Should We Eat Meat?: Evolution and Consequences of Modern Carnivory 1st Edition
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“Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.” (Choice, 1 January 2014)
From the Inside Flap
Should We Eat Meat?
EVOLUTION AND CONSEQUENCES OF MODERN CARNIVORY
Meat eating is often a contentious subject, whether considering the technical, ethical,environmental, political, or health-related aspects of production and consumption.
This book is a wide-ranging and interdisciplinary examination and critique of meat consumption by humans, throughout their evolution and around the world. Setting the scene with a chapter on meat's role in human evolution and its growing influence during the development of agricultural practices, the book goes on to examine modern production systems, their efficiencies, outputs, and impacts. The major global trends of meat consumption are described in order to find out what part its consumption plays in changing modern diets in countries around the world. The heart of the book addresses the consequences of the "massive carnivory" of western diets, looking at the inefficiencies of production and at the huge impacts on land, water, and the atmosphere. Health impacts are also covered, both positive and negative. In conclusion, the author looks forward at his vision of "rational meat eating", where environmental and health impacts are reduced, animals are treated more humanely, and alternative sources of protein make a higher contribution.
Should We Eat Meat? is not an ideological tract for or against carnivorousness but rather a careful evaluation of meat's roles in human diets and the environmental and health consequences of its production and consumption. It will be of interest to a wide readership including professionals and academics in food and agricultural production, human health and nutrition, environmental science, and regulatory and policy making bodies around the world.
- ASIN : 1118278720
- Publisher : Wiley-Blackwell; 1st edition (May 28, 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 280 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9781118278727
- ISBN-13 : 978-1118278727
- Item Weight : 14.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.9 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #893,839 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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As with any Smil book, it can be a bit dry and a slog at times. I think numbers are a good start, but numbers ultimately should be culminating to some sort of wisdom. I didn't always find such in this book. Also, I think he makes numerous fallacies: For example, he contends that malnutrition in India is due to not eating enough meat. Couldn't this also be explained by a general lack of calories? Secondly, he often qualifies meat eating due to evolutionary reasons. Often, his arguments rest on the fact that because humans are evolutionarily optimized to eat meat, we should. This is a fallacy. Modern society routinely dispenses evolutionary goals (e.g. monogamy, having fewer children). We have adopted other values to take its place (such as moral considerations).
If interested in this topic, I highly recommend this reading.
Top reviews from other countries
Das in diesem Buch aufgezeigte Hauptproblem besteht darin, dass die derzeitige Fleischproduktion falsch optimiert ist. Weder wird Rücksicht auf die Umwelt noch auf die Bedürfnisse hoch entwickelter friedlicher Lebewesen genommen, die in hohem Ausmaß Schmerz und Angst empfinden können. Enge Käfighaltungen von freiheitsliebenden und geselligen Tieren, katastrophale Transport- und Schlachtbedingungen sind Auswüchse einer nach Preis und Menge optimierten Industrie, die uns Menschen ein Mitgefühl diesbezüglich abgewöhnt hat und uns die von vielen Grausamkeiten begleitete Fleischerzeugung ignorieren lässt. So steigt der Anteil von Stresshormonen im Fleisch durch eine höhere Haltungsdichte, die zur Bereitstellung der nachgefragten Menge möglichst nach oben optimiert wird. Ökologische Auswirkungen der Fleisch- und Futtermittelerzeugung werden in der öffentlichen Diskussion ausgeblendet, denn die dabei entstehenden Gase wie CH4 oder das N2O tragen hochgradig zum Treibhauseffekt bei und sollten wie die viel diskutierte Abschaffung fossiler Brennstoffe ebenso thematisiert werden. Nicht mehr loslassen kann den Leser/die Leserin Tabelle 3.1 auf S 109, wo die Anteile des Kadaver-, Verkauf-, Küchen- und Verzehrgewicht am Lebendgewicht dargestellt wird. Die unglaubliche Relation von Verzehrgewicht an Lebendgewicht beträgt bei Schweinefleisch 38%, bei Rindfleisch lediglich 30%. Was für eine ungeheure Verschwendung von Ressourcen auf so vielen Ebenen!
Verantwortungsvollen BürgerInnen und EntscheidungsträgerInnen muss es möglich sein, mit den hier bereitgestellten Daten ernährungspolitische Trends einzuleiten, die nach gesunder Ernährung und ökologischer Auswirkung optimiert sind, denn "Should we eat meat" von Vaclav Smil liefert sachlich und informativ viele Daten und referenziert dazu zahlreiche Studien. Alle, die sich jemals mit ihrer Ernährung beschäftigt und ihren Fleischkonsum aus verschiedenen Motiven heraus einer Neubewertung unterziehen möchten, bekommen hier ein faktenbasiertes Werk in die Hand, das ihnen Erklärungen aus vielen Blickwinkeln liefert. Es informiert über den Fleischkonsum der Menschen aus anthropologischer, gesundheitlicher, ethischer, ökonomischer und ökologischer Perspektive und geht auch auf den ungeheuren Wasser- und Düngemittel bei der Futtermittelproduktion ein.
Dieses Buch ist ein faktenreiches Plädoyer für eine rationale Gestaltung der Ernährung. Alle, die sich für Tierschutz und Klimawandel interessieren, sollten es gewissenhaft und genau lesen, damit gegen diese globale Ressourcenverschwendung und Auswirkungen auf das Klima sachlich und ohne moralisch erhobenem Zeigefinger argumentiert werden kann.
Fünf Sterne für diese fundierte und wichtige Analyse, die unbedingt auch in anderen Sprachen erhältlich sein sollte!
As a person who eats a mostly vegetarian diet, I have been looking for a book which dedicated itself to look at the actual facts known about meat and its consequences on our health, on society, and on our environment. This was that book for me.
The other readers have commented/complained about the density of numbers and references in Vaclav Smil's book. I admit, the reading will be slow, and it will probably be hard going at times. That said, personally, I appreciated that this was written like a graduate thesis. It was important for me that I could dig deeper into the references on any topic of interest and I could keep the figures he quoted in mind for when it came time to make my own conclusions.
Another point I could also make in defense of Vaclav Smil's style is that, for me personally anyways, a little sober number peddling is a welcome alternative to the polarized debate between meat lovers and vegetarians. I wanted someone who would take a researchers accounting of the facts when I picked up this book. I wasn't disappointed.
Apart from that, a little about what's actually in the book:
1. The Ancient History of People and Eating Meat
If you have an unquestioning ideological bend against the idea that meat has ever been a part of the healthy human diet then, thankfully, the first part of the book will turn you off and you won't have to waste any more time. Vaclav Smil says the simple truth. At our basic biology (e.g. our intestinal tract, our teeth, the essential amino acids our body does not produce itself) we are fine tuned to include meat as a substantial part of our diet.
Also, despite what other readers say, Vaclav Smil doesn't suggest that we can't live with a meatless diet, he just notes what is obvious for any serious anthropologist - us and our ancestors have been eating meat for a long time. You can live a healthy life while meatless but the consensus about our evolution as a species stays the same.
2. Livestock's Historical Role in Human Civilization
Vaclav Smil touches on what type of animals human beings picked as their ideal livestock. The topic is facinating. For instance, a bear would make a terrible livestock. A bear needs meat as part of its healthy diet. Similarly, anything but a herd animal would be too unruly and more dangerous to its handlers.
Then he discusses the historical advantages that ancient farmers took use of to make their subsistence living just a little easier. Large livestock could do work in the field. Also, horses and cows were able to eat the parts of crops that humans can't digest (the cellulose in plants is undigestible in humans and a lot of other animals). Cows were able to turn this inedible roughage into nutritious milk for human beings.
Separately, pigs and chickens could be relied on to either eat the garbage left over from human cooking or forage for themselves for their feed. I particularly liked the example of chickens or geese being flocked over a recently harvested field to eat any left over seeds.
3. The Manufacturing of Food - Feed Crops, CAFOs, Balanced Feed
This part of the book is the section that most surprised me. Like most other people, I'd seen the images of chickens in small cages, cows shoulder to shoulder at a feeding trough in giant facilities. Those images are the tip of an iceberg. The whole operation is much more industrial, more globalized, and enormously sophisticated.
Smil quickly does away with the terms "industrial farming" or "factory farming" and introduces the term Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). This is the term that describes the terrible living conditions of cows, pigs, and chickens who will live in the minimum space mandated by law in large feeding facilities. For chickens, that space is slightly larger than a legal sheet of paper per chicken. For pigs, and cows, often they are close enough that they are almost just rubbing against the animal next to them. Some of these facilities have only as much light in the animal areas as you would find on a moonlight night outside. Often the feces is not removed until the animals have been cleared. Smil documents all of this in extraordinary detail. Meat in modern society is for the first time cheaply and readily available to almost anyone. The tragedy, as Smil notes, is that it is born on the suffering of these animals.
The other, and as Smil points out, more environmentally significant aspect of modern meat production is feed crops and compound feeds. I ended up visualizing compound feeds as the Clif bars of animal feed. It is a food substance, often pelleted (I assume for easy portioning) of a balanced portion of macro and micro nutrients from various whole food sources and additives. Making this requires high yield crops such as corn and soybean to be sourced, often across national borders, to facilities for the large scale mixing. The net effect of this work - the farming, the transport, the industrial processing, and the feeding to animals rather than feeding directly to humans - results in a high energy cost for each pound of meat eaten by a person. This translates to a large contribution to the global warming of our environment.
The couple of chapters that deal with that in depth are worth reading twice to learn about the fascinating globalized web that brings meat to our tables.
4. The Potential Role for Meat in a Future with Many More Mouths to Feed
Smil takes his time to make his case but I'll be up front about it, he sees meat as a necessary part of any future solutions that make better use of current farm lands to feed even more people. Unlike what I saw some other readers claim, Smil doesn't say that the world can't be well nourished on a vegetarian diet with the current farm lands we have. What he says, which is obvious, is that most people are not willing to stop eating meat. If anything, the more money that individuals in developing countries have, the more likely they are to regularly buy meat. Smil is being pragmatic in his predictions.
What he does make a case for, is being more rational with our meat production. For instance, cows eating plant matter that is inedible to humans anyways could be a larger part of their diet with no detriment to farmland dedicated for producing crops directly for human consumption. Those cows could also produce milk, which is much more energy efficient per pound of feed for a cow.
He also talks about the benefits of growing fish aquafarms and the relatively much more efficient feeding of such. He talks about ways to extend ground meat with portions of soy. He also, and I appreciated this, talked about all of us eating a little less meat. There is already a trend to that in developed countries. He makes a lot of sensible suggestions for the reader to consider.
TL;DR This is a great book. There is much to learn about how meat gets from a farm to the grocery store, the treatment of animals, the role of animals in mankind's history. I think any vegetarian or would be vegetarians should pick this up, if only to hear the perspective of an academic who has seriously researched the topic of humanity's relationship to meat.
Smil’s method is reductive: nutrition becomes the composition of protein, fat & carbohydrate with some micronutrients; environmental impact becomes land use, greenhouse gas emissions, and some observations on heavy metals. This approach is dangerous. The systems in question are too complex for closed models to accurately describe their operation. If we focus only on the ways these systems can have engineering resilience around specific components we will miss their ecological resilience. That said, knowing this, and duly discounting certain recommendations, the book is useful for covering what we have been able to glean from this approach. As an overview of the scientific literature for meat production it appears comprehensive.
Es un trabajo académico de gran valor que incluye estudios hechos desde distintas perspectivas. Es un libro para leer con la mente abierta y sin una idea preconcebida al respecto. Si así se hace, se aprende mucho y permite formarse una opinión propia al respecto del tema tratado. MUY RECOMENDABLE.
And that is exactly what I have found in this book. The scope of Vaclav Smil's analysis is mind-boggling: how much meat is produced in the world today? How much meat do people consume in different countries, and how are those statistics built? How are animals raised and slaughtered? What are the impacts of animal husbandry in terms of water consumption, land use, GHG emissions, etc.? What are the positive and negative effects of meat consumption on our health?
In just over 200 pages, the author successfully deals with all these questions, and many more, answering pretty much every question I might have had about meat consumption, in a very documented, scientific manner. And he debunks many hasty arguments that are often made against meat consumption, the kind that you can see in Cowspiracy.
And he's not just throwing numbers around and describing a situation: he provides a very concrete conclusion that we should draw from all those facts.
The book explores so many different fields, it's a tough read, unless you're well versed in biology, agriculture, etc. But if you have a basic scientific culture, and are willing to look up from time to time a concept that you're not familiar with, then you should definitely not be daunted!
Taking off one-star half-heartedly because the presentation of the book could have been better (e.g. it would have been nice to have annexes that recap commonly used figures, such as the average live weights of cows/pigs/poultry, or feed conversion ratio) and because some factual errors have slipped through.