March 04, 2004

Do cats prefer meat cooked?

In a recent discussion with my eminent colleague, Prof. A.P. Badger, the question arose — at what point in evolution did humans begin cooking meat, and why? Every other animal is content to eat its meals raw. Badger, for whom I ordinarily have the utmost respect, opined that we do so because meat tastes better cooked. So I says to him, I says, "says who?"

I mean, is there such a thing as intrinsically, inalienably delicious, or is it simply that we have eaten meat cooked for so long that our gustatory imperatives have worked their way into the genome?

Badger and I consumed abundant spiritous liquors and yelled at each other, a procedural methodology which has so often resulted in solid answers to important scientific questions — but, alas, not this one. There was nothing for it but to find a non-human and offer it a binary meat opportunity, or "choice".

Two chicken legs and a cat later

To my great surprise, it was completely unambiguous. Kitty gave them both a sniff and a lick, and dragged the raw chicken leg away with great enthusiasm. I had very definitely expected her to choose the cooked meat, and was unprepared for her complete fascination with the uncooked kind. Much purring and licking and dragging it around the house ensued.

However, she had great difficulty chewing raw meat. I had thought a natural carnivore would be better equipped to tear flesh, but she worried it hard, to little effect. Repeatedly, she would grip the chicken leg and toss her head back, flinging it across the room. Not very effective in tearing off bits, but it may hint that cats do this cruel thing to their prey not just because they're sadistic bastards.




So! Why do humans cook meat?

Because it tastes better
Apparently not. At least, not unless human taste is fundamentally different (and taste is supposed to be one of our most primitive senses). I'm not eager to try it, though.

Because heat kills germs
Possible. We assume that animals have immunity to icky foods that we don't share, because they eat roadkill and we (mostly) don't. Apart from the vulture, however, I'm unaware that other animals have a specialized protection from food poisoning. I suspect we could eat nastier things than we realize, while other animals yakk stuff up more often than we know.

Because cooked meat is easier to chew
This would have been my least favorite hypothesis, until I saw the very real difficulty puss was having. If her strong, pointy little fangs were having a rough go of it, mine would be hopeless.

Because cooked food keeps longer
My best guess. Preserving and storing food was a consuming occupation of our ancesters. Witness all the smoking, sugaring, salting, drying, and canning they got up to. Game was hard to come by, and meat went bad fast.


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