The Geography of Beef

Topics: Cattle, Aurochs, Zebu Pages: 5 (1500 words) Published: March 2, 2011
I have decided to write a historical comparison of the geographical dispersion of beef (cattle). The paper will begin with a historical look at beef, touching on its global production patterns and origin.

Cattle, or cows, are a member of the subfamily Bovinae of the family Bovidae[1]. They are raised as livestock for meat termed as beef and veal, dairy products, leather and for use as draught animals. In some countries, such as India, they are subject to religious ceremonies and respect. It is impossible to talk about beef and its success as a food ingredient, without relating the story of the animal itself, providing the reasons cattle have become so widespread. This common global dispersion of cattle further facilitates the potential consumption of beef on a mass scale. The word cattle did not originate as a name for the animal; it actually derives from the Latin word “caput,” or head, and originally referred to a unit of livestock, or one head. The word is also closely related to “chattel,” a unit of property, and to the word “capital” in the sense of property. Cattle were originally identified as three separate species. They are: Bos taurus, or European cattle, which includes similar types from Africa and Asia; Bos indicus, also known as the zebu; and the extinct Bos primigenius, known alternatively as aurochs. The auroch itself is the most important of the three, though now extinct, because it is the ancestor of both the zebu and of European cattle. There are further classifications made by the complicating ability of cattle to interbreed with other closely related species. Hybrid individuals and even breeds exist, not only between European cattle and zebu, but also with other species such as yaks, banteng, gaur, and bison. Aurochs, wild cattle, had been hunted in ancient times which we can attest to cave paintings that have been left behind for us[2]. They were worshipped long before their domestication, and domestication itself may have been inspired by some religious motivation. As part of fertility cults, cattle would become associated with the gods themselves and become prominent figures in many primitive religions[3]. Aurochs were widely distributed in temperate parts of Europe, Asia and North Africa. The last aurochs were believed to have been killed by poachers in Poland around AD 1630[4]. It is probable that cattle were first domesticated to become cattle around 6000 BC in southwest Asia and India[5], while the earliest remains of domesticated cattle comes from modern day Turkey dated at 6400 BC[6]. Cattle were domesticated out of cattle subspecies that had previously diverged[7]. Cattle occupy a unique place in human history. They can be considered one of the oldest forms of wealth. Their ability to provide meat, dairy and labor while reproducing themselves and eating nothing but grass has made them particularly interesting to man throughout the past millennia. The labor of the ox, or castrated male, made possible the plowing of fields around 3000 BC, which would have a profound effect on agriculture in general[8]. However, not all characteristics of cattle have been positive for mankind. Many diseases came originally from cattle, such as measles, tuberculosis and smallpox[9]. The uses for cattle other than for food, means that they are not normally eaten in many societies. In parts of Africa, where cattle became a symbol of wealth, they were used for currency, which still is apparent in dowries today. In some areas of Africa, cattle are used for the consumption of their milk and blood as opposed to their meat. India is the particularly unique case where cattle are sacred to Hindus, and it is said that a pious Hindu would rather die of starvation than kill a cow. It is possible that cattle were valuable as a source of traction and in providing milk that there developed an early prohibition on killing them. Later, the taboo may have been reinforced by the...
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