From stone age hunting to industrial slaughter

The Meat Question – Animals, Humans and the Deep History of Food
Forfatter: Josh Berson
Forlag: MIT Press (USA)
PLANT COST /  Is there no way beyond meat?


Berson's book about meat begins with an almost absurd scene from reality, where he describes how hundreds of roving herbs are lodged in a jet in a routine transport of live cattle from Australia to China. The transport of live animals for slaughter in other countries, which he later complements in the book with stories of huge cargo ships where the animals live for weeks on crowded decks, becomes a picture of the excesses of globalization, what Jason Moore has called "the slave ship Earth".

Although the few can handle what goes on in the industrial slaughterhouses, many feel that modern meat production has developed into a kind of displaced shadow site in today's society.

Above all, man is characterized by a flexible diet, adapted to the access to food.

Most have come up with the vegan movement's arguments – that a plant-based diet is better for health, for the environment, and not least for the animals. Few, however, know that despite a new generation of plant-based food products, beyond- and impossible-burgers, meat consumption appears to double in the next few decades.

Humans and livestock today make up 97 percent of the mass of terrestrial animals – only 3 percent are wild animals. As things progress, the question of whether the Earth can feed 9 billion people must be reworded: Can the Earth feed 9 billion carnivores? Is it necessary for meat consumption to increase with prosperity?

What is natural?

Vegans and vegetarians have an easy time to assume that a meat-free diet is the only natural thing for humans. At the same time, with a two million year history of meat eating, the social change is plant food eaters advocate for, no trifle. The strength of Josh Berson's book is that he does not take the arguments for a plant-based diet for granted, nor does he reject the important role meat has played in human history, but rather goes into history and prehistory to nuance and clarify the role of meat in human survival and in society's power relations.

Berson is based on the deep history of man and looks back 2 million years in search of the answer to what diet really is naturlig for us – and the importance of mass-produced meat as a status marker.

Flexible diet

Do we really know what the early humans and pre-humans ate? Above all, Berson points out, it's hard to know for sure: Meat meals leave bones and bones, while the remnants of a plant meal are virtually impossible to trace afterwards, especially hundreds of thousands of years later.

What we can say for sure, however, he believes, is that, above all, man is characterized by a flexible diet, adapted to the access to food. If we allow ourselves to be compared to indigenous peoples we know from our own time, or from anthropological accounts from a hundred years back, we see that meat is a supplement – and often a diet people resort to in times and places where other resources are meager.

Above all, the natural thing for humans is to be flexible and diverse in the food path, writes Berson – we nurture nutrition, depending on what the surroundings have to offer. In a modern context, it should mean eating more at a lower level in the food chain, rather than inviting a normalization of over-consumption.

The deforestation in the Amazon is directly linked to beef production

The deforestation in the Amazon is directly linked to the production of beef [also through the cultivation of soy for animal feed and human food, ed.], Which is often used as a pretext for colonization of the primeval forest. This is how we eat into the latest wilderness.

(Photo: Pixabay)

From stone age hunting to industrial slaughter

In his meticulous review of various dietary regimes and social forms from Stone Age to agricultural society, Berson shows that the meat does not have a negligible place, but that the priority of meat has often been more marked by its status and symbolism than by its nutritional function – and by proceeds towards effort. . We are well acquainted with the animal husbandry traditions in Norway, and Berson himself describes how during a stay at an internship in a Norwegian fjord arm he learned that different places require different practices.

The majority of the world's meat consumption today is not based on small farmers with grazing or hunting animals. Although hunting to sell meat in many parts of the world, not least in Africa, contributes to the exacerbation of wild animal populations such as giraffes and monkeys, and even to small farmers with grazing animals putting pressure on vulnerable ecosystems.

The majority of meat consumption is based on industrial production, in subsidized slaughterhouses, where environmental, animal and employee concerns – and consumer health – are often minimal.

Lean support for organic food

Subsidies for industrial meat production and farmed fish are in stark contrast to lean support measures for organic vegetables and similar products, which are also underrepresented in food advertising compared to conventionally produced meat, egg and milk products.

The strong association between prosperity and increased meat consumption is by no means biological or spontaneous, Berson argues; rather, it is a manifestation of an imperialist and capitalist food system that practices violence against animals, nature – and humans.

The author has understood that asking the question and arguing objectively is enough to challenge prejudice and pick apart simplified arguments about meat that point to what is "natural" and thus necessary – in both diet and way of life. This allows us to discuss what is best based on far more relevant criteria. It is up to us to decide what we can stand for: what is healthy, sustainable and just – in our time. The question is what kind of planet we want to live on and what kind of species we want to be.

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