Lots of different foods taste good. Why do we especially crave meat?
‘Meathooked’ by Marta Zaraska

Brazil exports more beef than any country. What country is second?


True, most of the beef doesn’t come from India’s famously sacred cows; it comes from the closely related water buffalo. But it’s beef, it’s lean, and it’s quite competitive on the international market. (India also has an underground cow-slaughtering industry that labels cow meat “buffalo” until it leaves the country.)

Marta Zaraska recounts this in a chapter on the skyrocketing popularity of meat in traditionally vegetarian parts of Asia — one of many well-reported and engagingly described subjects in her new book, “Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession With Meat.”

Zaraska, a veteran science writer, calls herself a “sloppy vegetarian.” She eats fish, and, because she lives in France — “country of foie gras and horse steaks” — often finds it too difficult to stick to a plant-based diet. A few years ago, she began pondering why there was a market for “fake meat,” made from soybeans or whatever; after all, people with nut allergies don’t go looking for “fake peanuts.” What is it about meat, she wondered, that makes even committed vegetarians crave something that mimics it?

The book is the result of her research.The early chapters present a history of human food consumption and challenge the notion that humans evolved to crave the Paleo diet any more than any of the other diets they’ve subsisted on in the past.

Later she visits an “in vitro meat lab” where researchers tend Petri dishes filled with reddish, gooey nutrients, growing beef cells into edible muscle tissue. She investigates who likes to eat dog meat, horse meat and so on. She tastes insects. She looks at studies and makes a convincing case that, trendiness notwithstanding, the percentage of vegetarians in the United States hasn’t gone up significantly in 70 years.

Zaraska says she’s not trying to persuade you not to eat meat, but of course she is. She describes the ethical issue of killing animals, the clogged arteries from cholesterol, the damage to the planet (raising livestock is a mammoth contributor to greenhouse gases). Luckily she has done enough research, and is a lively enough writer, that her arguments are original and entertaining, packed with tweetable facts and, often, pretty funny.