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Should We Eat Meat?: Evolution and Consequences of Modern Carnivory
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Should We Eat Meat?: Evolution and Consequences of Modern Carnivory

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  457 ratings  ·  62 reviews
This book is a wide-ranging and interdisciplinary examination and critique of meat consumption by humans, throughout history and around the world. Setting the scene with a chapter on meat's role in human evolution and its growing influence during the development of agricultural practices, the book goes on to examine modern production systems, their costs, efficiencies and ...more
Paperback, 276 pages
Published May 28th 2013 by Wiley-Blackwell (first published March 4th 2013)
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Marco Regina Definitely read it (if you haven't already). Also, just reduce the amount of meat you eat, book or no book it is not rocket science what impact meat h…moreDefinitely read it (if you haven't already). Also, just reduce the amount of meat you eat, book or no book it is not rocket science what impact meat has on the planet. (less)

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Lisa Lawless
Nov 23, 2013 rated it liked it
This was a slow read due to the many, many numbers, measurements, facts, figures, and explanations. Smil went to great lengths to ensure that he was comparing apples to apples before drawing conclusions. In the end, he believes animals should be raised for meat because meat is nutritionally beneficial and because so much by-product from making other foods can be used as animal feed rather than being wasted. That being said, he outlines suggestions for raising animals for meat in much less enviro ...more
Keith Akers
Jan 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Smil is a smart guy, he's extensively researched the subject, and he doesn’t make stuff up (like Gary Taubes). But he’s an awful writer. In this case his book contains enough footnotes and is so difficult to get through even with a sympathetic reader, so that no one is going to be able to untangle this mess and identify if and where, exactly, he went wrong. Yes, you can profit from this book, but you’re going to have to exert the kind of attention that is normally reserved for a graduate-level c ...more
Carly Bruce
Nov 17, 2017 rated it did not like it
I am always on the lookout for solid arguments against veganism. This one, like every other I have encountered, flounders. ‘Our ancestors ate meat tho’ is the best rationale the author has for why we should eat meat. He acknowledges that humans can be perfectly healthy without exploiting animals but just says ‘humans like meat too much to stop so, therefore we won’t stop... so therefore it’s justified for us to continue’. Circular reasoning much?
Aug 02, 2015 rated it liked it
Let's see....I can't really say I read it in full, rather skimmed parts to get a sense of this book. The author, a prolific researcher and academic of international renown, and a professor emeritus at the U of Manitoba, has attempted to analyze rigorous research from a wide range of fields related to the evolution and consequences of modern carnivory. It is well laid out in sequence, with the concluding section is an examination of " Possible Futures". The book is relatively unemotional and unbi ...more
Oct 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Carnivory. Given the perfect storm of interdisciplinary complexity and passionate rhetoric on both sides of this debate, the question of meat-eating is a daunting topic to approach. With such a diverse bundle of issues (nutritional aspects, environmental impact, animal rights, etc), I've been on the look out for someone with serious academic cred to speak with authority and objectivity on this. Vaclav Smil! Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Manit ...more
Brian Matthew
Feb 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Wow. I brushed through this one today and boy oh boy. Lots of interesting data about the past and all the way up to present day. Historically I've been quite the carnivore and it's extremely difficult for me to not eat a small amount of bacon once a week (although I try to eat uncured, natural). Within the last year I've shifted my diet to a higher consumption of vegetables and less red meat. I'm a huge sushi fan. And I find myself victim of the "truffle grass fed medium rare burgers" from time ...more
Mohammad Noroozi
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As a person who eats a mostly vegetarian diet, I have been looking for a book which dedicated itself to look at the actual facts known about meat and its consequences on our health, on society, and on our environment. This was that book for me.

The other readers have commented/complained about the density of numbers and references in Vaclav Smil's book. I admit, the reading will be slow, and it will probably be hard going at times. That said, personally, I appreciated that this was written like a
Feb 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
As others have already noted, this reads more like a lengthy research paper than a book. For readers more inclined towards mainstream "pop science" books, this type of text could prove rather daunting. For myself, the more number heavy the text became, the more likely I was to skim through those paragraphs. However, I appreciated the use of statistical analysis throughout, as it gave me the confidence that Smil has done the necessary research for such a complex and layered topic.

What I most appr
Aug 04, 2020 rated it did not like it
This reads like a middle schoolers presentation that tried to cram all of the numbers he found on Wikipedia into a book. Not enjoyable at all.
Mar 02, 2016 rated it liked it
if only Smil was a better writer and found a better editor :?
Fascinating insights and very laboriously created book - like most of Smil's books.

Cattle / Beef is extremely inefficient when you consider water use, 'evapotranspiration', waste, gases and stuff like, 40% of live weight goes to other pet feed and fertilizer
Chicken and Pig seem surprisingly efficient - quick turnaround
But efficient production is still lacking in the world.

The book gives no simple answer to questions, but ins
Deyth Banger
Jun 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: blinkist
"June 26, 2017 –
50.0% ""So, while vegetarianism is common in some Asian cultures, there is no Western culture with a rate of vegetarianism and veganism higher than four percent. Although these numbers could go up, vegetarianism will never replace meat eating or become a common practice in the West.""
June 26, 2017 –
50.0% ""That’s because vegetarians are hard pressed to ensure their diets include enough metals. Since one kilogram of vegetables isn’t nutritionally comparable to one kilogram of
Apr 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle, non-fiction
Excellent work, looking at pretty much all aspects of eating meat.
Starting with nutrition and what animal based food provides, to evolution, to what it helped us gain, which also ties into why it is needed, especially for children and infants during their high growth years.

Smil then moves to what it takes to produce meat and a very quantitative analysis of meat itself - how heavy is a cow or pig when it is killed, how much it provides. Wastage, processing. How much food it needs to eat. The diff
Ken Chau
Feb 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-and-tech
Smil is an internationally acclaimed academic, whose research stretches from energy, food, demographic and public policies. And in this book he does not pretend not to be an academic, the arguments are well argued with a strong empirical backbone.

Ranging from anthropological, historical, biological, demographics, nutrition sciences and agricultural policies, this book is very comprehensive and attempts to answer the question "Should We Eat Meat"? To give a bit more context to this question, the
Dec 15, 2017 rated it liked it
I was really excited to read this book; it's been a while since I made the choice to stop eating red meat for environmental reasons and I thought this book would help fortify my decision and maybe even give me some more information to share with people who ask me about my choice. And the book did do that for me, for the most part, though it wasn't the easiest or most enjoyable read.

If you're looking for the answer to the title of the book, I recommend skipping to the last chapter. Here, Smil pro
Varun Bahl
Probably one of the more difficult books I have read. Although possessing virtually no prior knowledge of the topic, I was drawn to it because I had heard a lot about the author and his expertise on interdisciplinary subjects.

As a scientist himself, Smil does a great job of decomposing and evaluating this query in different subsections with objectivity. I found myself having to re-read numerous sections to get an idea of what he was talking about. Although only ~200 pages, the text is so dense
Nila Novotny
Mar 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
Vaclav Smil doesn't just answer the question "Should we eat meat?" He gives you more information than you can ever imagine. I hope this is on a reading list for a college course on meat production in the Ag college. If not, it should be. This book is chuck full of facts, figures, studies, data, etc. etc. It's so much information it was overwhelming and I'm usually up to the task of overwhelming data. This includes the history of meat eating, facts about protein, meat production, land utilization ...more
Mainak Jas
Aug 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is an important book to read but I deducted one star because the books is promiscuously dense with numbers in some parts. One has to skim through these parts to get the gist of what Smil is trying to convey. Still, it is a fascinating tour through the history of meat production, its role in human evolution and options for rational consumption and alternatives for the future. What I really liked about the book is that it takes a pragmatic approach to meat eating rather than an ideological on ...more
May 14, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a book rooted in facts and realities, not in predetermined posturing and sermonizing. This is a book that looks at benefits of meat eating as well as at the failures and drawbacks. The author doesn't advocate any particular practice or point of view but merely presents the best evidence to its logical conclusions. To my mind, this book is haphazardly written and has soporific effect as I painstakingly tried to leaf through the pages of the book. Much of the book is crammed with numbers, ...more
Marco Regina
Mar 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
As a vegan I was really interested in reading an objective book, analyse data and learn something I most likely didn't know before.
This book had all of the points above. Vaclav Smil knows his things. I was actually impressed with the outcome of the book as it is something I never thought about.
I am still not sure about the chapter where he mentions that plant proteins are not complete proteins, as many recent studies actually showed the opposite, but other than that it's an interesting read.
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Super insightful read into modern agribusiness, and a hint into it cost, not only to our wallets, but also the environmental impact as well as the depletion of resources. My interest in the book came from its appearance on Bill Gates' reading list, and while I would recommend it to anyone with even a modicum of interest in the topic, this isn't a beach read. It reads much more similarly to a textbook, and should be read with minimal stimuli because of the amount of information covered, and the l ...more
Dec 08, 2020 rated it liked it
This is an extremely dense academic book, very difficult to absorb and get through. Although the author does reach a conclusion in the end, there is no guidance through the chapters on applicability of facts nor interim discussion nor practical take aways that would make this work appeal or be of use to the general public. I could only deduce a level of meat consumption that is optimal for health, and that reduced/moderate meat diet from responsible meat production sources would be optimal way f ...more
Nov 11, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is pretty much like a long research paper full of facts and data points. While Smil injects a huge objective side to the whole story, the book lacks a soul, a perspective, a story to bind it all. I'm sure Smil could have written a fantastic dissertation but writing a book with a compelling narrative is a different ball game and Smil seems, a tad out of sorts. A decent read, I wanted a more compelling and subjective view either in favour of meat eating or against it. A neutral approach ...more
David Mytton
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Smil is not an author for casual readers. I particularly like his pragmatic and evidence based approach to topics and he always takes a very methodical approach to the subject he’s investigating. This is a true scientific analysis of the real numbers, what they mean and how they compare, where existing literature is wrong and what the means for a conclusion. I can tell why Bill Gates loves reading everything Smil puts out!
Diogo De Oliveira
Mar 19, 2018 rated it liked it
The reader might feel overwhelmed by the amount of numbers and multiple sources, without any graphs or comparative tables. Nonetheless the writer's work is to be respected: a deep and reasonable research into the impacts of meat consumption. Do not expect a deep scoop on the impacts of being vegan or vegetarian, though. The book focus on meat. ...more
Feb 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Incredibly rigorous and comprehensive evaluation of the question posed in the title, with lots of surprising insights and refutation of common misconceptions. However, the book is extremely dense with statements of numerical figures, making it hard to read, and the writing style does not have a great sense of flow.
Apr 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Pretty good message overall but failed to hit the mark in terms of health impact. Mostly talked about environmental and societal impact. It stayed pretty safe, at times tiptoeing the line between pro and antimeat but staying well within the promeat consumption camp. Interesting facts about how meat production actually affects us both directly and indirectly.
Claudio Noguera
Jul 01, 2019 rated it liked it
This one is hard to read, there are just too many data, which makes it difficult to follow the story. In fact, I would say there is no story, only the fifth (last) chapter, where the author explains his positions.

In short, yes we should eat meat. But maybe not so much as we do today in affluent countries.
Sivakumar Thangavelu
Feb 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
The only reason I gave 4 stars for this book is because of the way it’s written. If Smil has even tried to put some effort in visually depicting all his insane depth of data (through tables / graphs / charts etc), I would give this book a 6 out of 5. Vaclav Smil has to learn a thing or two from people like Hans Rosling in presenting his data in a more consumable way!
Andrew Louis
Like the other Smil books I've read, this one is a frustrating journey through paragraph after paragraph of dense facts. He answers the question of the book with a call for "rational meat production" which is such a condescending insult to people who've concluded differently. But as always, I learn so much from his books that I'll keep putting up with the aggravation that comes with reading them. ...more
Abhishek Kona
Feb 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
This is not a book but a report. The book is very dry to read with so many stats that you forget what was the point the author was making. It is a collection of stats. Not much of writing in this one.

The book could have been more interesting if the author used some charts to make his points.
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Vaclav Smil is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba. He is the author of forty books, including Energy and Civilization, published by the MIT Press. In 2010 he was named by Foreign Policy as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers.

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