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They were browning beautifully, and by all definition, qualified as successfully cooked fireside food – somewhat charred, perfectly buttery. My aubergine steaks were ready. That’s right, I said steaks. Fellow braaiers, well into their 4th beer, dove with candour into the linguistic theft I was committing while swinging their sirloin over my plate. Mine were not steaks, after all. They were little rounds of eggplant, cut askance, because, well, that looked fancier and created a larger surface for my blue cheese to reign over.
Were they right? Should we be allowed to call them aubergine steaks? Was I, the herbivore, butchering a language?
In their initial defence, the dictionary does rightly define the word ‘steak’ as ‘a slice of meat or fish, especially beef, cooked by broiling, frying, etc’. Interestingly it stems from the Old Norse word ‘steik’ – meat roasted on a stick.
With ethical and dietary preferences diversifying the food scene, our foodie books and blogs have become a veritable smorgasbord of mish-mashed culinary terms. Where once patties were synonymous with hamburgers, they now encompass any minced and relatively flattened food offering. The plant lover’s menu is rife with chickpea, soy and tofu patties on beds of beetroot instead of brioche. Even mushroom burgers are cast in leading roles, where mushrooms make up the bun, never mind the patty.
The homegrown frikkadel – literally balls of meat – has been snatched up by a clever vegetarian and revamped as lentil frikkadels. A Trojan feat of legume proportions.
Kebabs stem from Middle Eastern cuisine and never used to exclude meat, much like our sosaties. And yet now because we’re only skewering root vegetables and cloves of garlic, we’re required to make up a whole new word for it? Pshish!
While it may be befuddling the lingo around the campfire that my soy sausage is equally as legitimate a braai fare – the truth is, words have been changing their meaning for as long as there have been people about to utter them. Language evolves.
If meat eaters think we’re garbling their food dictionary, tell them that garble once stemmed from the Arabic ‘to sift’ and meant to sort something out instead of mess it up.
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Indeed, even the word ‘meat’ as in the expression “bring your own meat and drink” once referred to any solid food in general, not just that of animal in origin.
Beyond that, while etymology may have its place, a word’s meaning derives far more resonance from how the speakers of its language use and understand it over its origin. To ‘text’ someone, after you’ve ‘friended’ them on Facebook surely, proves that point (although I’m sure the Queen would still kick her heels in on that one).
In a few years from now ‘steak’ will simply be a thick cut of any fleshy food that cooks to succulent perfection – crispy on the outside and medium, rare and buttery on the inside. And I for one, will defend that argument around the fire – while brandishing my brinjal at you any day.