In modern English usage, meat most often refers to animal tissue used as food, mostly skeletal muscle and associated fat, but it may also refer to organs, including lungs, livers, skin, brains, bone marrow, kidneys, and a variety of other internal organs as well as blood. The word meat is also used by the meat packing and butchering industry in a more restrictive sense—the flesh of mammalian species (pigs, cattle, etc.) raised and butchered for human consumption, to the exclusion of fish, poultry, and eggs. Eggs and seafood are rarely referred to as meat even though they consist of animal tissue. Animals that consume only, or mostly animals are called carnivores.
Through most of human history, individual families of humans hunted, raised, and slaughtered animals for their meat, and later, as civilizations developed, priests and temple assistants performed the functions of slaughtering and butchering animals for food in animal sacrifice. Today, in most industrialized nations, a meat packing industry slaughters, processes, and distributes meat for human consumption.
The narrower sense that refers to meat as not including fish developed over the past few hundred years and has religious influences. The distinction between fish and "meat" is codified by Jewish law of kashrut, regarding the mixing of milk and meat, which does not forbid the mixing of milk and fish. Modern halakha (Jewish law) on kashrut classifies the flesh of both mammals and birds as "meat"; fish are considered to be parve (also spelled parev, pareve; Yiddish: פארעוו parev), neither meat nor a dairy food. The Catholic dietary restriction to "meat" on Fridays also does not apply to the cooking and eating of fish.
The Latin word caro#Latin "meat" (also the root of 'carnal', referring to the 'pleasures of the flesh') is often a euphemism for sexual pleasure, effected from the function performed by fleshy organs. Thus 'meat' may refer to the human body in a sensual, or sexual, capacity. A meat market, in addition to simply denoting a market where meat is sold, also refers to a place or situation where humans are treated or viewed as commodities, especially a place known as one where a sexual partner may be found. This connotation has also existed for at least 500 years. 'Meat' may also be used in a humorous or indifferent way to refer to a human. The military slang phrase "meat shield", refers to soldiers sent in front of an enemy to draw fire away from another unit. The theme of hostile, or simply misanthropic, robots referring to humans with disparaging terms such as "meatbag" is popular in science fiction (see: Bender, HK-47).
Meat is prepared in many ways, as steaks, in stews, fondue, or as dried meat. It may be ground then formed into patties (as hamburgers or croquettes), loaves, or sausages, or used in loose form (as in "sloppy joe" or Bolognese sauce). Some meat is cured, by smoking, pickling, preserving in salt or brine (see salted meat and curing). Other kinds of meat 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, veal 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 varieties of sandwich meat include ham, pork, 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.
|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|
In recent years, the health benefits of meat as a regular part of the human diet have come into question. In a large-scale study, the consumption of red meat over a lifetime was found to raise the risk of cancer by 20 to 60 percent, while causing adverse mutations in DNA. In particular, red meat and processed meat were found to be associated with higher risk of cancers of the lung, esophagus, liver, and colon, among others. Animal fat is one of the only dietary sources of saturated fat, which has been linked to various health problems. The saturated fat found in meat has been associated with significantly raised risks of colon cancer, breast cancer, osteoporosis, and prostate cancer, although some evidence suggests that risks of prostate cancer are unrelated to meat consumption.
Meat has been linked to increased risk of heart disease and diabetes, with the risks of heart disease being three times greater for 45-64 year old men who eat meat daily, versus those who are vegetarian, according to one survey. A large-scale study in 2008 also found that eating two or more servings of meat a day increases the risk of suffering from excessive fat around the waist, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure by 25 percent compared to those who had two servings of meat a week or less. One famous study, the Nurses' Health Study, followed about 100,000 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.
In response to changing prices as well as 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%. During the same period of time, the price of chicken dropped by 14% relative to the price of beef. In 1995 and 1996, beef consumption increased due to higher supplies and lower prices.
Meat, like any food, can also transmit certain diseases, but undercooked meat is especially susceptible. Undercooked pork sometimes contains the parasites that cause trichinosis or cysticercosis. Chicken is often contaminated with Salmonella enterica disease-causing bacteria. Minced beef can be contaminated during slaughter with disease-causing H7 deriving from the intestinal tract if proper precautions are not taken.
Mice and rats fed uncooked sucrose, casein, and beef tallow had one third to one fifth the incidence of microadenomas as the mice and rats fed the same ingredients cooked.
Several studies published since 1990 indicate that cooking muscle meat creates heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are thought to increase cancer risk in humans. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute published results of a study which found that human subjects who ate beef rare or medium-rare had less than one third the risk of stomach cancer than those who ate beef medium-well or well-done. While eating muscle meat raw may be the only way to avoid HCAs fully, the National Cancer Institute states that cooking meat below creates "negligible amounts" of HCAs. Also, microwaving meat before cooking may reduce HCAs by 90%.
There have also been major concerns regarding Advanced glycation end products in cooked foods, which have been shown to cause serious deterioration in human health over time, such as increasing the risk of diabetes, atherosclerosis, asthma, arthritis, myocardial infarction, nephropathy, retinopathy and neuropathy. Nitrosamines, present in processed and cooked foods, have also been noted as being carcinogenic, being linked to colon cancer. Also, toxic compounds called PAHs, or Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, present in processed, smoked and cooked foods, are known to be carcinogenic.
Various forms of imitation meat have been created to satisfy some vegetarians' and vegan's taste for the flavor and texture of meat, there is also some speculation about the possibility of growing in vitro meat from animal tissue. Nutrition wise, imitation meat is comparable to animal meat, however they rarely contain the same levels of saturated fat and can often contain valuable minerals and vitamins while still containing approximately the same levels of protein as animal meats.
Animals fed on grain and those which rely on grazing need more water than grain crops. According to the USDA, growing crops for farm animals requires nearly half of the U.S. water supply and 80% of its agricultural land. Animals raised for food in the U.S. consume 90% of the soy crop, 80% of the corn crop, and 70% of its grain. In tracking food animal production from the feed through to the dinner table, the inefficiencies of meat, milk and egg production range from a 4:1 energy input to protein output ratio up to 54:1. The result is that producing animal-based food is typically much less efficient than the harvesting of grains, vegetables, legumes, seeds and fruits, though this might not be largely true for animal husbandry in parts of the developing world where factory farming is almost non existent, making animal based food much more sustainable.