Are Humans Naturally Meat Eaters?

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Are Humans Naturally Meat Eaters?

[Ed. Note: Two great poems for you on this topic...Carnivore or Herbivore and Carnivore.]

By Stephen Augustine

Even if humans are adaptable omnivores we can still choose to eat vegan. Vegan choices are ethically the right choice, ideal for our health, and far better for the health of the planet.

Most statements that assert that humans are naturally meant to eat meat reflect cultural upbringing rather than an objective look at our origins and the kind of biological animal that we are. It is true that humans are capable of eating meat (for that matter so is a cow or a horse) and our adaptation for occasional omnivorism was simply a trait that enabled early humans to survive and adapt to parts of the landscape when suitable plant foods were not available – primarily by scavenging the kills of true carnivores.

Fossil evidence seems to indicate that early humans (more than 2 million years ago) were almost exclusively vegetarian. With the first human use of tools about 2 million years ago and with human use of fire about 200,000 years ago humans were able to avail themselves of a wider variety of foods including tough roots as well as animal flesh. It was tool use and technology that enabled humans to move from a natural proclivity for plant foods to increased consumption of animal flesh.

The Place of Humans as an Occasional Omnivore

Pure
Herbivore
    True
Omnivore
      Obligate
Carnivore
1 2  -  3 4 5 6  -  7 8 9 10
Cows
Horses
Elephants
Gorillas
Humans
Chimps
Chipmunks
Dogs
Bears
Raccoons
Pigs
  Wolves
Coyotes
Badgers
Wolverines
Lions
Tigers

Some of the factors that classify humans as having a strong bias towards being natural plant eaters are:

1. The diet of our closest non-human relatives

Our closest relatives in the animal world are either outright vegetarians (gorillas) or about 95% vegetarian (chimpanzees). Most of the non-vegetarian food that chimpanzees eat is insects such as termites. Both gorillas and chimpanzees have canine teeth that make human canine teeth look like little nubs.

2. Killing claws or fangs

Unlike carnivores and true omnivores humans do not have either killing claws or fangs. We do not salivate when we see another living animal or a piece of raw meat but we do salivate when we see ripe fruit. Cats, by contrast will salivate when they see a mouse or a piece of raw meat.

3. Dentition

Our teeth are adapted to eating fruit and nuts and are clearly not those of a carnivore. Unlike carnivores, our teeth are adapted for grinding and side-to-side movement. Our token canine teeth are pitifully small when compared to the canines of even pure herbivores such as horses, gorillas, or hippos and in no way resemble the canines of a carnivore or true omnivore such as a bear or a raccoon.

4. Enzymes in saliva

Like herbivores we have well developed salivary glands in our mouths to pre-digest grains, fruits and nuts. Our saliva is alkaline. In contrast carnivores and true omnivores have very small salivary glands with few enzymes in the saliva and the saliva itself is acidic.

5. Intestinal length

Our intestines are 10 times our body length an adaptation to ensure the complete digestion of plant foods. By contrast carnivores have very short intestines – about 3 times body length – to rapidly pass through quickly decaying flesh. Carnivores and true omnivores don’t need dietary fiber to move food through their short and smooth digestive tracts – humans, like herbivores, need dietary fiber to help move food through their long and bumpy digestive tracts.

6. Stomach acidity

Like herbivores our stomach acid content is 20 times weaker than that of carnivores. Carnivores need high stomach acidity to digest tough animal tissue and bones.

7. Cholesterol

With such elevated acidity, true carnivores and omnivores cope very well with the high levels of cholesterol and uric acid in meat. By contrast humans manufacture all the cholesterol they need internally and cope very poorly with cholesterol in meat. The release of additional acid, that is required to force the digestion of meat, results in both acid reflux as well as the drawing of calcium from bones to try and re-balance the body’s pH.

8. Sleep length

Carnivores, on average, need about 14 hours of sleep per day. Humans at about 8 hours of sleep per day fit in very well with herbivorous animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs and hyraxes.

9. Lifespan

In the animal world herbivores such as elephants, horses and chimpanzees have the longest lifespans. Carnivores and true omnivores have much shorter lifespans. Humans have even longer lifespans than elephants, horses or chimpanzees.

10. Protein content in mother's milk and newborn development

At 1.6% human breast milk has among the lowest average protein content of any animal. Human newborns also take about the longest time to double their birth weight at about 180 days. These characteristics are at the extreme end of the development scale with typical herbivores coming after that. At the other end of the development scale a cat’s breast milk contains an average of about 9.5% protein and newborn cats will double their birth weight in about 7 days.

11. Thermostasis

Carnivores and true omnivores do not have any sweat glands. They cool themselves by panting. Humans, like herbivores have millions of sweat pores on their skin.

12. Performance

Carnivores fueled on a diet of meat can sprint fast for a short while (minutes) before tiring out. Humans fueled on complex carbohydrates are among the best long-distance runners of any animal in the world -with endurance measured in days. More and more world-class athletes are turning to veganism to excel.

We Can Make a Choice

Even if humans are adaptable omnivores we can still choose to eat vegan. Vegan choices are ethically the right choice, ideal for our health, and far better for the health of the planet.