The Meat Question
Animals, Humans, and the Deep History of Food
320 pp., 6 x 9 in,
- Published: October 22, 2019
- Published: September 27, 2019
A provocative argument that eating meat is not what made humans human and that the future is not necessarily carnivorous.
Humans are eating more meat than ever. Despite ubiquitous Sweetgreen franchises and the example set by celebrity vegans, demand for meat is projected to grow at twice the rate of demand for plant-based foods over the next thirty years. Between 1960 and 2010, per capita meat consumption in the developing world more than doubled; in China, meat consumption grew ninefold. It has even been claimed that meat made us human—that our disproportionately large human brains evolved because our early human ancestors ate meat. In The Meat Question, Josh Berson argues that not only did meat not make us human, but the contemporary increase in demand for meat is driven as much by economic insecurity as by affluence. Considering the full sweep of meat's history, Berson concludes provocatively that the future is not necessarily carnivorous.
Berson, an anthropologist and historian, argues that we have the relationship between biology and capitalism backward. We may associate meat-eating with wealth, but in fact, meat-eating is a sign of poverty; cheap meat—hunger killing, easy to prepare, eaten on the go—enables a capitalism defined by inequality. To answer the meat question, says Berson, we need to think about meat-eating in a way that goes beyond Paleo diets and PETA protests to address the deeply entwined economic and political lives of humans and animals past, present, and future.
Do humans need meat? With great clarity, command of facts, and an eye for absurdity as well as justice, The Meat Question dissects the ways in which the notion of inescapable human carnivory allows us to ignore inequality and violence while depleting the niche in which we live.
Dagmar Schäfer, Director, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
A superb synthesis of paleontology, anthropology, and human physiology, The Meat Question challenges our unexamined beliefs and cultural attitudes about the origins, evolutionary significance, and biospheric implications of the human carnivorous tradition. Rarely has a book covered the science so effectively in advocating for an exclusively plant-based diet.
Sheldon Krimsky, Lenore Stern Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences in the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor in Public Health and Community Medicine at the Tufts School of Medicine; author of GMOs Decoded
In this thrilling reassessment of two intertwined claims about meat's role in human society, Josh Berson provides a thorough account of the assumptions, misreadings, and mistaken conclusions that lead to valorizing meat. The Meat Question shreds the mythology and reveals the pathology of believing meat contributed to advancing civilization.
Carol J. Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat and Burger
After reading The Meat Question, I have a better understanding of why it is not effective to use single issue arguments like health, environment, climate change and animal cruelty to convince people to reduce or eliminate their animal consumption…Berson shows us how to think about eating animals in broader terms.
Josh Berson's 'The Meat Question: Animals, Humans, and the Deep History of Food,' helped me see that the evidence for meat-eating's “rightness” for humans is thin.