Meat, in its broadest definition, is animal tissue used as food. Most often it refers to skeletal muscle and associated fat, but it may also refer to non-muscle organs, including lungs, livers, skin, brains, marrow, and kidneys. The word meat is also often used in a more restrictive sense - the flesh of mammailian species (pigs, cattle, etc.) raised and butchered for human consumption, to the exclusion of seafood, fish, poultry, game, and insects. Eggs are rarely refered to as meat even though they consist of animal tissue. Animals that consume only meat are carnivores.
The meat packing industry handles the slaughtering, processing and distribution of many meats for human consumption in most developed countries.
The word meat comes from the Old English word mete, which referred to food in general. Mad in Danish, and mat in Swedish and Norwegian, still mean food today. The narrower sense referring exclusively to animal flesh developed over the past few hundred years. Until recently, meat continued to often be used to refer to any food of a "meaty" consistency—the meat of an artichoke, for example. This usage is mostly forgotten today, but the word can still be used to imply reference to the most essential or substantial part of something (e.g., "the real meat of the government's policies...").
Meat also shares some of the sexual connotations that flesh carries, and can be used to refer to the human body, often in a way that is considered vulgar or demeaning, as in the phrase meat market, which, in addition to simply denoting a market where meat is sold, can also be a slang phrase referring to a place or situation where humans are treated or viewed as commodities, especially a place where one looks for a casual sexual encounter. This sexual connotation has also existed for at least 500 years.
Methods of preparation
Butchers selling meat in Morocco.
Meat is prepared in many ways, as steaks, in stews, fondue or as dried meat. It may be ground then formed into patties (as burgers or croquettes), loaves, or sausages, or used in loose form (as in "sloppy joe" or Bolognese sauce). Some meats are cured, by smoking, pickling, preserving in salt or brine (see salted meat and curing). Others are marinated and barbecued, or simply boiled, roasted, or fried. Meat is generally eaten cooked, but there are many traditional recipes that call for raw beef, chicken or fish. Meat is often spiced or seasoned, as in most sausages. Meat dishes are usually described by their source (animal and part of body) and method of preparation.
Meat is a typical base for making sandwiches. Popular sandwich meats include turkey, chicken, ham, pork, bacon, salami and other sausages, and beef, such as steak, roast beef, corned beef, and pastrami. Meat can also be molded or pressed (common for products that include offal, such as haggis and scrapple) and canned.
Nutrition and health concerns
Further information: Nutrition and Foodborne illness
All muscle tissue is very high in protein, containing all of the essential amino acids. Muscle tissue is very low in carbohydrates. The fat content of meat can vary widely depending on the species and breed of animal, the anatomical part of its body, and the methods of butchering and cooking. Wild animals such as deer are typically leaner than farm animals, leading to the increasing popularity of game such as venison; however, centuries of breeding meat animals for size and fatness is being reversed by consumer demand for meat with less fat. Animal fat is relatively high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which have been linked to various health problems, including heart disease and arteriosclerosis.
Typical Meat Nutritional Content
from 110 grams (4 oz)
Source calories protein carbs fat
fish 110–140 20–25 g 0 g 1–5 g
chicken breast 160 28 g 0 g 7 g
lamb 250 30 g 0 g 14 g
steak (beef) 275 30 g 0 g 18 g
T-bone 450 25 g 0 g 35 g
Red meat, such as beef, pork, and lamb, contains many essential nutrients necessary for healthy growth and development in children, as well as for good health and well-being in adults. These nutrients include iron, zinc, and protein. In fact, most meats contain a full complement of the amino acids required for the human diet. Fruits and vegetables, by contrast, are usually lacking several essential amino acids. It is for this reason that people who abstain from eating all meat must plan their diet to include sources of all the necessary amino acids.
The table at right compares the nutritional content of several types of meat. While each kind of meat has about the same content of protein and carbohydrates, there is a very wide range of fat content. It is the additional fat that contributes most to the calorie content of meat, and to concerns about dietary health. A famous study, the Nurses' Health Study, followed about one-hundred-thousand female nurses and their eating habits. Nurses who ate the largest amount of animal fat were twice as likely to develop colon cancer as the nurses who ate the least amount of animal fat.
Meat consumption in the United States, 1960-2004, in pounds per year. Data source: Economic Research Service/USDA.
In response to health concerns about saturated fat and cholesterol, consumers have altered their consumption of various meats. A USDA report points out that consumption of beef in the United States between 1970–1974 and 1990–1994 dropped by 21%, while consumption of chicken increased by 90%. Overall, the trend is towards ever increasing meat consumption.
Meat can transmit certain diseases. Undercooked pork sometimes contains the parasites that cause trichinosis or cysticercosis. Chicken is sometimes contaminated with Salmonella enterica disease-causing bacteria. The recent outbreak of bird flu has stimulated global concerns over public health. Cattle tissue occasionally contains the prions that cause variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.
Abstention from meat
Main article: Taboo food and drink
People may abstain consuming meat for a variety of reasons.
Many religions take a stance on which types of meat are appropriate to eat in particular circumstances.
Judaism labels the meat of some animals, if slaughtered properly, as kosher, or "fit", and the rest are considered not kosher, or "unfit" (also called treif, literally, "torn").
In Islam, permitted meats are termed halal.
Until the mid-1960s, the Catholic Church forbade the eating of meat on Fridays (though fish was allowed), leading some restaurants to the practice of serving meat-free specials (fish dishes, clam chowder) only or especially on Friday. Depending on one's particular Bishops' Conference, Catholics may be only asked not to eat meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and Fridays during Lent, while substituting another suitable penance for all other Fridays. The definition of "meat" used by the Catholic Church for this purpose is somewhat technical, and in fact excludes the flesh of certain aquatic animals (including mammals such as beavers and seals) , probably based on analysis of a passage from St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae that classifies animals (in the context of Catholic fasting practices) as much on the basis of the animals' habits as on taxonomy.
Mahayana Buddhist belief forbids the killing of animals because of the bad karma believed to be generated. However, Theravadin Buddhists may eat meat if it can be determined that the animal was not slaughtered specifically for their consumption.
Gandhi stated that vegetarians ate plants instead of animals only because they could not hear the screams of plants being killed.
In Hinduism, which shares the Buddhist concept of karma, cattle are regarded as specially sacred, and even those Hindus who eat meat generally refrain from eating beef. Most Hindus regard killing of animals as a violation of the concept of ahimsa. It is estimated that approximately 30% of all Hindus are vegetarians. As a result, more than 70% of non-meat eaters in the world live in India.
Jainism also has vegetarianism as one of its central dogmas.
Secular cultural taboos
Cultural taboos inhibit the consumption of certain kinds of meat, even for non-religious people. For example, consumption of Human meat, or cannibalism, is nearly always considered a cultural taboo of the highest order.
Many cultures do not eat the meat of animals species that they keep as pets. In Western Culture, rabbits are an exception to this pattern.
Many vegetarians abstain from eating meat not for religious, but for secular, ethical and moral reasons. Some do not eat meat out of personal taste. Others are vegetarian out of concerns about the impact of eating meat. The welfare of animals that meat is produced from, the impact on the natural environment and the health effects of eating meat are all significant concerns. Many consider eating meat to be unethical as it inflicts pain on animals, because it treats animals as means rather than ends, or because they believe that it violates animals' rights. See Ethics of eating meat for a more detailed discussion of ethical arguments about the consumption of meat.
In vitro and imitation meat
Further information: Imitation meat, In vitro meat
Various forms of imitation meat have been created to satisfy some vegetarians' taste for the flavour and texture of meat, and there is speculation about the possibility of growing in vitro meat from animal tissue.