BOOKS FOR THE MEATOUT

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1994:

Meat: A Natural Symbol. By Nick Fiddes,
Routledge Inc. (29 West 35th St, New York NY
10001), 1991, 261 pages, paperback, $15.95. ISBN
0-415-08929-8.
Former caterer Nick Fiddes, now a social
anthropologist, has had lots of experience with social
responses to food. He has found meat especially rich in
social significance. Like many other writers, he recog-
nizes its potential as a symbol of social, economic and
sexual dominance. But most of all, he believes, meat
subconsciously represents the human conquest of nature.

Why else, he asks, would so many historians
equate the rise of human culture with the development of
hunting, and the beginnings of civilization with advances
in animal husbandry? He offers a plethora of historic
examples, not to prove or disprove current theories of
hunting and herding influences on paleolithic cultures, but
to test preconceptions affecting each generation’s interpre-
tation of human prehistory. In most scenarios, he discov-
ers, meat is the central symbol through which human
males measure their prowess over the environment and
their status among their peers.
As Fiddes uncovers yet more detail relating to
meat’s meaning, he challenges some of western society’s
most cherished illusions, though always with a bit of wry
British humor. He investigates historical reports of canni-
balism, only to find all such stories suspect; humans
everywhere, it seems, impute such behavior only to their
worst enemies. He also questions why Europeans don’t
eat the flesh of carnivores, or of their pets. “As honorary
humans,” he writes, “pets cannot be consumed.”
Ironically, as industrialization increased
Europe’s meat supply, Fiddes traces a countervailing
trend. When human populations migrate to urban centers
supported by technology, they experience “a widespread
reappraisal of the relationship between human society and
other animals, and thus of meat as proper food.” Small
wonder, then, that the birth of vegetarianism as a signifi-
cant social movement occurred at the height of Europe’s
industrial revolution.
Inexorably Fiddes approaches the conclusion that
industrialization of the food supply––especially factory
farming of livestock––has eroded the public’s belief in the
benefits of meat-eating. He takes no stand for any particular
diet but quotes from personal interviews with everyday peo-
ple, both vegetarians and those who eat meat. Hunters,
farmers, butchers and all speak eloquently from their own
experience. He even quotes extensively from meat trade
journals as the industry struggles with decreasing demand.
Though he explores ethical and environmental
impacts of meat-eating, particularly as they influence mod-
ern vegetarians, Fiddes is more concerned with changing
social attitudes in general. Ultimately he suspects that
despite the best efforts of marketing to give meat a positive
image, human culture is losing its taste for a food that
reminds us primarily of death and nature’s destruction.
Instead of Chicken, Instead of Turkey: A
Poultryless “Poultry” Potpourri. By Karen
Davis, The Book Publishing Co. (PO Box 99,
Summertown, TN 38483), 1993, 160 pages, paper-
back, $ 9.95. ISBN 0-913990-30-2.
Another great cookbook-with-heart from this
small vegetarian publishing company, Instead of Chicken
would be a great gift for anyone who still dines on domestic
birds and their offspring. Though it relies heavily on tofu
as a meat substitute, it does offer several replacements for
eggs in baking. Each substitute is clearly and succinctly
explained, in glossaries, tables and in a comprehensive
chapter on tofu. Best of all, for the novice cook, recipes
requiring an electric blender are few and far between.
There’s even a recipe for a Szechuan-spiced tofu that com-
petes with the local Chinese take-out and its suspect ingre-
dients.
“The spirit of the book comes from the birds
themselves,” writes Davis, and this sentiment is borne out
in the short quotations from various bird aficionados scat-
tered throughout. She quotes from Hector St. John de
Crevecouer, proving there were a few enlightened souls in
the 18th century, but most are contemporary accounts of
life with a favorite chicken or turkey. One bird sings along
with flute music, another drinks iced tea; all testify to the
surprising intelligence of creatures destined all too often for
the roasting pan.
The Vegetarian Handbook 1994. By Stephen
Leckie and the Toronto Vegetarian Association,
1994, The Toronto Vegetarian Association (736
Bathurst St., Toronto ON, M5S 2R4, Canada), 108
pages, paperback, $5.00. ISBN 0-9697570-1-8.
This greatly expanded guide to restaurants, natur-
al food stores and other vegetarian resources across Canada
is noteworthy for its detailed and honest appraisals of each
establishment. If a fast-food outlet, for example, uses lard
or other animal products, this guide will say so. Though its
emphasis is on the Toronto area, it also covers restaurants
and resorts as far away as British Columbia and Nova
Scotia. Its list of other organizations is fairly limited, but
not confined to Canada.
Over half the book, however, is devoted to
information regarding a vegetarian lifestyle: health issues
such as vegetarian diet during pregnancy, children and
vegetarianism, and extensive selections on the hazards of
a meat-based diet. Special sections on meat substitutes,
animal products in everyday life, and diets for companion
animals are especially informative. Environmental and
ethical considerations are raised, too, as well as the occa-
sional political opinion, including a thought-provoking
and somewhat controversial discussion of the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade from an environmental
perspective. Even if the reader never travels to Canada,
this book would be useful for the sheer amount of general
information it provides.
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