A Man’s Meat

The Cast: Men (grillers of meat).

Oh how I hate Twitter. And yet I am continually pulled back into that awful black hole where disaster, fun, joy, misery, anger, angst, love, humanity, kindness, and memes all live in dysfunctional harmony.

I did have a story in mind for this week. It is the story of when my oldest, at two years old, shot me. But then I came across an angry, misguided man who decided to put the rest of mankind (just the men, the women are fine) in their place. Well, I couldn’t let his distorted views remain unchecked. And then, my mind wouldn’t let this topic lie. It kept running through my mind. What is this guy’s deal? Clearly, he doesn’t understand the point. He is missing out on the culture. He can’t/shouldn’t cook. I’m glad I don’t go to his barbeques. And many more *ahem* unpleasant thoughts (I’m not pretending anything here).

Here is how it started:

And while there were lots of men making fun of themselves and each other, there was one guy who decided to try and bring the group down:

Being me, I had to comment:

He replied, as did I:

Overall the group had the right attitude. There was a good mix of women supporting men/their man. There were women making fun of men (and men supporting those women). Even a vegan jumped in, not to deride, but to offer alternatives to meat barbeques (they were well received by the group). It was just that one guy.

It was this thread that lead me to reconsider this week’s post. My wife even grilled burgers and we had family over on Memorial Day (the day this all occurred). She asked if I wanted the honors of meat preparation (she does like the way I do it), and I told her it really didn’t matter to me.

I believe it is understood that all nations/cultures/people have things about them that they feel are ‘theirs’. Something that they do best, or better, than anyone else. That the rest of the world is doing it wrong. And then, we use that self-identified thing to playfully harass each other. It is our way of sharing. Of bonding. By saying, “You’re doing it wrong. Here, let me show you how it’s done right.” We are really saying, “Oh, you like to [the thing]? Hey, I do too. Let me show you how I do it where I’m from.”

Yeah, we (as the group) might get a little offended, but I would like to think that deep down, we really understand that it is a form of relating to each other through a common element. We are trying to become closer through these experiences. If presented and accepted correctly, we can even enjoy the teasing and self-depreciation in the way it was intended: With goodwill and friendship.

The American Backyard Barbeque has become an institution. It has evolved from a simple gathering of friends and neighbors into an event. Into an almost religious experience. And maybe for some, it is a religious experience.

For those who are familiar, you may be able to recall the classic idea of American household bliss where the husband went off to work while the wife stayed home and took care of the house. Then the husband would return after a day’s work and be greeted with a smiling wife and dinner. Yup, she cooked. Three times a day. Seven days a week. All year long.

Author’s Note: I’m building to something here, don’t get all mad at me for a culture I wasn’t alive for, I’m making a point.

Since the wife cooked all the time, I think that that’s maybe why the man wanted to be the one to barbeque. This was something he could do. “Fire = danger. Keep family safe and feed them. Good plan. Hey, this is fun… Don’t tell wife.” And maybe the wife was thinking, “Finally, I don’t have to cook.” Who knows? I know I wasn’t there.

Maybe it started off as a male-chauvinistic activity. But I think it has moved far beyond that. So far in fact, that men embrace it to the point of making fun of ourselves.

Friends, Season 1, Episode 24: “The One Where Rachel Finds Out”

If you are familiar with the comedy of Tim Allen, then you should be familiar with his “More Power” and the caveman/neanderthal-like mentality of men. He’s making fun of us. And we’re ok with it because he’s right. It’s the extreme exaggeration of some of our flaws that makes those jokes funny—the truth behind the tease. So, we accept it. We embrace it. We laugh at ourselves, in spite of ourselves. We’re not stupid. We know that men don’t have to be that way. That we shouldn’t be that way. So, we laugh at it.

This backyard evolution of the man cooking because he ‘got to’, into the man cooking because he ‘loves to’ is not about machismo. It’s not about power. It’s not about masculinity. It’s about the gathering of one’s tribe and providing food and fun. We know women can do it too. Some like to, some don’t. But we like to too.

The part where this all becomes connected is in the original question: “[S]hould man B ever flip the meat?”

The overwhelming vote was no. No he should not. This was supported by both genders, along with ideas (threats) of pain (death) or other such violence (violence—seriously, violence). The idea being understood (by all but one—and a handful of those that ‘liked’) that the word ‘man’ doesn’t have to be a male. It was not about gender. It refers to the grill-master, be they a man or a woman. If you have not been designated to be the one in charge of the cooking, you back off and play the role of support. Period.

It’s not about equality or a display of gender inequality. It’s about respect. I read it continually, in humor, in seriousness, in memes. Throughout the thread, the comments were about being a respectful guest. Showing support for your friend. Letting them show/give you what they love to do.

Would you tell Picasso how to paint? Would you tell Da Vinci how to draw? Baryshnikov how to ballet? Einstien how to… to ein? No! No, you would not. Just as you would not walk into the kitchen of a restaurant to tell the chef how to prepare the meal, you do not tell the pit-boss, the grill-master, the king-of-the-coals, how to do their job. Because as the one in charge of the cooking, it is all on them and they know it. If it’s good. It’s their victory and they are happy to share it with their loved ones. If it’s a failure, then it is all on them, and they take it all—unless man B touched the meat, then it’s his fault.

I remember an almost hour-long lecture, while in culinary school—from a chef, about the subtleties of grill cooking. The physicality of the grill: wire, bars, sheet metal, and so on. The types of heat sources: electric, coals, gas, and so on. Time of day. Weather. The kinds of meat (the animal it came from). The cuts of meat. How the animal fat plays a role in cooking and flavor. He went on and on. Meanwhile, I had burnt off all my arm hair reaching over all the fire (it was a BIG grill) to flip the burgers. It was a powerful lesson. Barbeque is easy. Good barbeque is hard. Great barbeque is an art.

The main take-a-way here is, while men may be considered ‘the barbequers’, they don’t have to be. Women make a fine barbeque (that sentence needs to be read in context only). You don’t touch another man’s meat. It’s wrong. If he does well, we celebrate with him. If he fails, we make fun of him forever—because we’ve all done it and this is how we bond. It is not about masculinity or chauvinism, it’s about good food and good times. And if man A walks away from the grill man B does not touch the meat, but he can mess with the temperature (it’s a #1 jerk move to be certain, but I have done it before and now Erich makes me go with him if he has to walk away from his barbeque).

And finally, when it comes to the stereotypes of men and grilling meat: If you don’t understand that we are making fun of ourselves—of our own hang-ups and flaws—then just shut up! You have no right to judge.

For more on this topic and the history of barbeque, visit: VOA—Learning English or AmazingRibs.com. Also, feel free to comment and add your thoughts on Barbeque Etiquette. What do you think, should you touch another man’s (or woman’s) meat?

Later in the thread Joe did clarify that this was a family barbeque and Man B was the dad of Man A. (here’s the thread)

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