My main question is why do people eat meat?
Can we not survive without meat?

I recently became a vegetarian and I have not yet felt any impact on my health. Can any one explain this phenomenon from the perspective of nutrition?

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    $\begingroup$ You might note that the health problems caused by dietary deficiencies may take months, years, or even decades to show obvious symptoms. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 23 '18 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ The spiritual benefit of not eating meat outweighs the potential nutritional deficits. But there really is nothing special in meat that the body cannot make itself or obtain from non-animal sources. ["As to food, his breakfast was chiefly of honey..." --Porphyry (about Pythagoras)] $\endgroup$ – user37894 Feb 24 '18 at 7:17
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    $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "spiritual benefits"? $\endgroup$ – Roni Saiba Mar 9 '18 at 7:20

There are many reasons for why people eat meat. Some of them are to be discussed here and some of them have nothing to do with biology.

Reasons that have nothing to do with biology

There are many reasons that are not to be discussed on Biology.SE. These include cultural reasons, the reasons related to taste and appreciation, farming and availability, price and economy and of course for reason related to political ecology (incl. water and energy consumption of meat production).

Reasons that has to do with biology / medicine

We can talk about nutritional value though. According to a number of websites (sorry nothing peer reviewed; monitor.co.uk; rd.com; sparkpeople.com), people not eating meat may suffer from lack of

  • protein
  • iron
  • zinc
  • calcium
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin B12
  • omega–3 fatty acids

It is not impossible to get all of these nutrients without meats. However, when becoming vegetarian, some people need to be careful and rethink their diet to ensure not to suffer from the lack of these nutrients.

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    $\begingroup$ Where do these six come from? Can you support this with a source? $\endgroup$ – bitmask Feb 23 '18 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think calcium and vitamin D deficiency are common in vegetarians. $\endgroup$ – Jan Mar 2 '18 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Remi b - can you highlight the vegan product to get vitamin B12 $\endgroup$ – Lasantha Mar 9 '18 at 8:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Lasantha You can just google it. Amandmilk, coconutmilk and soymilk contain a lot of vitamin B12. $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Mar 9 '18 at 16:17

Tribal peoples throughout the world have revered meat since the times of cave paintings, over 30,000 years ago and the oldest stone arrowheads are 66,000 years old.

Chimpanzees also eat meat. They can hunt like wolves and devour small prey. (see videos)

Meat is a highly useful or essential nutrient source to those who cannot source enough local protein for the level of activity.

The importance of meat depends on geographical factors. Eskimos live in snow and eat more than 90% meat. There are no plants there. Equatorial people like Indians have plentiful plant growth and can live fine as vegetarians on replenishing foods like lentils and greens.

Northern people have less choice of vegetables and fruits, whereas tropical fruits like melons grow year round, and northern plants grow slowly, whereas northern grazers can grow fast.

Energy budget in the north is limited by the sun, which is deficient to grow grains and oils. Fat is the highest energy source, and it is very easily sourced from livestock.

  • $\begingroup$ Just a minor quibble - India is tropical. $\endgroup$ – Roni Saiba Mar 9 '18 at 8:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Roni Saiba: Depends on what part of India you're looking at. It's a big place, with lots of climate variation, especially when you take elevation into account :-) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 9 '18 at 19:41

People eat meat for the same reasons they eat non-meat food. Taste, nutrition, availability etc. Nutrition comparison is a medical question.


Disclaimer: I am not an anthropologist, this attempt at an answer is only my crude 2 cents, I haven't looked for references to support this supposition.

Nowadays we can survive without meat, but this has not always been so. We know that early human groups were hunter-gatherers. Hunting is obviously much more difficult than gathering: it takes more energy because you have to run, it is more dangerous because you can be hurt in the process. Therefore, the primary reason why early humans hunted and ate meat must be because they had no choice; likely because they could not gather fruits and plants in enough amounts or variety to support a healthy diet. Later on, when they transitioned to agriculture they also naturally transitioned to raising domesticated animals for meat production because that's what their diet was already like.

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    $\begingroup$ WRT hunter-gatherers, I don't think it is really because they can't gather enough plant foods, it's that meat offers more food for less effort. You don't have to run to hunt (unless you want to): you lie in ambush, set snares or pit traps, drive the mammoths over a cliff, &c. Likewise with subsistence farming: once domesticated, animals like cows, pigs, chickens and such can turn things that really aren't edible by humans (like grass, acorns, small bugs...) into tasty food, with much less effort than is required by plowing, planting, & harvesting crops. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 21 '18 at 19:14

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