Marta Zaraska is a Polish Canadian journalist, foreign affairs correspondent and science writer. She has visited over 80 countries around the world and lived in six of them. Her non-fiction book, “Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession With Meat,” was published in February 2016 by Basic Books, and chosen by the journal Nature as one of “the best science picks” in March 2016.
How long have you been living in France and what brought you here in the first place?
I’ve been here eight years. As often happens, we planned to stay only one year, for the duration of my husband’s MBA, but we loved France, and managed to find one reason after another to stay. I was born and raised in Poland, finished law school there. It was also there that I started my journalistic career, first as a foreign affairs reporter specializing in Africa. I love Africa and I’ve travelled quite a lot there, reporting from places such as the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Benin, Togo, Cameroon… But it was a difficult job too, and one that didn’t go well with the expat life. That’s why I switched to freelance science writing, my other passion. But I still travel a lot – I just can’t stop!
It’s quite a change to go from writing about foreign affairs to writing about scientific subjects.
I’ve been always interested in science, especially in environmental sciences. When I was writing about Africa the issues there very often circled back to environmental problems – lack of water, depletion of natural resources, deforestation – so in a way I haven’t changed my focus all that much at all.
What inspired you to write Meathooked ?
I’ve been a kind-of-vegetarian (one that eats fish sometimes when eating out) for over ten years now and I’ve read most of the big-name books that have been written on the topic of meat-eating: on environmental aspects of meat-based diets, health aspects, animal welfare, and so on. Many of them were great, but I kept thinking that they were all missing a very important point: If meat is indeed so bad for us, why do people love it so much? Why do we crave it? Why do we have such a hard time reducing meat consumption? Why haven’t we all evolved to be vegetarian? So I started researching the topic, digging in. It was a fascinating journey that took me everywhere from paleoanthropology and neurobiology to genetics, psychology, history, and futurology.
Meathooked includes many descriptive passages about your travels to exotic places to sample different foods. Which country surprised you the most?
I can’t say any of them surprised me the most, but I certainly found Benin and Togo particularly fascinating. Who isn’t fascinated by the voodoo culture after all?
What was your best and worst culinary experience?
Best – the mock bacon made by a Dutch company called the Vegetarian Butcher. It was so realistic I still can’t believe it was made entirely of plants. I wish it was available in France. Worst – the burned and disturbingly brittle fried crickets I ate at a Parisian bistro. They tasted like ash, the wings got stuck between my teeth.
It can be difficult for non-meat eaters in France. Do you have any tips for vegetarians here?
I’ve been given a good tip myself recently by a friend: When you go out to eat at a restaurant, don’t be afraid to ask the chef to prepare you something vegetarian. You may be surprised how often they’ll agree.
What are you currently working on and what are your future projects?
I’m writing on nutrition and environment and I travel a bit, talking about the research in Meathooked. I just came back from Brussels where I was speaking at the European Commission’s European Development Days on how to reduce meat consumption in the EU (for the sake of the climate).
Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession With Meat
Meathooked is a real eye-opener. In a very clear, accessible and often entertaining way, Marta Zaraska exposes the reasons that have led us, as a species, to become so ‘hooked’ on meat, be they historical, biological, cultural, religious, philosophical or even political.
Without ever preaching vegetarianism, nor reverting to shock tactics, Meathooked is a lucid and thorough examination of the different factors that have resulted in meat becoming such an important part of the human diet today. It also reveals where our obsession with meat is leading us in terms of our own well-being as a species and that of the planet we live on.
Meathooked is both an informative and an entertaining read. It will make you think twice about what you eat, why you eat it and, more importantly, the consequences of our collective nutritional choices.
Available through Amazon