Latitude in Key West, Florida: 24.33 degrees North
Latitude in Kaohsiung, Taiwan: 23.03 degrees North
I’ve officially arrived in the tropics of Taiwan. And the birthplace of Taiwan’s agriculture, as well as the first use of cattle imported from mainland China.
“Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.”~ Henry David Thoreau
Cattle played an important role in traditional village life in Taiwan society, enjoying substantial function, economic value, culture and historic meaning. Farmers used cattle carts to transport goods, and as a vehicle.Taiwan’s development, including agriculture, progressed from south to north, and west to the east. As the cultivated land increased, the number of draft cattle used for plowing and other jobs increased rapidly–but the people couldn’t imagine killing and eating the power resource upon which their subsistence was completely dependent (Chen). Many elderly people still see cattle as partners in work and agriculture, not food, and refuse to eat beef due to husbandry beliefs.
The widespread tradition of eating beef in Taiwan, therefore, happened recently, I learned from Dr. May Chang, CEO of the Foundation of Chinese Dietary Culture. In fact, the Japanese occupation brought many Japanese influences to Taiwan, including architecture, transportation and eating the tractor. Er, I mean eating beef.
Dr. Chang curates the Foundation’s extensive library of Taiwan’s food culture. (Wonderful place–library lover that I am, I could have stayed all day, and I couldn’t read most of the books!)Taiwan, like the U.S., is a paternal society where the eldest male child generally accepts responsibility for aging parents. Thus, when he marries, he brings his wife to live with his parents, or they traditionally live together in a two- and later three-generation household. This arrangement carries certain advantages for all three generations–providing care and respect for elders; providing childcare and cooking support for young parents and providing multi-generational structure and direction for young children. Traditionally, the elder woman does most of the cooking in the household. These women may follow a lunar calendar to celebrate cultural events, which have traditional meals or foods, depending on the family’s heritage and origin (Fujiian or mainland China, for example).
In engaging Dr. Chang in a discussion about cultural traditions involving food preparation and celebration, I’ll admit I was indulging in one of my personal interests: the interaction of food and culture. But I also had an ulterior motive: finding out if ways exist to incorporate the relatively recent addition of beef to Taiwan’s diet into household or societal celebrations.
Here’s an idea. Many Taiwanese celebrate Lidong, or the beginning of winter, by eating nourishing, warm foods containing red meat. Those familiar with the Chinese concept of yin-yang will recognize the natural duality of hot/cold coming into play here and understand the concept of eating hot, hearty food containing red meat as complimentary, or dynamic, to the beginning of cold winter months. While the traditional meat for these celebratory dishes is not beef–it could be. It seems to this novice that this could be an opportunity to introduce beef into a customary meal and tradition.
(Non-random) photos of the day: