From the NY Post:
There’s the heart sashimi — the organ thinly sliced and simply dressed with wasabi and soy. There’s the namagimo — slivers of liver with sesame oil and rock salt. And, perhaps wildest of all, there’s the nama-senmai, a white, chewy third stomach. (Cows have four stomachs — the third one is used to absorb nutrients.) Flash-boiled but essentially raw, it’s served with spicy miso sauce and scallions and somewhat resembles a bowl of discarded computer parts. “I like that snappiness,” says Raij of the stomach dish. But it’s not her favorite. That would have to be the niku-uni, beef tartare topped with sea urchin and wasabi. “That was delicious. It really contrasted [with seared beef] in temperature and flavor,” she says.
Raw meat is not new. The Japanese, Italians, and some Middle Eastern cultures have raw meat dishes as part of their cuisines, and carpaccio and steak tartare have been on the menus of restaurants in the U.S. for years. But those very minor exceptions prove the rule that raw meat is outside our comfort zone. Is that rule about to be shattered?
According to sociologist Jen Wrye ( in the anthology Food and Philosophy), it would have to overcome some powerful symbolism to become a trend. Referencing the work of Julia Twigg, she argues that meat occupies a privileged position in our diet because it is a powerful symbol:
In her view, it is blood that places it in such a high position because it bears the special essence of the person or the animal, and is associated with virility, strength, aggression, and sexuality….The consumption of red meats is seen as the ingestion of the very nature of the animal itself, including its strength and its aggression.
But she argues there are boundaries that we cannot cross because the ingestion of too much of that power is dangerous:
These [boundaries] include other humans, raw meat (excluding sushi) uncastrated animals, and carnivorous animals, all of which are precluded from the transformations that remove them from the realm of nature and enter them in the realm of culture.
Cooking is the means by which we take something natural and make it part of human culture, thus covering up its naturalness. Raw meat is just too much nature for us to handle. (Vegetarians by the way refuse meat because they find this animality abhorrent according to Wrye)
So is the preference for raw meat a kind of macho posturing crossing the forbidden boundary that divides civilization from barbarism? (with one foot on the slippery slope to eating humans) Or, do the proponents of raw meat just like the taste or texture of raw meat?
I tend to distrust grand sociological theories like Wrye’s because it is hard to get empirical confirmation of them; and I don’t much favor sharp distinctions between nature and culture. But human motivations are hard to sort out so who knows.
However, we do love to tell morally-charged stories about food preferences.