In scientific circles it was always assumed that the first people ate meat, says paleontologist John de Vos from the Naturalis museum in Leiden, the Netherlands. But two years ago, sound scientific evidence for this claim was found.
In fossil remains of the Australopithecus Africanus, the predecessor of man, researchers found carbon compounds that relate directly to meat consumption. This puts an end to all the stories that prehistoric man lived off fruits and vegetables.
Eating meat is a natural condition of man. The first human tools were knives to scrape the meat off bones. 'That doesn't surprise me at all, says De Vos. 'We know that apes, such as chimpanzees also eat meat on occasion.' Neanderthal man, one of the prehistoric men that didn't survive, had a diet that consisted almost exclusively of meat.

The following article appeared in the Dutch ´Volkskrant´ on 27th March 2001
By Mac van Dinther - journalist

'Of old, a generous portion of meat conjures up the image of happy and manful people' (Ruth L. Ozeki: My Year of the Meat).

There is no doubt, that the first man ate meat. Blissfully ignorant about the consequences his choice would have millions of years later, primeval man sunk his teeth into a prehistoric Savannah rabbit. From that moment on, man had blood on his hands.

From the factsheet "Meat", the daily meat consumption in 2007 and projected in 2050:
Meat consumption per person in the year 2007 projected meat concsumption in the year 2050
For the Australopithecus, eating meat was not so much a choice, as a necessity caused by evolution. Three million years ago a long drought occurred in eastern Africa, the cradle of humanity. The rain forest turned into savannah.
Then two things happened at once, De Vos explains. Man started walking upright and eating meat. ´Australopithecus had to travel greater distances on the Savannah, which prompted him to walk upright. This cost more energy, which is easier to obtain from meat than from vegetable matter. 'On top of that, there was less food to find on the Savannah than there was in the jungle. They had no choice.
In this stage of becoming human, the hominid brain also went through a strong development. This is the reason why some researchers think that meat, a rich source of protein, is good for the development of the brain. To this day, this theory has not been contradicted by the Dutch Information Bureau on Meat, but it is based on nothing according to De Vos.
´Walking upright, gave man free use of his hands. The hands are controlled by the brain. I think that's what caused the brain to develop. Otherwise, lions should have developed super brains.'
Eating meat also changed our teeth. Our long incisors became flattened. Our jaws turned into scissors suitable for cutting meat, and the molars ground it down. A typically omnivorous set of teeth, says De Vos.
Early man may not have been averse to animals, he mainly ate meat on certain occasions. He had meat if he could get his hands on it, which happened only rarely.
This circumstance only changed when man started domesticating animals, starting with sheep, eight thousand years BC. From that moment on a relationship developed between man and animal that was characterized by one using and eating the other.

There are places in the world where people cannot survive without eating meat, says Adel den Hartog, senior lecturer on feeding habits at the University of Wageningen. 'Think of the tundra. Nothing grows there. The same goes for the Sahara desert, or Greenland.'
But it is striking that, necessity aside, literally all the peoples of the world like to eat meat, says Den Hartog. 'They don't all like to eat the same kind of animal, but the liking of meat is universal.'
'This does makes sense. Basic foods such as potatoes, rice, and grains have a flat taste. But meat has a strong, aromatic flavor. Meat adds a bit of relish to the table, it is popular, desirable.´
But at the same time eating meat is never without problems.
Meat is cursed with a 'diabolical ambiguity´, says Den Hartog. In every culture there is a notion that man has to spill blood in order to eat meat. 'Man is very much aware that he kills to eat.

Of everything that comes to the dinner table, meat is the most emotionally charged. Meat is sinful. According to the book of Genesis man started eating meat after the fall from grace. Cain's fratricide on Abel was the precedent. There is no other food so much laden with taboos and religious regulations as meat.
Muslims call on Allah when they are butchering, the ancient Greeks offered meat to the gods, Jews have specific laws on eating meat. Not all meat is the same. Hindus worship cows, Brits don't eat horses, Muslims don't eat pigs, Mongols are disgusted by fowl and Europeans don't eat either cats or dogs.
Many food taboos are based on rational grounds. The horse was taboo for horse riding people, because they needed the animals. The same goes for nomadic shepherding people and their cattle. Shepherds also had great contempt for peasants who often kept pigs. This is, according to Den Hartog, the basis for the later aversion to pork in some originally pastoral religions.

Mirroring the sin of meat, vegetarian food is often given an aura of moral superiority. The first things ascetics ban from their lives is sex, alcohol and meat. The Indian Brahmins were more or less forced to abstain from meat because the ascetics threatened to morally surpass them.
Vegetarianism played a role in the Medieval Christian sects that avowed the ´pure doctrine´ and split off from Rome. The British vegetarians who founded the Vegetarian Society in 1847 claimed that eating meat 'incites animal passions´ and leads to immoral behavior.
Not that the common people were very much bothered. Most of them were happy if they could get meat. The Roman binges are notorious, as are the feasts held by rich medieval people. At the occasion of Henry IV of England´s coronation in 1399 almost forty dishes came to the table, almost all of them meat dishes: wild boars, baby swans, capons, cranes, herons, curlews, partridges, quail and meat balls. But the common people ate bread and porridge.

For a while there was the idea that eating little or no meat leads to weakness. Baron Liebig, the inventor of the meat extract, claimed that muscular strength used in exertion could only be regenerated by eating meat.
The French gastronome Brillat-Savarin attributed the British conquest of India to the meatless diet of the Indians. Mahatma Gandhi, vegetarian, tried eating meat six times during his youth to see if that was where the British got their strength. But then he was plagued by remorse in his sleep. 'It was as if a living goat was screaming inside me.'
But those who worked hardest, were given the least meat. Meat was status, a sign of wealth. It was only in the twentieth century that meat started to work its way into all ranks of society. This started at the beginning of the century, says Den Hartog. 'But the great wave started after the second World War, in the fifties.'
The welfare state brought cars to people's houses, a television set in every living room and meat on the table every day. This was a dream come true for every worker, says Den Hartog. 'Marcus Bakker, a former leader of the Communist Party, said: ´What's good for the bourgeois child, is good for a working man's child.´

It was only in the middle ages that meat consumption of some magnitude started to come up in Europe. After the plague epidemic that wreaked havoc among the population in the fourteenth century, there seems to have been a period of relative abundance. There were plenty of pastures for animals and few people to divide the meat.
But starting in the seventeenth century, the population grew and people had to cut back on meat. Meat was once again a luxury commodity for kings and the rich. The common man and woman ate salted meat, stockfish and a bacon rind in the stew. Only the best paid workers could afford meat, wrote Friedrich Engels in 1844 on workers in England.
From the same time also dated pleas to let the population eat more meat. G. Mulder, one of the first Dutch food experts in 1847 made mention of a ´lack of resilience´ of workers. According to Mulder this was caused by a shortage of meat in their diets.

The ideal has been reached: eating meat is democratized: it's cheap, available to everyone and nothing special. There seems to be no end. Year after year the consumption of meat slices, sausages and cutlets increases. Never in history was meat consumption higher than it is now.
But since recently there seems to be a slight countertrend. The number of 'meat dropouts´ and vegetarians is growing, and meat consumption is stagnating. In the year 2000 there was an average reduction of meat consumption in the Netherlands of three kilos per head compared to 1996 when meat consumption was at its height.
At the same time, meat has lost its claims to health. The claim that meat is healthy has been scientifically outmoded, says food expert S. de Waard of the Dutch Vegetarian Union.
'Two years ago, the Oxford university compared the state of health of vegetarians with that of meat eaters. Vegetarians had better body weight, less cholesterol and therefore a smaller chance of contracting heart and vascular disease.' Eating a lot of meat is unhealthy.

The social views on meat have also changed, says Den Hartog. It used to be a sign of poverty if you didn't eat meat. 'Now it is nothing to be ashamed of.' On the contrary, it seems. Meat eating on a large scale is on its way back.
For now, this only holds true for western countries, Den Hartog is quick to add. We are on the eve of a great 'meat revolution´. The western world may become saturated, but the developing countries are starting to make up their arrears in the field of meat consumption.
According to the American International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) the demand for meat in developing countries will double over the next twenty years. In 1995 world wide meat consumption was 198 million tons, the IFPRI expects this number to rise to 313 million tons in 2020. This will have enormous consequences for the environment and the use of land in the world. If Australopithecus had known this, he would never have left the rain forest.