Christianity and Animal Rights, Part 8:
What Is Humanity’s “Natural” Diet?

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Christianity and Animal Rights, Part 8:
What Is Humanity’s “Natural” Diet?

[Ed. Note: Please visit Animals - Tradition, Philosophy, Religion for many articles about animals and religious beliefs: Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and more.]

By Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 9, Part 10

We have become so powerful that we can rapidly change our environments; we can deplete the topsoil, drain the earth of natural resources, and even change the climate. Our bodies evolved (or, as some believe, were created by God) to thrive in a world that is rapidly becoming a remote memory. If humanity is to thrive, it must live according to its nature, which includes living harmoniously with other creatures.

I have been arguing that animal rights is essential not only for animal protectionism (as mandated by the Bible) but also for human rights and human well-being. People have generally defended exploitation and abuse of animals on the grounds that humans are superior to nonhuman beings. Indeed, it appears that one reason that humans kill and eat animals is to demonstrate this supposed superiority. (See Meat: A Natural Symbol by Nick Fiddes.) Are humans actually meant to eat flesh, and, if not, what are the implications of living in a way that does not accord with our nature?

Milton R. Mills, MD has reviewed the literature on the comparative physiology of humans and animals. He has made a compelling case that our bodies most closely resemble herbivores (who eat only plant foods) and not, as most people believe, omnivores (who eat both plant foods and animals). Similarities with herbivores, but differences from omnivores, include numerous aspects of mouth and dental structures, saliva composition, stomach acidity, stomach volume, length of intestines and colon, kidney urine concentration, and nail structure. It is curious that people rarely eat raw flesh, and they do not seem to have much of a taste for cooked flesh, either. People almost always add flavoring to flesh, such as salt or more complex sauces or spices. In contrast, many people enjoy vegetables without additives. (I acknowledge David Cantor, Responsible Policies for Animals, Inc. for this insight, and I have found my extensive correspondence with him helpful.)

Though evidence indicates that humans are designed to eat plant foods, herbivores can consume flesh, which is how mad cow disease spread. There is evidence that early humans ate some flesh, and there is archeological evidence of consumption of animal flesh among early humans. These findings do not demonstrate that early humans consumed much flesh. When food sources were scarce, particularly protein-rich sources, there were incentives to pursue flesh. Hunting was one option, though it was difficult to kill animals with crude stone-age weapons. Many anthropologists believe that scavenging for carrion was likely the main source of animal flesh among early humans. In Man the Hunted, Donna Hart and Robert W. Sussman have made a compelling case that human tool-making and social organization were largely spurred by the need to avoid becoming prey, not to prey on other animals.

We are intelligent, socially sophisticated creatures whose skills at developing and transmitting culture have made us much more powerful than any other creatures on earth. Attributes that evidently developed primarily for human defense against predators have become potent offensive weapons. Humans have found it convenient and adaptive to dominate animals and nature. Indeed, humans heavily populate nearly the entire land mass of the earth. However, killing is not a fundamental part of our nature, and the consequences of teaching children (who naturally empathize with and like animals) to kill innocent creatures has profound implications. We have become so powerful that we can rapidly change our environments; we can deplete the topsoil, drain the earth of natural resources, and even change the climate. Our bodies evolved (or, as some believe, were created by God) to thrive in a world that is rapidly becoming a remote memory. If humanity is to thrive, it must live according to its nature, which includes living harmoniously with other creatures.