Are Humans Meant to be Omnivores?
The question regarding what humans are designed to eat is one that
has raised many theories. Members discuss several arguments and refer to
anthropological evidence and Biblical bases on the issue. While CVA
members agree that a plant-based diet is portrayed as God’s Biblical
ideal, given the description of the Garden of Eden and the Peaceable
Kingdom prophesies, they also provide insights on the reasoning behind
meat-eating and the killing of animals for sustenance.
A colleague, knowing I'm a vegetarian and a Christian (not
conservative evangelical) passed along a recent copy of The Sun
magazine, a "spiritual" literary magazine that she thought I'd find
engaging. The issue seemed focused on ethical matters related to eating,
and one contributor, Michael Pollan, shared his views of humans as
"omnivores": eaters of both plant and meat foods.
He even wrote a book about it, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and though he
clearly critiques current animal farming and slaughter practices, he
views humans as biologically engineered to eat both plants and meat
(teeth, jaws, digestion, vitamin and mineral needs, etc.).
I infer from his piece that his diet is primarily plant-based, though
he narrated his experience of going out and slaying a wild boar to see
if he could do it and then clean and eat it...and he did, w/ some shame,
though he sees no shame in meat eating in moderation as long as the
animals "have the life they are meant to live" or something along those
lines and were slaughtered humanely. He believes people who eat meat
should at some point be required to at least once kill and clean their
own meat, to know exactly what it is they are eating (that meat doesn't
grow on styrofoam and cellophane trees).
On the other hand, he seems to have no problem w/ the concept of
goose liver pate, extolling the moderation with which the French eat
such a delicacy. He seems to be writing as an intellectual, or at least
to an intellectual, literary-oriented audience that would be likely to
be "spiritual" without necessarily being Christian (many of whom may in
fact be critical of much of current Christian lifestyle and practice for
many of the same reasons many of us on this list are).
Here's why I'm writing. Can someone here help me to articulate some
kind of counter-argument to the notion that humans are omnivores and as
such meat is matter of fact part of human nutritional, biological need?
I'm not at all saying I'm buying into it; I'm saying I can't find the
thinking or the words with which to counter such thinking. I'm not
necessarily thinking of responding to Pollan's thinking, though perhaps
I could; I mostly want to articulate a
counter-argument for myself. Despite the fact that I'm an academic, I
don't do well w/ overly abstract or intellectual thought, so the clearer
and more practical your argument is; the more likely it is that I will
be able to understand it. Thanks.
Mr. Pollan seems to satisfy his conscience and do the right thing
about three-quarters of the way, and call it even.
Personally I think the "designer" arguments are weak and easily
knocked down. Cats have fangs that should make humans ashamed to claim
that they do also. A cat's stomach pH would destroy ours. Our intestinal
length in proportion to our body is typical for herbivores. And so on.
When we see a bird we may feel communion and awe but not hunger. In
fact, to kill an animal because we like the taste of his flesh requires
that we harden ourselves, to overcome our natural sympathy and desire to
be kind; such "training" unfortunately works against the causes of peace
and compassion. On the other hand, when we see a ripe piece of fruit
hanging from a tree, our
natural inclination is to bite right into it.
We *can* eat meat, which may help us to survive in lean times, but we
don't have to today. The presence of healthy vegans proves that.
Therefore the question of what to eat is a moral one. And the answer is
to eat as compassionately as we can. And in the West that generally
equates to choosing a vegan diet. You reach the same endpoint if
considering environmental impact.
"We must eat meat" is a defense mechanism, a way of refusing to admit
that we choose to eat meat.
I think the anthropological evidence indicates that early hominids
probably ate primarily plant foods, but they also likely ate some animal
flesh, including carrion and the occasional small animal they were able
to kill. The more important point is that, undoubtedly, we can thrive on
a plant-based diet.
The argument put forth by Michael Pollan is similar to another
argument I hear from some non-vegetarians who say that it's "natural"
for humans to eat meat because we're higher up in the food chain from
the animals that we eat. I usually counter that we are clearly selective
in how we choose to live "naturally". Some early humans quite often left
their sick and elderly out to be eaten by predators because that's
nature's way. Well, we don't do that any more. If a lion becomes a
"man-eater" then every effort is made to hunt down and kill that lion
even though it might be quite "natural" for a lion to eat hominids.
There is clearly very little left that is "natural" about how we live
our lives in our cities with our artificially climate controlled
environments, with our technology - utterly divorced from what is really
natural. We have developed laws, ethics, and religion; and explored what
it means to be moral beings. (And harkening to the Fall in the Garden of
Eden - we wear clothes!) Clearly, we are more than able to thrive on
vegetarian diets and equally clearly our treatment of non-humans is
unconscionable. We might have evolved as omnivores but certainly do not
need to be omnivores especially since vegetarianism makes so much sense
on so many levels and is ethically the right choice.
Heidi the revelation of God’s love for us is like the lifting of a
veil, removing the "plank" from the eye, enabling us to “see and
believe” in one or other dimension of His love.
It might be seeing into the mystery of His glorious resurrection, or
it might be into the compassion He has for all He has created. This is
at the heart of what I believe it means to be vegan, and changed my life
It takes a great measure of grace from the Lord to see this.
We are right to condemn the culture of violence, but also to keenly
‘remove the plank’ from our own eye.
We are privileged to have the revelation of His compassion for all,
and it is our privilege to share it and to be an encouragement to all,
vegan or not, Christian or not.
I encourage you in your journey to continue to seek Him and His
righteousness, and “all these things will be added unto you.”
Thanks everyone for your thoughts. Maybe I will submit a response to
The Sun and Pollan's piece. It seems his views need to be challenged,
especially for those Sun readers who DO buy into his thinking.
[Heidi plans to submit a letter to the Sun in response to Pollan's
I agree that aspects of his piece should be challenged. I think a
letter should acknowledge one positive aspect of his piece -- he calls
on consumers to be mindful of the animals who were killed for food. For
many people, this mindfulness encourages vegetarianism and/or veganism.
Pollan does object to factory farming; given that the vast majority of
animals in the US are raised on factory farms, and nearly all experience
the terror of the slaughterhouse, mindfulness promotes moving towards a
healthy, nutritious plant-based diet.