Sunday, May 31, 2009

Humans meant to be herbivores

OK, I'm an omnivore, I admit it (although I'm eating more and more vegetarian meals). The arguments for vegetarianism and veganism based on health and the environment appeal to me, but I've also been influenced by the arguments that humans need meat, that we can't get certain nutrients without it, and that we've evolved to eat it.

But not so fast. In a comment on Colin Beavan's "No Impact Man" blog regarding the eating of red meat, one person made some very compelling arguments that humans are meant to be vegetarian--some of which seem very intuitive. For example, the fact is that unlike most carnivorous mammals, humans have neither the sharp nails to tear prey apart nor the sharp teeth needed to eat uncooked meats. Also, we don't have stomach acids as strong as most carnivores, which allows them to eat raw meat and not be hurt by the bacteria. For humans, that means that until we learned to cook meat (or realized we could eat meat burned in forest fires), we couldn't eat it at all, because the bacteria would kill us. In addition, when we eat meals rich in meat, we often feel stuffed and sluggish, which is the exact opposite of what we should feel after eating as creatures that prehistorically needed to be able to run fast, run long, and climb to escape predators.

Less obvious is the fact that we have long intestines like most herbivores, which allows us a long time to digest vegetables and grains, which is important for energy and for extracting as many nutrients as possible. This also means, however, that we digest meat slowly, absorbing the fat and cholesterol in the process (with all the health problems that result) and producing the sluggish feelings described above. In contrast, most carnivorous mammals have much shorter intestines than humans, which allows them to digest meat quickly without absorbing the fat and cholesterol.

All of this suggests that while humans have been eating meat for a long time, we haven't been eating it throughout our existence and therefore probably didn't evolve to eat meat. One interesting fact to note is that Genesis, in the Bible, records that at one time, humans didn't eat meat. Only after Noah and the flood did God give humans "permission" to eat meat.

1 comment:

  1. Good 'food' for thought! While I don't believe in cross-species evolution I do believe in the evolution within species - kind of hard not to when we still have tail bones, organs that serve no known purpose, and extra teeth! So.. what if humans lost the sharp teeth and longer intestine after learning to cook meat? A HA! ;)