Lately it looks like being vegan/vegetarian/biological/whatever sounds cool is the new fashion, but what does it actually mean to follow those lifestyles? And what has been the role of meat and other proteins in our diet during the history of humanity?
Around the world, star-awarded chefs of many prestigious restaurants are being strongly criticised for using some kind of meat, like the pigeon’s or the rabbit’s one. We can see, taking a huge throwback, that in our history we have proofs showing that human evolution has been characterized by a meat-based diet without discontinuities. BBC reported in 2010 that researchers had found evidence that hominids – early human ancestors – used stone tools to cleave meat from animal bones more than 3.2 million years ago. These discoveries were found in Ethiopian lands where first settlers started to eat meats.
Romans used to eat a lot of meat, and fish as well, and not only the standard kind of meat that we can find nowadays in any supermarket, but also rabbit meat. Moreover, as Livio wrote, high-level societies ate birds: Hortensius, famous orator, might have been the first one to taste peacock meatballs and other patrician families would enrich their banquets with ostrich’s or pheasant’s meat. Fish was another nutrition pillar in ancient Rome and its provinces: slaves, in facts, were used to eat mussels and richest people, like Seneca, were even breeding fishes in their own estates.
Middle ages’ people were into eating meat as well, many people would have preferred it to cereals or vegetables because it was considered a privileged source of energy and rich in taste. Actually a diet without meat was very diffused in the population, however not due to a trend, but instead due to a lack of money and resources in a very imbalanced economic distribution.
We learned from studies about the industrial revolution how in wealth countries, thanks to higher income, people could eat more meat and hence being taller and stronger than those who lived in poor countries where they couldn’t afford the same diet.
Even if history speaks pretty clear about our dietary traditions, chefs continue to find hard to combine the pathway to success with the one of serving meat: the most Michelin-starred cook on the planet, Alain Ducasse, decided to reduce drastically the amount of meat in the menu of his London’s restaurant to leave space to vegetarian dishes. He said to the Guardian in 2014 that “The planet has increasingly rare resources so we have to consume more ethically, more fairly”. Is it just a marketing propaganda or a believed change? Other chefs continue to serve wild meats like pigeons, as Carlo Cracco does in his restaurant, despite the hard critiques of vegans activists. Another famous opponent of the vegetarian food is Gordon Ramsey that in 2005 tricked vegetarians into eating a pizza with meat but even himself had to change his cooking habits introducing many vegetarian dishes in his restaurants. Anthony Bourdain, chef and writer, became pretty contested for his quote: “Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, and an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food.”
So is cuisine threatened by vegetarians?
Lots of other chefs think instead that vegetarian food can only increase the culinary world and introduce many other ways to use vegetables or roots to create marvellous dishes with the right amount of energy needed to survive in well-being. Roberto Martin, Ellen DeGeneres’ personal chef, became famous in the celebrity world for delivering vegetarian food, which Vips ostensibly love. Some vegan cooks actually do like meat, a perfect example is the vegan chef Richard Landau that said: “I gave up meat for ethical reasons, but I really loved it. I loved the deep kind of caveman satisfaction, that primal satisfaction you get from eating meat.” Apparently, thought, he succeeded with vegan food as his restaurant VEGS was ranked one of GQ Magazine’s 12 Most Outstanding Restaurants.
Not only chefs seem to convert to vegetarian/vegan food, but even researchers and scientists started to confirm that reducing meat can be good for the body and the environment: scholars of the Oxford Martin School stated that eating less meat can help to slow global warming as much as reducing greenhouse gasses. Even at Harvard they found the way to attack meat: after studying more than 121,000 adults for up to 28 years researchers discovered that people who eat three ounces, 85 grams of red meat every day are 13 percent more likely to die.
Even if people might be concerned with this conclusion I end up with a quote of a dentist, researcher but most of all nutritionist, Weston Price, that said no traditional culture subsisted on a vegan diet.
We can improve history but not change it.