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Why do vegans taste better?

The bistecca alla fiorentina at Dario's in Panzano this past summer
The bistecca alla fiorentina at Dario's in Panzano this past summer
Gene Riccetti

Probably since ducks have been in the news recently, sort of, my friend Jack mused to me the other day how, in his long experience consuming the animals, the species of ducks that feed on plants are tastier than those that eat fish. Vegetarian ducks, likely vegans, are tastier than the carnivorous ducks. I thought that notion was quite interesting, and something that I had never considered. He later posited that, for the most part, we humans just eat animals that are non-meat-eating themselves. It’s true.

It’s been about 2.5 million years since our ancestors discovered the delectable qualities of animal flesh, and we have evolved into meat-eating creatures that enjoy eating creatures that eat plants. Think about the meats that you might find at the supermarket or on a restaurant menu: beef, chicken, pork, veal, lamb, duck, boar, buffalo, turkey, quail, goose, mutton, and rabbit. These are all grass or grain fed. Pigs, and boars are omnivorous, but the ones that make it to the grocers’ aisles or the restaurant kitchens have a strictly vegetarian diet. The boars in Tuscany, feeding heavily on Sangiovese grapes, are especially tasty, by the way. Even those animals less likely to be found on menus though consumed somewhere are also herbivores: venison, elk, ostrich, antelope, dove, pheasant, alligator, guinea pig and lama.

Not all mammals eaten by people just eat plants. Bears are carnivores and omnivores, but are rarely eaten in this country anymore, much less found on restaurant menus. Seals and dogs and cats are also meat-eaters and are regularly consumed in some cultures, but for the vast majority of meat consumed across the globe, there is a clear preference for those animals that just consume plants.

As for fish, this theme is not nearly absolute. Most of the fish we consume eat algae, plankton or some other type of plants, but there are many other species that eat other fish. Tuna, swordfish, king mackerel, grouper, tilefish and shark are the most prominent that are commercially fished. Excepting for the high mercury content, these are all very desirable, though shark maybe less so. But, fish have always been viewed differently than meat in most cultures. Strictures by the Roman Catholic Church against eating meat on certain days did not apply to fish, for example.

For whatever reason, as much as we humans enjoy meat, we like what we consume to eat quite a bit differently than we do.