Will being a vegetarian save the planet - Part II: What's the deal with meat?

When I first became a vegetarian I quickly found that my diet was no longer just my own business, rather it was everyone’s. Some people were just curious about what I ate, others seemed concerned for my wellbeing, a few were just completed astounded... With my food under scrutiny, I quickly realised just how important diets, and meat, are to people.

Before tackling the environmental issues of meat-eating we first need to understand how it became so widespread. To do this we need to understand why we have such a cultural obsession with meat-eating and how this translates into modern day carnivory. To start we must look back, really far back, to our evolutionary history as human beings.

Meat and Evolution

The first thing to say is: meat is extremely nutritious. Before modern agriculture, fats and high-quality protein were hard to come by[1]. High-quality protein is required for proper growth and development[2,3], indeed as China modernised meat-eating in childhood was correlated with cognitive ability[4]. Sure, you can get proteins from plants, but they’re not complete and they’re harder to digest[5], meat is a much more ready supply and so lucrative for hunter-gatherers.