Though not a vegetarian himself, Fiddes (Social Anthropology/Edinburgh Univ.) has wondered at the vehemence with which vegetarianism is often dismissed as a fad, attacked as a conspiracy, or worse. In this sound inquiry, he examines the unstated symbolic importance that meat has for all of us, determining why we do or do not eat it and how we think, feel, and behave regarding it. While discoursing along the way on such matters as our views on cannibalism; our exemption of pets, primates, and carnivores from the edible animal category; and our association of meat with different aspects of sex, the sexes, and relations between them, Fiddes sees meat chiefly as a symbol and clement of human mastery over nature. (Thus the cruel and bloody aspect of meat is not a regrettable side effect but essential to its role.) Meat-eating, he notes, increased in practice and prestige during the Industrial Revolution, with its emphasis on mastering and transforming nature. Earlier, when people had more to fear from wild animals and natural forces, meat killing and eating was a comforting symbol of control. But now that we are recognizing the environmental destruction caused by the abuse of human power over nature, meat-eating is declining--a trend, Fiddes suggests, that could be the ""harbinger of the evolution of new values."" Harbinger or no, Fiddes's discussion of all this is perceptive and sensible. As for the common dangers of this sort of undertaking--pedantic obscurity, belaboring the obvious, sounding far-fetched--he triumphantly avoids them all.