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The elimination of meat

Some love it while others loathe it. Historically, people have thought of meat as something special. Although for some it represents power and pleasure, for others it conjures up violence, suffering, environmental impact and even a health risk.
Viande – éradication
© Shutterstock / Brent Hofacker

From meat eaters to vegans

For centuries, meat was considered as a symbol of power, a way of demonstrating one’s social distinction, particularly in the West. It was enjoyed only by the most privileged members of society. As a result of the industrialisation of food production, meat is more affordable today, but meat from animals raised outdoors using traditional methods remains a luxury. The colour of the flesh determined the symbolic power of the animal, which had to be acquired. Red meat alluded to blood and violence and had to be eaten in moderation. Easier-to-digest white meat, associated with childhood and innocence, could be eaten more often.

Consumers have always been mindful about the suffering and killing of animals. By entrusting slaughtering to professionals and by dissociating meat from living things, consumers feel less guilty. Meat is cut in such a way that the animal cannot be recognised. Moreover, the cuts of meat have different names to the parts of the animal’s body (undercut for the flank and gigot, ham or slice for the leg).

Meat consumption has soared over the last few decades. Vegetarian and vegan movements have emerged in response to meat-eaters. Vegetarians refuse to eat meat and/or fish, whereas vegans cut out not only meat and fish but all products of animal origin. They do not consume dairy products, eggs, honey, goose feathers, wool or leather. Communities that refuse to consume meat and products of animal origin have in fact always existed. Various spiritual, health, environmental or ethical arguments underpin these movements. For some, giving up meat brings them closer to their god, as is the case with the Brahmins in India. Food production crises (salmonella and mad cow disease) and the link between eating a lot of red meat and the risk of cancer have boosted vegetarianism. Global warming has encouraged some environmental movements to cut down or even cut out meat, which is energy-intensive to produce. Some vegetarians do not eat meat or fish as they consider people and animals to be equal and consequently are against animals suffering and being killed. Other vegetarians think that eating meat incites violence. As for vegans, they refuse all products of animal origin as they reject the exploitation of animals by humans and demand the emancipation of animals. Although a vegetarian diet is promoted by many countries and by the World Health Organization for environmental and health reasons, a vegan diet does not meet with universal approval. Some experts are worried about deficiencies in vitamins and minerals that can only be found in animal proteins (Vitamin B12, zinc and iron). Others, however, believe that these deficiencies can be prevented with a varied diet and a B12 vitamin supplement.