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Myth: Humans are supposed to eat animals

January 21, 2013

“But humans are supposed to eat animals.  It is in our genes.  This is how we evolved.  This is how we survived.  This is how it has always been.  It is in the Bible”

The number one cause of death in the United States is heart disease and the number one cause of heart disease is atherosclerosis.  Atherosclerosis is a disease found only in herbivores.  Carnivores are not affected by this disease.  You can read about it here at this credible, unbiased, research based website which is not supported by a vegan agenda.

 Two college level nutrition courses, one contemporary and one for sports and exercise, as well as my own research in the most logical and unbiased way, these are the answers I found.  I am slightly ashamed to say when I first enrolled in these courses and began researching not only was I not quite 100% vegan yet (it takes a while to shed years of culture and teachings and media etc.) but I was also looking for a loophole.  I was clinging to my old lifestyle by a few strands not quite ready to believe what I was learning.  In other words, many of these writings are of someone who was searching for truth, not for veganism.  I take many of these writings from a journal I kept last year and some of these things do come from my own pure observations, cultural blinders now off, for the first time in my life open minded, open to change and attempting to look at each of these statements as if for the very first time:

Humans are supposed to eat animals.

The correct statement is humans ‘can’ eat animals.

So far I have found no conclusive evidence to support the notion that we are supposed to eat animals.  We can eat animals but this does not mean we are supposed to.  We can also drink alcohol or ingest other substances but this does not mean that we are supposed to consume these things.

If you eat nothing but cow, pig and chicken, chicken’s eggs and baby cow’s milk you will die before the year is over from the disease of scurvy.   The reason is because human beings cannot synthesize their own vitamin C.  Carnivores can and therefore are able to get all of their nutritional needs met by eating nothing but other animals.  Vitamin C comes from plants and is not present in the flesh, eggs or milk of animals.

The loophole that I found was Vilhjalmur Stefansson who proved it possible to live on nothing but animals without developing scurvy.  This is because he consumed the entrails of animals as well as Muktuk, which is whale skin and blubber.  Vitamin C is stored in the entrails of animals and in the skin of whales.

So unless you are consuming things like organ meats or whale skin you cannot live on animals alone.  You must also eat plants.

If you only eat plants, you need not eat anything else to survive.  Plants alone will sustain you.  If you are well versed in nutrition your next response will be “But what about vitamin B12?  That is not in plants and you cannot survive without that.”  True and this was another loophole I thought I had found to make me feel better about continuing to eat fish or clams.  But to my surprise vitamin B12 does not come from animals either.  I will blog about B12 in a future post.

It is in our genes (to eat animals).

“It is in our genes” is a statement that is beyond my scope to answer and my guess is that it is most likely beyond anyone’s scope.  I know that our two closest relatives with whom we share more than 99% of our DNA, the bonobo and the chimp, eat an all plant based diet for the most part.  Chimps are known to kill and eat other animals but this accounts for less than 3% of their diet.  The bonobo primarily eats fruit and other plants with the occasional insect.

The Paleo Diet is a subject of huge debate.  I have read several articles that suggest the bulk of our nutrition came from nuts and fruits and these things are typically part of the Paleo diet fad.  Most of the articles I have read talk about what our ancient ancestors ate.  But in the end all of them concede that no one is really sure what we ate.  There is no definitive answer.

If it is in our genes, which to me means it is a natural instinctive inclination and not learned or taught then why do I not salivate when I see bird?  Why do I not smell a cow and think it smells delicious?  Why do I not see an animal that I could easily kill with my bare hands even when I am really hungry such as a chicken or a baby pig and think “I would like to snap its neck and eat it”?

Why when you put a child into a room with two ‘foods’ such as an apple and a rabbit or chicken or baby pig, why does the child eat the apple and play with the animal?

If it is in our genes, then why are none of the above true?  I pondered this without bias.  I have no scientific proof that it is or isn’t in my genes.  You can Google ‘meat gene’ and get a ton of hits that say “Meat eating is genetic” but none of them are conclusive.  All I know is that my observations of myself in the natural world do not seem to indicate that the eating of an animal is an automatic first instinct but rather a learned behavior, a cultural norm, and something we might turn to when in pure survival mode.

This is how we evolved

Before I go deeper into the evolution of our brains let me say that many people have said to me “We would not have evolved to be the way we are if we did not eat animals.”

To this I say you are 100% correct.

Indifference to violence is a way of life and always has been.  That does not make it right, just because it has always been.  And it does not mean we should keep being this way.  But the truth is  we have compassion when someone or a group of people like ourselves is harmed (Boston Marathon, Sandy Hook).  But when equally terrible or even more terrible things happen to groups not like ourselves (Iraq, inner city shooting of a black male) we are not glued to the TV just waiting for more news reports.  We do not feel the same outrage or sadness.  We may not feel anything at all . . . maybe just a twinge. We are a culture that perceives anything unlike ourselves (a cow, a pig, a chicken) as having less value and therefore we do not mourn the cow that suffers and dies yet we do the dog, because we see our dogs as part of our human group.  And we extend this indifference to people not like ourselves.

We have evolved psychologically to be anthropocentric and to view nature as something we must control for our own ‘good’ and in this process we have been utterly destructive.  Had we chosen a more peaceful diet and passed these values on to our children how would the world today be different?  It is a question worth pondering deeply I believe.  Evolution of the anatomy of the brain is one thing (keep reading to learn more about that) but evolution of culture and human thought and psychology collectively are quite another.  Our utter disrespect for any life or non-living that is not human is clear.  Our disrespect for other humans not like ourselves is also very clear.  Now onto the brain itself:

Our large brains and evolution happened not as a result of eating other animals but rather due to our discovery of fire.*

Animals designed to eat other animals have evolved as follows:

  • Bite through the tough skin of a live animal, begin feeding while animal is still alive and continues while still raw, never cooked.
  • Eats the entire carcass
  • Lion’s bite psi = 600 human = 120 psi
  • Get enough nutrition from one large meal to go for several days without eating again. Carnivores have evolved to go for several days to months and in some cases up to one full year before consuming their next meal with no health consequences.
  • Eat rotting flesh with no health consequences.  A carnivore’s stomach has evolved to be several times more acidic and therefore raw flesh in any state of decay is still a perfectly healthy meal.
  • Able to hunt prey successfully and consistently without a gun, bow, knife, net or hook.
  • Able to make vitamin C within their own bodies therefore the eating of plants is not necessary to survival
  • Shorter digestive tract, acidic saliva, longer canines, carnassial teeth
  • Cannot distinguish between colors (this is something I will blog heavily about in the future)
  • Prey drive

Prey drive is what causes an animal to chase after something that moves.  Try throwing a ball down the hallway the next time you are at work and see how many people drop everything they are doing to chase after it.  Now go to a dog park and do the same thing.  Chasing a moving object is something that a carnivore and opportunistic eaters (omnivores) simply cannot resist.  If one of your coworkers chases the ball every time you throw it well, let’s just say that is not going to happen.  So what then does this say about human beings and whether or not we are carnivores?  Are we even omnivores?

We have not evolved to be animal eaters or carnivores.

There are many studies that conclude our brain evolved to what it is today once we began consuming animal flesh.  There seems to be an evolutionary correlation between adding animals to the ancient diet and the development of our brains.  According to anthropologist Richard Wrangham the adding of meat to our diet does not tell the whole story.

Wrangham explains what he believes is the real secret to the modern human. Raw food does not pack the energy to build the big-brained, small-toothed human of today.  Research shows that people on a raw food diet, including meat and oil, lose weight, experience chronic energy deficiency and many women will cease to menstruate on such a diet.  It isn’t that raw food is not nutritious; it is just more difficult for the body to get at the nutrition.  Wrangham says that cooking and the discovery of fire* is what ultimately allowed our brains to develop to the next level.  Plant foods have a cell wall, unlike animal flesh, and contained within this cell wall are the vitamins.  The cooking process breaks down the cell wall and our bodies have better access to the nutrition contained within.

It is important to note that because a plant has a cell wall and therefore we could not release its nutritional potential until cooking, despite the lack of a cell wall animal flesh in its raw state is equally lacking in its delivery of nutrition potential.  Cooking alters the meat itself. It breaks up the long protein chains, and that makes them easier for stomach enzymes to digest. “The second thing is very clear,” Wrangham adds, “and that is the muscle, which is made of protein, is wrapped up like a sausage in a skin, and the skin is collagen, connective tissue. And that collagen is very hard to digest. But if you heat it, it turns to jelly.”

Cooking is what Wrangham thinks ultimately changed our modern body. Someone discovered fire “Ultimately, of course, what makes us intellectually human is our brain,” he says. “And I think that comes from having the highest quality of food in the animal kingdom, and that’s because we cook.”

Therefore it is arguable that it is the discovery of fire and the cooking of foods to unlock their nutritional potential that allowed the human brain to develop to its present day state

After a hearty discussion about carnivores ripping apart live animals another question usually follows:  if eating other animals is so bad then we should arrest all the carnivores and throw them in jail for being so horrible.  I will address this statement and the questions about hunting in a future blog.

This is how we survived.

As far as survival, perhaps at times or in certain locations or climates humans have had to eat animals for survival.  We do not need to eat animals to survive. Survival mode is something that almost no one living in a first world country will ever have to face.  We have access to an abundance of plant foods year round conveniently available every day of the week in our grocery stores or farmer’s markets.

Now let’s talk about survival and the things people do to survive that they would never do otherwise.

Survival sometimes mandates we do something we would not normally choose to do.   A person may become lost in the woods and have to drink their own urine to survive dehydration as this has happened to a number of people.  That person would not continue this behavior once water became available.  Just because we have done something to survive does not mean we need to continue to do it once we are no longer in survival mode.

In the movie Life of Pi this is what happened to Pi on the boat.  He was in survival mode.  Many people think this movie is about animals and, really, it is.  But it is not about a tiger or a zebra or an orangutan.  It is about the human animal.  I wrote a lot about that movie here.

This is how it has always been.

Arguing that we should continue to eat animals because this is the way it has always been is an argument against the progress of humanity.  Where there have been humans there also has always been rape, murder, war, etc.  Should we continue those practices as well simply because humans have always done these things?  Should we still have child labor?  Slaves?  Should women never have been granted the right to vote simply because they never had that right before?

The argument that this is the way it has always been is not a good one for if you examine your own values you will find that there are many things that our society and culture have changed that you yourself feel we should have changed.  You would never say we shouldn’t have eliminated slavery, child labor or inequality simply because it has always been that way.

Peace ❤

 

 

 

 

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