History of Meat Eating


Meat: Should we or Shouldn’t we eat it?

The History of Meat Eating

The Meat Industry have always used slick advertising campaigns to promote the eating of meat. The latest installment involves Sam Neil climbing professing that eating meat caused our evolution . That three million years of meat eating has provided us with more developed brains. Let’s look at the real facts, shall we?

In the fossil remains of the Australopithecus Africanus, the predecessor of man, researchers found carbon compounds that related directly to meat consumption. The first tools used by humans were knives to scrape the meat off bones. This is not surprising since apes, such as chimpanzees also eat meat occasionally. Neanderthal man, one of the prehistoric men that didn’t survive, had a diet that consisted almost exclusively of meat.

However, for the Australopithecus, eating meat wasn’t so much by choice, as a necessity caused by evolution. Three million years ago a long drought occurred in eastern Africa, the so called ‘cradle’ of humanity. The rain forest turned into savannah.

Two things happened at once. Man started walking upright and eating meat. As stated by paleontologist, John de Vos from the Naturalis museum in Leiden, “Australopithecus had to travel greater distances on the Savannah, which prompted him to walk upright. This cost more energy, which is easier to obtain from meat than from vegetable matter. On top of that, there was less food to find on the Savannah than there was in the jungle. They had no choice. In this stage of becoming human, the hominid brain also went through a strong development. This is the reason why some researchers think that meat, a rich source of protein, is good for the development of the brain.” This theory is based on nothing truly scientific. It could also be argued that it was not so much meat eating, but the fact that early Man started to walk upright, thus developing the brain.

“Walking upright, gave man the free use of his hands. The hands are controlled by the brain. I think that’s what caused the brain to develop. Otherwise, lions should have developed superior brains”

The Physical Changes

Eating meat also changed our teeth. Our long incisors became flattened. Our jaws turned into scissors suitable for cutting meat, and the molars ground it down. This is characteristic of typical omnivorous set of teeth. Not carnivorous.

Early man may not have been averse to eating animals, he mainly ate meat on certain occasions. He had meat only if he could get his hands on it, which happened rarely. So to think that early man ate mostly meat is incorrect. He only started eating meat when he started domesticating animals, starting with sheep, eight thousand years BC. From that moment on a relationship developed between man and animal that was characterized by one using and eating the other.

According to leading experts on feeding habits, there are places in the world where people cannot survive without eating meat (Adel den Hartog, University of Wageningen). This is because nothing grows in the area that they habitat, such as the Sahara Desert, or Greenland. To rely on meat as a necessary part of our diet in areas that can sustain crops is unnecessary. Combine that with the urbanisation and all the developments that go with it, a diet free from meat is readily accessible. To think we ‘have to eat meat’ because it is something that has been going on for million of years is wrong.

Meat and Religion

Of everything that comes to your dinner table, meat is the most emotionally charged. If you believe in Christian writings, meat is sinful. According to the book of Genesis man started eating meat after the fall from grace. Cain’s fratricide on Abel was the precedent. There is no other food so much laden with taboos and religious regulations as meat. Just think of the actions that are used in the practising of religions. Muslims call on Allah when they are butchering, Jews have specific laws on eating meat, and the ancient Greeks offered meat to the Gods. Take a closer look at how different meat is viewed. Hindus worship cows, Muslims don’t eat pigs, Mongols are disgusted by fowl and Europeans don’t eat cats or dogs.

Vegetarian food is often given an aura of moral superiority. The first things ascetics ban from their lives is sex, alcohol and meat. Vegetarianism played a role in the Medieval Christian sects that avowed the ‘pure doctrine’ and split off from Rome. The British vegetarians who founded the Vegetarian Society in 1847, claimed that eating meat ‘incites animal passions’ and leads to immoral behaviour. Not that the common people were fussed. Most of them were happy if they could get meat. In the periods between the 14th and 19th century meat was a luxury that only the rich upper classes enjoyed. The common people were poor, starved and ate mostly bread and porridge.

Meat as a wealth status

Those who worked the hardest, were given the least meat. Meat was status, a sign of wealth. It was only in the twentieth century that meat started to work its way into all ranks of society. It started in the middle of the 19th century after the Industrial Revolution and only started to come in a great wave after second World War, in the fifties. The welfare state brought cars to the common people, a television set in every living room and meat on the table every day. For the worker this was a dream come true.

It was only in the middle ages that meat consumption of some magnitude started to come up in Europe. After the plague epidemic that wreaked chaos among the population in the 14th century, there appeared to have been a period of relative abundance. The reason for this was because there were plenty of pastures for animals and few people to share the meat.

But starting in the seventeenth century, the population grew and people had to cut back on meat. It was once again a luxury commodity for kings and the rich. The common person ate salted meat, stockfish and a bacon rind in the stew. Only the best paid workers could afford meat, wrote Friedrich Engels in 1844 on workers in England. It was also at this time that the population demanded equal sharing in foods.

During the past 200 or so years the ideal has been reached: eating meat is democratized- it’s cheap, easily available and nothing special. It seems to be limitless. Year after year meat consumption of meat slices, sausages and cutlets increases. The fast production resulting in cheap and easy access to all meats is something that has become the expected ‘norm’, not because we are meant to eat it, but because its so easily available. However, one just has to look at the increase in obesity and diet-related disease to find that meat can be unhealthy.

Never in history was meat consumption higher than it is now.

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