Freshness Big Year: Why aren’t my friends vegetarian?

Something I’ve puzzled over, so here’s a book to tackle: Marta Zaraska’s “Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession with Meat.” I was drawn in by this long paragraph in her introduction:

As we approach the modern era, this book turns to biochemistry. Is there something in meat’s chemical composition that keeps us hooked? Is it the 2-methyl-3-furanthiol or one of the other one thousand volatile compounds that together make up the specific, mouthwatering scent of cooked meat? Is it the umami taste (Japanese for “delicious”) that is found mostly in meat, mushrooms, and milk? Or is meat actually necessary for staying healthy? Despite the risks of cancer and heart disease, what if the human race would be even worse off without meat, a planet full of small, immune-deficient weaklings? Are some people, those with a gene mutation that makes them dislike the scent of androstenone (a mammalian pheromone), destined to be vegetarians, while others, those who are particularly sensitive to bitter compounds in fruits and vegetables, more likely to love meat? Is it the skillful marketing and lobbying of the powerful meat industry, with its $186 billion worth of annual sales in the US alone, that keep us hooked on animal protein against our best interests? Or maybe, just maybe, do we eat meat simply out of habit, because it got so engrained in our culture and history that we just cannot let go of it? After all, what would Thanksgiving look like without a turkey or a summer grill without a burger? Do we eat meat because over the centuries it has come to symbolize masculinity, power over the poor, power over nature, and power over other nations? Is our love of meat a kind of addiction—psychological, chemical, or maybe a little of both? And if it is, will we ever be able to break it? Is telling people to “cut down on meat” no different from telling a chain-smoker to go cold turkey?


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