellent geographical set-up for the herds of cattle that were left to roam and, as a result of underdeveloped infrastructures, the cow population grew quickly. With time, however, local landowners capitalized on the production of beef and, over a relatively short period, the cattle industry flourished.