Marta Zaraska is a Polish-Canadian science writer published in the Washington Post, Scientific American, the Atlantic, etc., and the author of recently published non-fiction book “Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Years Obsession With Meat”. She lives near Paris with her husband, daughter, and their two old dogs. Marta and I met over lunch, where we talked about her book, our writing projects, and Paris. I am in awe of Marta because she writes so beautifully.
What brought you to France?
After living in Calgary from 2004-2008, my husband and I moved here for his MBA at INSEAD. We came here for just one year (isn’t that a common story?). And here we are, eight years later, with a French-born daughter. The MBA turned into a PhD, which then turned into a professor’s appointment for my husband. But we love France, and don’t mind staying here for years to come.
What keeps you here?
France 🙂 We had many opportunities to move to other places, but we just like it here. I’ve lived in six countries on three continents in my life, and France just fits me. Especially since I’m raising a kid now – it seems much easier here than in many other places.
How did you get the idea to write your book?
I’ve been a semi-vegetarian (pescatarian) for many years now and interested in meat-eating and vegetarian diets. I’ve read many books on the topic, discussing the environmental, ethical and health-impacts of such diets. Yet I’ve always felt that something was missing there. If meat-eating was indeed so bad for us and our planet, why do we keep eating it? Why do we crave meat so much? Meat is so much unlike other foods – just tell people you don’t eat meat and often very hot debates will follow. But if you tell people you don’t eat carrots they’ll just shrug and say “ok, whatever”. I was curious why is it that meat keeps us so hooked, and couldn’t find a single book that would answer that question. So I wrote it.
What were some of the challenges in writing it? And some of the rewards?
The biggest challenge for me came at the very beginning. I simply kept over-researching everything. Maybe it’s because I’m married to an academic, or maybe it was just my perfectionism. I tried to read everything that was ever written on everything I was writing about. At some point I caught myself reading scientific papers, dozens of them, debating the exact temperature of precambrian oceans, just because I wanted to use an adjective when I was describing it to set one scene (Warm? Warmish? Cold? Coldish?). I was driving myself crazy. It was my husband who convinced me I have to let it go at some point and decide I know enough. If I’ve read one good review of precambrian ocean temperatures in a respectable journal that’s enough. Otherwise I’d take about thirty years to finish Meathooked. Once I’ve accepted that I have to let go of reading everything ever written the process became much easier – and much more pleasant!
As for rewards – it was the opportunity to talk to so many fascinating people! I’ve interviewed voodoo priests, food futurologists, paleoanthropologists, philosophers (Peter Singer), and other great people such as Temple Grandin, Bianca Jagger, Marion Nestle, T. Colin Campbell and so on. Writing “Meathooked” was a great excuse to talk to them.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
It’d be that: “Let it go” (the soundtrack to “Frozen” comes to mind) from my husband about over-researching.
What advice would you give to first-time authors?
Don’t worry about rejections. They are part of life. Keep doing your job, and write about things that you are passionate about.
What books are on your nightstand?
Hundreds of them! That’s because I mostly read on Kindle and have most of my library there. It’s just so much easier this way when you live in rural France with barely any access to English bookstores at all. I can have almost any book I want in my tiny village within minutes. As for what I’m reading at the moment: it’s an amazing, albeit old-ish book – published in 1995, by Geraldine Brooks called “Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women”. It’s a non-fiction inquiry into the world of women in Islamic cultures. Fascinating, especially nowadays with what’s going on with ISIS.
For now I’m concentrating on Meathooked – I’m doing several radio interviews, I’ll be moderating a session on reducing meat consumption at European Commission’s Development Days in Brussels next month, I’m discussing an opportunity to be a speaker at a TEDx event. Keeping busy!