Why Do Humans Eat Meat?

Why Do Humans Eat Meat?

The mouth-watering smokiness of a rack of pork ribs. The juicy gluttony of a medium-rare bacon cheeseburger. The simple pleasure of a salami sandwich on rye. One thing is clear—humans love meat. But why do we eat so much more meat than our primate cousins and why are we wired to drool at the sound and smell of steaks sizzling on the grill?

Scientists still have plenty of unanswered questions about the origins and evolution of human meat-eating, but there are some strong theories as to when, how and why we started to incorporate larger amounts of meat in our omnivorous diet.

READ MORE: Going Paleo: What Prehistoric Man Actually Ate

Blame an ancient climate shift.

Between 2.6 and 2.5 million years ago, the Earth got significantly hotter and drier. Before that climate shift, our distant human ancestors—collectively known as hominins—were subsisting mostly on fruits, leaves, seeds, flowers, bark and tubers. As the temperature rose, the lush forests shrank and great grasslands thrived. As green plants became scarcer, evolutionary pressure forced early humans to find new sources of energy.

The grassland savannas that spread across Africa supported growing numbers of grazing herbivores. Archaeologists have found large herbivore bones dating from 2.5 million years ago with telltale cut marks from crude stone tools. Our ancient hominin ancestors weren’t capable hunters yet, but likely scavenged the meat from fallen carcasses.

“More grasses means more grazing animals, and more dead grazing animals means more meat,” says Marta Zaraska, author of Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Years Obsession With Meat.

Once humans shifted to even occasional meat eating, it didn’t take long to make it a major part of our diet. Zaraska says there’s ample archaeological evidence that by 2 million years ago the first Homo species were actively eating meat on a regular basis.

READ MORE: Hunter Gatherers

Tools became our ‘second teeth.’

It’s not a coincidence that the earliest evidence of widespread human meat-eating coincides in the archaeological record with Homo habilis, the “handyman” of early humans. At sites in Kenya dating back to 2 million years ago, archaeologists have discovered thousands of flaked stone “knives” and fist-sized hammerstones near large piles of animal-bone fragments with corresponding butcher marks.

While our ancient human relatives had stronger jaws and larger teeth than modern man, their mouths and guts were designed for grinding up and digesting plant matter, not raw meat. Even crude stone tools could function as a second set of teeth, stripping hunks of flesh from a zebra carcass or bashing open bones and skulls to get at the nutrient-rich marrow or brains inside. By pre-processing meat with tools originally designed to dig tubers and crack open nuts, our ancestors made animal flesh easier to chew and digest.

READ MORE: Did Homo Erectus Craft Complex Tools and Weapons?

Thank you, saber-toothed tigers.

Primitive stone hand tools are fine for carving up carcasses or smashing open large bones, but they are lousy for hunting live prey. This is why zooarchaeologists believe our meat-eating human ancestors living more than a million years ago were scavengers, not hunters.

One theory for why so many butchered animal bones enter the archaeological record around 1.8 million years ago is that while early humans were lousy hunters, they were living among some of the most efficient killers to ever roam the earth: saber-toothed cats.

Briana Pobiner, who studies the origins of human meat-eating, wrote that “Between one- and two-million years ago the large carnivore communities of the African savanna consisted not only of lions, hyenas, leopards, cheetahs and wild dogs, as we see today, but also at least three species of saber-toothed cats, including one that was significantly larger than the largest male African lions. These cats may have hunted larger prey, leaving even more leftovers for early humans to scavenge.”

It’s unclear if humans “actively” scavenged by waiting for the big cats to kill their prey and then scaring them off by throwing stones or making loud noises, or if they “passively” scavenged what was left when the saber-toothed hunters abandoned their kill. Active scavenging would preserve more fresh meat, but carries some serious risks.

READ MORE: Discovery of Oldest Human Fossil Fills Evolutionary Gap

Meat was the original ‘brain food.’

The modern human brain is far larger than that of other primates and three times the size of the one possessed by our distant ancestor Australopithecus, the predecessor of Homo. But those big brains come at a cost in that they require tons of energy to operate. Zaraska says our brains consume 20 percent of our body’s total energy. Compare that to cats and dogs, whose brains require only three to four percent of total energy.

Meat, Zaraska says, played a critical role in boosting energy intake to feed the evolution of those big, hungry brains. “Some scientists argue that meat is what made us human,” she says.

When ancient hominins subsisted exclusively on fruits, plants and seeds, they expended a lot more energy on digestion. Millions of years ago, the human gut was longer and slower, requiring more effort to derive limited calories from forage foods. With all of that energy being spent on digestion, the human brain remained relatively small, similar to other primates today.

Compared to foraged fruits and plants, Zaraska says, meat is a “high-quality” food — energy dense with lots of calories and protein. When humans began adding meat to their diet, there was less of a need for a long digestive tract equipped for processing lots of plant matter. Slowly, over hundreds of thousands of years, the human gut shrunk. This freed up energy to be spent on the brain, which grew explosively in size.

When humans began cooking meat, it became even easier to digest quickly and efficiently, and capture those calories to feed our growing brains. The earliest clear evidence of humans cooking food dates back roughly 800,000 years ago, although it could have begun sooner.

Humans continue to eat meat because we like it, not because we need it.

Meat was clearly pivotal in the evolution of the human brain, but that doesn’t mean that meat is still an irreplaceable part of the modern human diet. Zaraska says any calorie-dense food would have had the same effect on our ancient evolving brains—“it could have been peanut butter”—but that meat happened to be available.

We crave meat today, in part, because our brains evolved on the African savanna and are still wired to seek out energy-dense sources of protein. It’s similar to our penchant for sugar, a rare calorie-rich commodity to our foraging ancestors whose brains rewarded them for finding ripe fruit.

But we also crave meat because of its cultural significance. Different cultures are more or less meat-centric, although there’s a clear correlation between wealth and meat consumption. Industrialized Western nations average more than 220 pounds of meat per person per year, while the poorest African nations average less than 22 pounds per person.

An overly meaty diet has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers—things our distant ancestors never had to worry about, because they didn’t live long enough to fall victim to chronic disease. “The goals of life for our ancestors was very different than ours,” says Zaraska. “Their goal was to survive to the next day.”

Watch the new HISTORY series, The Butcher. New Episodes Wednesdays at 10/9c.

Should we stop eating meat? Not while humans are the real weapons of climate destruction

A s we are starting to see the effects of climate change materialise in front of our eyes, people are looking for things they can do to help heal our planet. One common theme has been a call to stop eating meat, mainly due to methane emissions from cows.

This is a simple answer, but I suggest it is an answer to the wrong question.

How did nature get things so horribly wrong when she allowed cows to evolve? After all, they are evil weapons of climate destruction, aren’t they?

Let’s start with a few basics.

Cows are ruminant animals. This means they have a multi-chambered stomach, one part of which is called a rumen. This is a fermentation vat containing billions of microbes breaking down the plants the animal eats. As part of this process, some of these microbes produce methane.

Lots of animals produce some methane, including horses, dogs, termites, people and even kangaroos.

Ruminants evolved 50 million years ago, and today there are almost 200 different species. So ruminant animals have a rich ecological diversity and a long evolutionary history.

Other ruminants include the American elk, Chinese goral, Himalayan tahr, Japanese serow, Reindeer, Siberian ibex, water buffalo and yak. There are mountain, marsh, snow and swamp ruminants. There are American, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, even Siberian ruminants.

If nature got it wrong when she allowed ruminants to evolve, she got it wrong at a global scale.

But maybe she didn’t get it wrong after all? Maybe it’s not her, maybe it’s us?

Instead of asking “What do we humans need to do to reduce ruminant methane emissions?”, we should be asking “What have we humans done that has so unbalanced the natural methane cycle?”

Bacteria that “eat” methane live in healthy, properly managed soils beneath the feet of healthy, properly managed livestock. (Remember, nature doesn’t do “waste”.)

These methane-eating bacteria (methanotrophs) act as a balance to the methane produced by the methane generating bacteria (methanogens) in the rumens of the livestock above ground. This is the missing part of the natural methane cycle that we need to restore.

I believe there is a massive difference between “livestock” and “properly managed livestock”.

The Troubled History of Horse Meat in America

The White House wants to reinstate the sale of horses for slaughter, but eating horse meat has always been politically treacherous. An Object Lesson.

President Donald Trump wants to cut a budget the Bureau of Land Management uses to care for wild horses. Instead of paying to feed them, he has proposed lifting restrictions preventing the sale of American mustangs to horse meat dealers who supply Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses.

Horse meat, or chevaline, as its supporters have rebranded it, looks like beef, but darker, with coarser grain and yellow fat. It seems healthy enough, boasting almost as much omega-3 fatty acids as farmed salmon and twice as much iron as steak. But horse meat has always lurked in the shadow of beef in the United States. Its supply and demand are irregular, and its regulation is minimal. Horse meat’s cheapness and resemblance to beef make it easy to sneak into sausages and ground meat. Horse lovers are committed and formidable opponents of the industry, too.

The management of wild horse herds is a complex issue, which might create difficulty for Trump. Horse meat has a long history of causing problems for American politicians.

Horses originated in North America. They departed for Eurasia when the climate cooled in the Pleistocene, only to return thousands of years later with the conquistadors. Horses became a taboo meat in the ancient Middle East, possibly because they were associated with companionship, royalty, and war. The Book of Leviticus rules out eating horse, and in 732 Pope Gregory III instructed his subjects to stop eating horse because it was an “impure and detestable” pagan meat. As butchers formed guilds, they too strengthened the distinction between their work and that of the knacker, who broke down old horses into unclean meat and parts. By the 16th century, hippophagy—the practice of eating horse meat—had become a capital offense in France.

However, a combination of Enlightenment rationalism, the Napoleonic Wars, and a rising population of urban working horses led European nations to experiment with horse meat in the 19th century. Gradually, the taboo fell. Horses were killed in specialist abattoirs, and their meat was sold in separate butcher shops, where it remained marginalized. Britain alone rejected hippophagy, perhaps because it could source adequate red meat from its empire.

America also needed no horse meat. For one part, the Pilgrims had brought the European prohibition on eating horse flesh, inherited from the pre-Christian tradition. But for another, by the 1700s the New World was a place of carnivorous abundance. Even the Civil War caused beef prices to fall, thanks to a wartime surplus and new access to Western cattle ranges. Innovations in meat production, from transport by rail to packing plants and refrigeration, further increased the sense of plenty. Periodic rises in the price of beef were never enough to put horse on the American plate.

Besides, horse meat was considered un-American. Nineteenth-century newspapers abound with ghoulish accounts of the rise of hippophagy in the Old World. In these narratives, horse meat is the food of poverty, war, social breakdown, and revolution—everything new migrants had left behind. Nihilists share horse carcasses in Russia wretched Frenchmen gnaw on cab horses in besieged Paris poor Berliners slurp on horse soup.

But in the 1890s, a new American horse meat industry arose, if awkwardly. With the appearance of the electric street car and the battery-powered automobile, the era of the horse as a transportation technology was ending. American entrepreneurs proposed canning unwanted horses for sale in the Old World, paying hefty bonds to guarantee they wouldn’t sell their goods at home. But Europe had higher standards and didn’t like the intrusion of American meat onto its home market. U.S. aversion to regulation had led to food scares and poisonings. When French and German consuls visited a Chicago abattoir suspected of selling diseased horse to Europe, opponents tried to smear the U.S. Agriculture secretary, who had previously intervened. By 1896, the fledgling industry was faltering: Belgium barred U.S. horse meat, Chicagoans were rumored to be eating chevaline unwittingly, and the price of horses had fallen so drastically that their flesh was being fed to chickens because it was cheaper than corn.

In 1899, horse meat was dragged into one of the highest-profile food scandals of the century: the notorious Beef Court investigating how American soldiers fighting in the Spanish-American War ended up poisoned by their own corned meat. Many speculated wrongly that the contaminated beef was in fact horse meat. The first decade of America’s horse meat industry had been an unprofitable, ill-regulated disaster for the country’s reputation. The new regulations put in place in the 1906 Pure Food Act could not reverse this overnight.

When beef prices rose as canners shipped it abroad during World War I, Americans finally discovered horse steak. By 1919, Congress was persuaded to authorize the Department of Agriculture to provide official inspections and stamps for American horse meat, although as soon as beef returned after the war, most citizens abandoned chevaline.

The end of the war meant another drop in demand for range-bred horses no longer needed on the Western Front. A dealer, Philip Chappel, found a new use for them: Ken-L-Ration, the first commercial canned dog food. His success attracted perhaps the first direct action in the name of animal liberation: A miner named Frank Litts twice attempted to dynamite his Rockford, Illinois packing plant.

During World War II food shortages, horse meat once again found its way to American tables, but the post-war backlash was rapid. “Horse meat” became a political insult. “You don’t want your administration to be known as a horse meat administration, do you?” the former New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia demanded of his successor William O’Dwyer. President Truman was nicknamed “Horse meat Harry” by Republicans during food shortages in the run up to the 1948 “Beefsteak Election.” In 1951, reporters asked if there would be a “Horse meat Congress,” one “that put the old gray mare on the family dinner table.” When Adlai Stevenson ran for president in 1952, he was also taunted as “Horse meat Adlai” thanks to a Mafia scam uncovered in Illinois when he was governor.

Although work horses vanished by the 1970s and mustangs were finally under federal protection, the growing number of leisure horses led to another surge in horse slaughter. The 1973 oil crisis pushed up the price of beef and, inevitably, domestic horse meat sales rose. Protestors picketed stores on horseback, and Pennsylvania Senator Paul S. Schweiker floated a bill banning the sale of horse meat for human consumption.

But once again the bubble burst. Competition sent beef prices into freefall. Even poor Americans didn’t need to buy the “poor man’s beef,” so U.S. manufacturers continued to export horse meat to Europe and Asia. Politicians began to apply pressure. In the early 1980s, Montana and Texas senators shamed the Navy into removing horse meat from commissary stores. The few remaining horse-packing plants dwindled during a market squeeze that also drove down welfare standards. Sick, injured, or distressed horses were driven long distances to slaughter under poor conditions.

In 1997, the Los Angeles Times broke the news that 90 percent of the mustangs removed from the range by the Bureau of Land Management had been sold on for meat by their supposed adopters. An Oregon horse abattoir called Cavel West was named in the report. It burned down that July, in an attack claimed by the Animal Liberation Front on behalf of the mustangs. The members of the ALF cell responsible were tried for terrorism, but Cavel West was never rebuilt. Nonviolent activists also applied pressure to the horse meat business, with California banning the transport and sale of horses for meat.

Activists and politicians worked to shut down the remaining abattoirs in the years that followed. In early September 2006, the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act passed the U.S. House, with Republican John Sweeney calling the horse meat business “one of the most inhumane, brutal and shady practices going on in the United States today.” Horse slaughter was not outlawed, but both federal and commercial funding for inspections was canceled, effectively shutting down the business.

Meanwhile, the town of Kaufman, Texas, mobilized against the Belgian-owned abattoir on their outskirts that paid little tax but spilled blood into the sewage system. The plant, along with another in Fort Worth, were closed. In DeKalb, Illinois, the only remaining American horse meat plant burned down in unexplained circumstances. The owners were prevented from rebuilding, as Illinois once more passed a law to stop the horse meat business. Horse slaughter ceased on U.S. soil, at least for domestic use as food. Even so, American horses were still being transported long distance to Mexican and Canadian abattoirs.

The 2009 financial crisis dealt the equestrian industry a heavy blow. The pro-slaughter lobby, backed by a 2011 GAO study, suggested that American horses had suffered, as owners no longer receiving meat money would not pay to dispose of them. Groups like United Horsemen coopted Tea Party rhetoric to compare animal-welfare campaigners to the Nazis. Opponents pointed out that poor paperwork meant many slaughter-bound horses had been treated by drugs that should have ruled them out of the food chain. Across America, both sides clashed when Obama signed a new law lifting the ban on funding for inspections. New abattoirs were proposed, but town after town blocked the measures. The 2014 Obama budget once more ruled out a revival. Meanwhile, the horses continued to be shipped to Mexico and Canada.

Today, all the familiar contradictions of the American horse meat business are playing out again, as Trump looks toward horse meat as a cost-cutting measure. Ranges are overflowing with mustangs. Animal-welfare information has disappeared from government websites, and the administration is rumored to have called on the GAO to launch another study into the benefits of building domestic abattoirs.

And yet, without adequate funding for proper inspections in a reborn U.S. horse meat industry, the market might languish. Europe is already skeptical of Mexican and Canadian exports sourced from the United States, making horse meat less profitable anyway.

Forever marginal, always unsteady, the business of packing and selling the poor man’s beef could boom and crash again in America. If it does, Trump might find himself sporting a new political epithet: Horse-Meat Donny.

The technologies of meat production

Seetah's main historical focus is the Roman Empire, and he's specifically interested in how the Roman colonization of England changed local relationships with meat. He told us how archaeologists looking at ancient English villages often examine trash pits to find what kinds of bones are in there—this helps them date the site, because the Romans brought new animals (like cows), and new technologies (like bronze and iron) for butchering them. Colonialism leaves a strong mark on people's eating habits, as different cultures mix over the table. Interestingly, Seetah noted, humans developed bronze and iron tools long before people started using them in butchery.

This may have been because people have always had deeply ingrained cultural rituals around animal butchery, and they often use only specific tools to do it. So ancient peoples kept using their special stone tools long after they could have used metal knives. Eventually, however, they do begin to use knives, and this allows them to butcher larger animals in different ways than they had before. Perhaps the greatest transformation in people's relationships to meat came during the Industrial Revolution, when the very first factory automation was used in England for the production of wool. Seetah emphasized that animal products underpin a lot of major shifts in production practices, and not just for butchery. Wool was England's most important export in the nineteenth century, and its production requires sheep to remain very much alive. That said, industrialization also ushered in the abattoir system of slaughterhouses, where the act of butchery is performed behind closed doors in massive production lines.

Why don’t Catholics eat meat on Fridays?

Catholics abstain from flesh meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and the Fridays of Lent.

Abstinence is one of our oldest Christian traditions. “From the first century, the day of the crucifixion has been traditionally observed as a day of abstaining from flesh meat (“black fast”) to honor Christ who sacrificed his flesh on a Friday” (Klein, P., Catholic Source Book, 78).

Up until 1966 Church law prohibited meat on all Fridays throughout the entire year. The new law was promulgated in 1983 in the revised Code of Canon Law which states, “Abstinence [is] to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Canon 1251). “All persons who have completed their fourteenth year are bound by the law of abstinence” (Canon 1252). The U. S. Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) extended this law to include all Fridays in Lent.

Since Jesus sacrificed his flesh for us on Good Friday, we refrain from eating flesh meat in his honor on Fridays. Flesh meat includes the meat of mammals and poultry, and the main foods that come under this heading are beef and pork, chicken and turkey. While flesh is prohibited, the non-flesh products of these animals are not, things like milk, cheese, butter, and eggs.

Fish do not belong to the flesh meat category. The Latin word for meat, caro, from which we get English words like carnivore and carnivorous, applies strictly to flesh meat and has never been understood to include fish. Furthermore, in former times flesh meat was more expensive, eaten only occasionally, and associated with feasting and rejoicing whereas fish was cheap, eaten more often, and not associated with celebrations.

Abstinence is a form of penance. Penance expresses sorrow and contrition for our wrongdoing, indicates our intention to turn away from sin and turn back to God, and makes reparation for our sins, it helps to cancel the debt and pay the penalties incurred by our transgressions.

Abstinence is a form of asceticism, the practice of self-denial to grow in holiness. Jesus asks his disciples to deny themselves and take up their Cross (Mt 16:24). Abstinence is a sober way to practice simplicity and austerity, to deny the cravings of our bodies to honor Jesus who practiced the ultimate form of self-denial when he gave his body for us on the Cross. Thus, to give up flesh meat on Fridays, only to feast on lobster tail or Alaskan king crab, is to defeat the ascetical purpose of abstinence. Less is more! There are countless options for simple Friday meatless dinners: pancakes, waffles, soup and rolls, chipped tuna on toast, macaroni and cheese, fried egg sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese pizza, and of course, fish.

About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Wayzata, Minn. As a former school principal, high school instructor and athletic coach, he has always been a teacher. He now teaches the faith as a homilist, Bible study leader, retreat director, pilgrimage guide and author of numerous articles.

© 2008, Rev. Michael A. Van Sloun
Used with permission.

A gutsy move

To claim we shouldn’t eat meat because we aren’t anatomically identical to carnivores demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of how evolution has worked.

Humans and carnivores, like dogs and hyenas, are very different kinds of mammals, separated by around 100 million years of evolutionary history.

We are primates and our basic body plan is constrained genetically by our primate heritage. You can’t turn an ape into a wolf in just 3 million years!

While much has been made of our sacculated colon, this is a feature common to all apes and is the result of common evolutionary inheritance.

We have all evolved from plant-eating apes regardless of what we eat today. A sacculated colon in no way suggests we are herbivores.

Besides, humans do eat a lot more than just meat and clearly require a wide range of foods for a balanced diet. For example, no apes can synthesise vitamin C in their bodies, so it must be acquired from plant food sources.

However, the human gut differs substantially from other apes in a couple of key respects: first, we have a small total gut for our body size and second, our greatest gut volume lies in the small intestine, while in other apes it lies in the colon.

A bigger small intestine indicates we absorb most of our nutrients there, and that we obtain them from high-quality, nutrient-dense sources like meat and starchy foods.

A large colon, as seen in all other apes, fits with their strongly plant-based diet (87-99% of foods) and the need to ferment it. Humans simply can’t survive on the type of diet we see chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans or gibbons eating.

Another disturbing piece of evidence worth noting is tapeworms. Each year millions of people around the world are infected with them through eating undercooked or raw meat.

And here’s the rub: without infecting a human host, at least four species of tapeworm would be unable to reproduce. Humans are a definitive host for them.

The only other mammals to be definitive hosts for tapeworms are carnivores like lions and hyenas.

Molecular clocks suggest human tapeworms evolved about the time our ancestors began to hunt.

Briefly, two other human features need mentioning because they have been widely used to mislead people on the issue of meat eating.

Our teeth are very similar to those of other apes in terms of the size, shape and number we possess – all apes and Old World monkeys have 32.

But there’s one important difference: we humans have small canine teeth.

The canine teeth of apes are not used for catching prey or chewing food. Instead they are for display and are used by males to battle it out for dominance in a social hierarchy or for access to mates.

A small canine tooth evolved in human evolution some time after 5 million years ago and represents a shift in the social structure and mating behaviour of our ancestors.

It shows us that male-to-male conflict had reduced – perhaps because males were sharing food with females and each other. Males and females may even have been monogamous at this time.

Lastly, humans have nails instead of claws because we are primates. No primates have claws. So to claim that our lack of claws shows we shouldn’t eat meat again indicates a clear lack of familiarity with our biology.

Besides, early human hunters used tools, their big brains and understanding of their environment and cooperative tendencies to catch food, not their brawn.


Basic Books, February 2016

"MEATHOOKED"is an investigation set to answer a question that has stayed unanswered far too long, while we kept arguing health and ethical aspects of meat consumption: Why do we eat meat at all? What's so special about meat that it keeps us hooked? From the perspective of evolution, culture, taste, marketing, biochemistry and anthropology, Marta Zaraska sets out to identify all the hooks that make meat a food that humans don't want to easily give up.

&ldquoAncient Egyptian meat mummies? Vegansexuality? Yummy beef made out of carrots? Meathooked bursts with interest all the way from Pleistocene ecology to the politics of modern food production. But Meathooked is more than just a fast-paced tour of the quirks of human carnivory. It is also a well-researched plea for nutritional sanity and ecological common-sense. Marta Zaraska&rsquos sparkling argument for a future with a reduced reliance on meat deserves wide attention.&rdquo

&mdashRichard Wrangham, Ruth B. Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University and author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

&ldquoWe know producing and consuming it is terrible for us, the planet, and billions of farm animals, so what keeps people hooked on meat? Marta Zaraska&rsquos fascinating Meathooked provides a lively, compelling look at the many reasons humans are addicted to animal protein. Whether you&rsquore a vegan, a hardcore meat-lover, or somewhere in between, this book will help you better understand why you and your loved ones eat what you do.&rdquo

Africa Edit

Liberia Edit

A 2014 documentary by Vice News found that Liberia has a burgeoning monkey meat industry, with locals describing it as a "sweet" meat and expressing indifference to the risk of contracting the Ebola virus disease associated with monkey meat consumption in Africa. [2]

Republic of the Congo Edit

The Congolese view monkey meat as an "ordinary delicacy" and a "must-eat", and it is commonly served grilled, boiled, or fried monkey carcasses are highly-valued, and are worth between 20,000 and 40,000 francs. A Nairobi News reporter covering the 2015 All Africa Games in Brazzaville observed that "residents scramble" for monkey meat, but are not as fond of the meats of other primates including baboon and chimpanzee. [3] Miss Waldron's Red Colobus, which was native to west and central Africa, was supposedly "eaten to extinction" in 2001. [4]

Cameroon Edit

Approximately 80 percent of all meat consumed in Cameroon is flesh from monkeys and apes, with approximately 3,000 gorillas killed each year for illegal meat markets. [5]

South Sudan Edit

Consuming monkey meat is a defining feature of the Bari people, who "perceive the eating of monkey meat as a boundary between them and non-indigenous people" in recent years, however, some Bari tribe members have shied away from the practice because of how similar monkeys look to humans. [6]

Americas Edit

United States Edit

A 2007 report by The New York Times documented several instances of monkey meat being secretly imported into the United States under the guise of other meats. [7] It is illegal to import bushmeat into the United States. Monkey meat found at the country's border entries will be seized and destroyed by border custom agents, along with any belongings that come with it. [8] People may be fined US$250,000 for importing monkey meat. [9]

Mexico Edit

Spider monkey dishes are popular among natives from Southern Mexico. They are hunted yearlong despite being prohibited between March 1 and October 31. [10] In Los Tuxtlas, Veracruz, consumption of monkey meat was popular prior to the 2010s. As people began consuming more meat, monkey population in the region declined and monkey meat became less available. [11] [12]

Asia/Pacific Edit

Cambodia Edit

In October 2016, a raid was conducted on a market in Stung Treng, and resulted in the confiscation of two kilograms of dried monkey meat. [13]

China Edit

Monkey meat has traditionally been viewed as a "prized (delicacy)" in Chinese cuisine, and is also believed to have medicinal qualities. In early 1934, the consumption of monkey meat alongside that of monkey brains was banned in Guangdong an edict declared that "(m)onkeys possess many of the traits of man, and also considerable amount of intelligence, and should therefore be given protection." [14] The order was purportedly given by Chen Jitang. [15]

India Edit

In April 2014, photographs of "hundreds" of monkey carcasses meant for consumption in Chhattisgarh went viral despite the outcry by animal activists, however, government officials did little to address the issue, and even expressed scepticism at the photographs, as monkeys are sacred in most parts of India west of the Siliguri corridor. [16]

Indonesia Edit

Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, and most Indonesians do not consume monkey meat. However, in Sulawesi, the Minahasan, a non-Muslim minority group, are known monkey eaters, and consider the crested black macaque a delicacy. [17] [18]

Japan Edit

Monkey meat has been historically seen as a delicacy in select areas of Japan including Hongū and Nagano, though current consumption is extremely rare at best. A Nagano proverb reads, "Don't feed your wife autumn monkey – to do so would be to waste a fine-tasting delicacy". A myriad of health benefits are said to be derived from the consumption of monkey meat, and, for instance, Japanese women allegedly consume monkey meat after childbirth to regain their vigour. [19]

Vietnam Edit

In September 2015, a red-shanked douc was killed live at a Vietnamese eatery in Vu Quang. The carcass was reportedly sold for two million Vietnamese dong. [20]

The consumption of monkey meat may be detrimental to one's health. An August 1992 study published in the Journal of Tropical Medicine Hygiene reported nine cases of salmonellosis attributed to monkey meat consumption. [21] As the human genetic make-up is similar to that of monkeys, humans are susceptible to catching diseases and viruses that may be present in the monkey flesh. [22]

In World War I, a French combat ration consisting of Argentine beef and carrots was dubbed "monkey meat" and is written to have been very salty in taste and poorly-received. [23] [ self-published source ] Virtually all variants of the American children's playground song "Great Green Gobs of Greasy, Grimy Gopher Guts" contain the lyrics "mutilated monkey meat". [24]

The Evolution of Human Teeth

Not only did the human jaw shrink in size, so did the size of our individual teeth. While our molars and even bicuspids or pre-molars are still larger and flatter than our incisors and canine teeth, they are much smaller than the molars of our ancient ancestors. Before, they were the surface upon which grains and vegetables were ground into processed pieces that could be swallowed. Once the early humans figured out how to use various food preparation tools, the processing of the food happened outside of the mouth. Instead of needing large, flat surfaces of teeth, they could use tools to mash these types of foods on tables or other surfaces.

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Six years ago, an episode of Canadian Top Chef featured a moment that would never be replicated on its American counterpart under any circumstances. Nothing about most of the episode was particularly outstanding: It had a French theme with New York-based chef Daniel Boulud dropping in as a guest judge, and the elimination challenge required each contestant to cook with a different protein common in French cuisine.

One by one, contestants randomly chose proteins: sweetbreads, frogs’ legs. horse. Andrea, the contestant who drew horse, whipped up a horse tartare and the judges found it passable all in all, the slab of equine flesh only got about 45 seconds of screen time. But those 45 seconds prompted mass outrage: Media outlets jumped all over it, and a Facebook page calling for a boycott of Top Chef Canada garnered thousands of followers (six years later, it’s still active).

The Food Network, which produces the Canadian version of Top Chef, defended using horse as part of “a truly authentic, traditional French menu.” The network ended up pulling the episode from its website — and it may have been a learning experience, as Top Chef Canada never went near the meat again.

While it may not be to those protesters’ tastes, eating horse is quite common, and has historic precedence in Europe and Asia. It has long been consumed in Central Asia by nomadic groups in countries like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, where grassy steppes allowed horses to thrive a horse sausage, kazy, is particularly popular.

Further west, consuming horse meat has had a more fraught history: Pagan groups in Europe were accustomed to it, but Pope Gregory III issued an edict against eating it in 732 (apparently to target the pagans). It has never been on the menu for Jews — the hooves mean horse isn’t kosher — and while Muslims can eat it, they have sometimes been discouraged from doing so.

Though stereotypically seen as a hub for horse meat, France didn’t jump on the bandwagon until the revolutionary era, when it dawned upon revolutionaries to seize the aristocrats’ steeds to help feed the population.

As for the taste of it: It’s a red meat, often considered adjacent to both beef and venison, with a touch of minerality and sweetness. David McMillan, co-owner of prominent Montreal restaurant Joe Beef, which has often served horse, is a fan of it as a leaner meat choice.

“I like the depth of flavor, I really view it as a healthy option,” McMillan says. “If someone wants a delicious steak, I’m not going to steer them down the horse path. If I see a guy who’s pretty ripped, or someone who seems pretty serious about the gym — no cream, no butter — I might suggest a big green salad and a horse tenderloin. It’s a pretty clean meal.”

The kerfuffle caused by Top Chef Canada’s foray into horse meat certainly would have discouraged producers of its American counterpart from cooking with equine — had the idea ever occurred to them. But there’s another key reason why such an episode will never air: Horse meat simply isn’t available in the U.S.

Killing horses isn’t technically banned in the U.S. variations on an outright horse slaughter ban have surfaced but floundered in Congress several times since 2006. But appropriations committees did successfully ban funding to the USDA to inspect horse meat in 2007 — and if there’s no money for inspections, there’s no guarantee of safety, therefore it can’t be sold. In the words of a USDA spokesperson, “If there is no mark of inspection, then horse meat is not allowed to move in our national commerce.” This spelled the end for America’s three horse-slaughter facilities, closed a decade ago. (Their products had primarily been sent overseas.)

The horse debate was revived earlier this year: In July, the USDA’s annual funding bill passed without the ban on horse meat inspection funding. But the USDA isn’t free to resume looking at horse carcasses yet. The House has to pass that bill, and the ban could be added back on. In short: Horse meat won’t be appearing on American menus any time soon.

Given the above legal situation, the answer to “Why don’t Americans eat horse?” seems fairly straightforward. But even if it were freely available, it’s unlikely that horse patties would manifest on supermarket shelves. The Canadian situation bears this out: Through language and cultural ties to France, the French-speaking province of Quebec is somewhat accepting of horse eating in Montreal, it’s no challenge to find the meat in a grocery store. A number of restaurants feature it on menus, too.

But outside Quebec it’s almost impossible to find, despite the fact that Canada is one of the world’s largest horse meat-producing countries. Toronto has a horse meat butcher, but restaurants peddling it in the city are rare.

Activists and academics have often leaned on health and safety arguments for why horse shouldn’t be eaten. Animal welfare organizations like the ASPCA take issue with the slaughter process: Nancy Perry, senior vice president of government relations at the ASPCA, says she’s concerned that slaughter facilities are made with cows in mind, not horses.

“To take an animal that is such an extreme flight animal and place them into the commercial slaughter process would be problematic,” Perry says. “Cattle are flighty but by and large they’ve been domesticated over time, and the [slaughter] equipment and setup is actually built around cattle.”

Others are more concerned about what’s hiding under horses’ skin: Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a veterinarian and former director of Tufts University’s animal behavior program, says that retired racing horses are often sold into the meat supply stream. (For American racehorses, this would involve crossing the border into Canada or Mexico.) His concern is that “hardened” track vets have often pumped those animals full of drugs to enhance their performance, which would make them unsafe for consumption, particularly due to the painkiller phenylbutazone (or “bute”).

“They’re basically walking pharmacies the racing industry is completely corrupt and self-policing,” Dodman says. “It’s a bit like Wall Street: If you are caught, it’s a slap on the wrist.”

Canada’s Food Inspection Agency is adamant that it won’t tolerate bute in horses destined for the dinner plate. In any case, not all horse slaughterhouses are made equal. McMillan says he’s conscious of this, and has a clear idea of the horse he wants to consume: “A happy horse that isn’t a track horse,” he says. “I want wines to be natural, somewhat organic, I expect that as well from the rabbit farmer, the duck farmer, the cheese people.”

At the time of the interview, McMillan’s supplier was leaving the horse meat business he noted that he’d rather nix horse from his menus altogether than switch to a supplier he was unsure about.

Ask the average American why they don’t eat horse, and they’re unlikely to know much, if anything, about bute or the slaughterhouse process. Simply put, cultural norms have kept horse off U.S. menus.

Perry points to a history Americans have with horses that Europeans don’t: “They have shared a role in creating the United States,” she says. “We could not have founded this country without the horse and they certainly played a role in every major war that we’ve been involved in until recent times.”

McMillan understands the cultural connection — and just because he’s happy to serve horse in Montreal doesn’t mean he thinks it makes sense elsewhere.

“I think it’s culturally appropriate in this province, one of the only French-speaking places in North America, if there was one damn pace to serve horse without repercussions,” he says. “If you’re going to serve horse in fucking Boston — which has no history of eating horse meat but you want to do it, get ready to be boycotted. If I opened a Joe Beef in New York, the horse would stay in Montreal.”

That cultural connection is amplified among people who have direct contact with the animals. Sinikka Crosland, the executive director of the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition and horse owner, likens them to a companion.

“I just felt a kinship with horses,” she says. “I love dogs and cats, and I thought, Why not horses as well? The more I got to know them I realized how sensitive and intelligent they are and how you can have a bond with them just like other animals that are pets.”

But it might not be that imagery of the American frontiersman and his trusty horse are so enduring that even two centuries on it’s stopping Americans from tucking into horse tartare. Stanford economics professor Alvin Roth points out that as recently as World War II, the prestigious Harvard Faculty Club was eating it. He argues that eating horse hasn’t been permanently and intrinsically wrong for Americans rather, it came to acquire a status as “repugnant” and unacceptable as the populace grew richer.

“Repugnance has to do with not just what I want to eat but what I think you shouldn’t be allowed to eat,” he says. “There are no laws against eating worms, because you don’t need a law against something no one wants to do.”

He adds that laws — like California’s 1998 ban on horse meat — have helped to signal the cultural status of the meat.

The cultural argument is one that James Serpell, who studies human-animal interactions, knows well. The professor of animal ethics and welfare at the University of Pennsylvania draws a parallel between the aversion to horse in the U.S. and parts of Asia that consume domestic animals like dogs.

“There’s some interesting things going on in Asia now with a lot of local resistance to the idea of eating dogs and eating cats… there’s certainly a cultural shift going on,” he says. “And it’s due to the rise in pet-keeping in these countries and the experience of having those animals as family members, which is turning them off the idea of eating them.”

For Serpell, strip out the emotion and there isn’t a terribly logical explanation for the refusal to eat horse. “It actually would make a lot of sense to eat old horses,” Serpell says. “It seems like a terrible waste of protein [not to]. But it makes sense to people from an emotional and cultural perspective.”

To say that not eating horse is inherently part of American culture might be an oversimplification — individuals can be socialized in and out of eating certain meats. It’s something Harvard-educated psychologist, and author of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows, Melanie Joy has contemplated at length.

“We learn to classify a handful of animals as edible and we’re socialized basically to disconnect from our authentic thoughts and feelings… When we see a hamburger we don’t see a dead animal, we see a piece of food,” Joy says. “If we see that it had been made from a Golden Retriever or kittens, most people would have a hard time seeing that as food.”

It seems that most Americans feel that emotional connection to horses: Polls asking whether horse meat should be banned suggest around 80 percent of people are against eating it.