Registered Dietitian Nutritionist's Book Club Review: Meathooked


Registered Dietitian Nutritionist's Book Club Review: Meathooked

01, November 2017 8:54 AM

In September, our Silicon Valley Dietetic Book Club reviewed Meathooked: The History and Science of the 2.5-Million-Years Obsession with Meat by science journalist Marta Zaraska.

The author delves into evolution, culture, taste, marketing, biochemistry and anthropology of eating meat. She begins when single cell organisms started to consume one another, and then to the cut marks that began to appear in prehistoric bones, suggesting that humans began hunting meat about 2.5 million years ago.

Scientists speculate the reason why diets of humans shifted from a plant based eating pattern to animals was related to climate change where plants became less plentiful. Once humans started hunting for meat, a chain of evolutionary events were set in motion. Eating meat, which is more nutrient dense than plants, is thought to be at least partially responsible for the reduction in human gut size. The additional nutrients and increased social interaction that resulted from hunting and sharing meals is linked with increased brain volume. 

While protein has been overhyped in some scientific and lay press over the years, the need for protein and the specific yearning for animal protein is a worldwide phenomenon. When people have enough money to buy meat, they buy it. Eating meat is desirable for status, taste and the protein that it provides. Zaraska recounts her personal story growing up in Poland in the early 1980s standing in line at the butchers shop for at least two hours with the hopes of buying a few sausages. This was despite the fact that in the 1980s, Poles were far from malnourished and typically consumed more than 3,000 calories and 100 grams of protein per person per day. Perhaps this experience, combined with being a vegetarian inspired Zaraska to write this book.

Just like our early ancestors probably started eating meat because the planet was changing, our meat eating habits will likely need to change again as our population grows and the climate changes. The portions recommended from the protein group in the USDA ChooseMyPlate are actually quite small. For reference, the amount recommended for an adult on a 2,000 calorie diet is only 5-1/2 ounces of protein per day. 

As you can see from the graph, 60 percent of Americans overconsume from the protein food group, the only food group that is consistently overconsumed. Americans also tend to not consume protein in ways that optimize utilization – eating a large portion at night and not enough protein throughout the day.

Areas of Agreement

Sustainability and nutrition are interdependent. As a global community, we need to both provide for the nutritional needs of all people while sustaining the environment. Agriculture policies need to consider the needs of the planet, the consumers and the financial health of the farmer. We are all interdependent on one another. 

Banning meat to “save the planet” will only increase the demand for meat. Small changes made by many people– like eating plant-based diet that includes some animal proteins, and minimizing food waste– are small changes that can make a big difference over time.

Where We Differed

Though the author claimed to not be biased, a plant-based, vegetarian agenda became increasingly apparent after the first few chapters. While the book is heavily cited, a high percentage of the references were sympathetic to a vegetarian eating pattern, including Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Vegetarian American. While a vegetarian diet is one of the three recommended eating patterns recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the other two recommended dietary patterns include meat and are supported by scientific evidence.

The Bottom-line

This book may be too dense and academic for the average reader, so overall we do not recommend it. Although the book is biased toward a vegetarian eating pattern and perspective, some of the information about culture, anthropology, taste and evolution is quite interesting. 


Maureen Bligh, MA, RDN
Director, Resource Development and Marketing

Kristal Shelden, MPH, RDN
Project Manager, Nutrition Sciences


Maureen and Kristal are registered dietitian nutritionists and members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Tags: animal protein climate change consensus science Dietary Guidelines for Americans Dietitians Book Review food waste Healthy eating healthy eating patterns Kristal Shelden Maureen Bligh meat plant-based protein registered dietitian book club scientific research sustainability vegetarian

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