By: Eric Mittenthal
Several recent news stories have had me thinking about our meat eating habits and how they have evolved over time.
Ask some vegans and they’ll tell you that humans aren’t meant to eat meat and that it is immoral to do so, but a recent find in Africa suggests that we have been eating meat far longer than previously thought. The find was a skull fragment unearthed by anthropologists in Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge, considered the birthplace of civilization. The fragment shows indications of malnutrition caused by a sudden stop of meat consumption. According to researcher Charles Musiba, Ph.D, “Meat eating has always been considered one of the things that made us human, with the protein contributing to the growth of our brains. Our work shows that 1.5 million years ago we were not opportunistic meat eaters, we were actively hunting and eating meat.” The discovery provides a new perspective on evolution and how our diets have changed over time and opens the door to further research into the role eating meat played in our evolution.
Have you ever wondered why a good steak and a good red wine pair so well together? A recent study examined the phenonmenon and found that oral astringents, such as a high tannin red wine, that elicit a “rough” or “dry” taste occupy the exact opposite end of a taste spectrum relative to substances with fatty, or “slippery” qualities, such as steak. Because the dry wine and slippery beef tastes are opposites, they are constantly working to reduce the opposing sensation during the course of a meal which makes the meal more balanced and pleasurable. Researchers believe that the affinity people have for oppositely paired tastes may be due to the body’s need for a diverse diet. Whatever the reason, another excuse to have a steak with a fine wine is fine with me.
While there are many reasons we enjoy meat today, recent meat consumption data show a drop in consumption, likely related to price. The price of meat has risen during the last few years. There are several factors driving meat prices up, but one of the most significant is ethanol production. Driven by the renewable fuel standard (RFS), ethanol consumes more than 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop annually. In a year such as one we’ve had with one of the worst droughts in history, that means record high feed costs for producers. Last month, AMI submitted comments supporting petitions by the governors of Arkansas and North Carolina to take some of the pressure off feed prices by waiving the RFS mandate. We hope relief from the RFS will help stabilize the cost of meat for consumers. We do know that despite a recent drop in meat consumption, economic analysts say the demand for meat remains strong. Maybe that’s because of our evolution or maybe because people love to pair their wine with a steak, or maybe it’s because meat just tastes good.
What is your reason for eating meat?