Should We Eat Meat? | Vaclav Smil

Summary of: Should We Eat Meat?: Evolution and Consequences of Modern Carnivory
By: Vaclav Smil


Dive into the world of meat consumption and its consequences with Vaclav Smil’s book ‘Should We Eat Meat?: Evolution and Consequences of Modern Carnivory’. Explore the role meat has played in human evolution, its significance in our diets, and the impact of modern meat production on the environment. The book also delves into alternative protein sources and the possibility of a more rational approach to meat production. By understanding the pros and cons of our dietary choices, we can make well-informed decisions about what we eat and how those choices affect the world around us.

The Pros and Cons of Including Meat in Your Diet

As humans evolved to eat other animals, meat is an excellent source of both macro- and micronutrients, and proteins in particular. It is essential for young children as it serves a crucial function in brain growth and is also a superb source of iron. However, meat production has a negative impact on the environment, and the agricultural processes tied to meat production use a lot of energy and incur a variety of other costs.

The Role of Meat in Human Evolution

Meat consumption played a significant role in human evolution, contributing to the development of our brains and socialization. Meat was seen as a symbol of status and privilege, leading to its prominent place in religious ceremonies and language. While historical meat consumption has fluctuated, vegetarian societies are rare, as humans have relied on the protein and iron found in meat. The practice of hunting for meat in groups helped humans develop language, socialize, and engage in strategic thinking. As society has developed, so have our practices for keeping and consuming domestic animals.

Evolution of Meat Consumption

Meat consumption surged due to advancements in transportation and agriculture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Global trade, refrigerated transportation, and artificial fertilizers increased meat production, while the decline of animal labor and the rise of women in the workforce changed the consumption landscape. As a result, meat consumption reached unprecedented heights and became a staple in many households.

The Dark Side of Meat Production

Domesticated meat production has drastically shifted from traditional farming methods to a systematic industrialized chain of production. This method includes breeding, raising, slaughtering, processing, and distribution, with billions of animals killed each year. Unfortunately, this massive production comes with significant environmental consequences. In the past, when meat consumption was low, traditional animal husbandry practices didn’t have severe environmental impacts. Today, the industrialized system has led to pollution and other environmental issues. Additionally, animal welfare concerns have emerged as unskilled workers often handle these animals, leading to abusive treatment. In the next three parts of the book, this summary delves deeper into the successes and shortcomings of the current industrial meat production system.

The Unseen Dangers of CAFO

The acronym CAFO represents Confined Animal Feeding Operations and is the method used to produce meat for the world. Factory farming led to specialization which caused genetic narrowing in the breeding stock. Animals were modified to increase their output, leading to the need for more drugs in their production. CAFO dominates meat production across the world, even impacting cattle raising in North America. This method is profitable but comes with additional costs. The environmental impact of transporting the meat and the manure which is often toxic leads to environmental degradation. Production of animal products other than meat also has less impact on the environment.

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