GeriMorgan goes Toe-to-Toe with GoVeg.

February 4, 2009

Greetings, dear friends.  Today I am going to talk about vegetarianism.  Specifically, I am going to challenge GoVeg.com’s claim that humans are natural herbivores.  I will not be inserting my opinion into this article.  I will merely compare fact with fact.

So let’s just dive right in and get started, eh?

GoVeg says:

According to biologists and anthropologists who study our anatomy and our evolutionary history, humans are herbivores who are not well suited to eating meat.

Unlike natural carnivores, we are physically and psychologically unable to rip animals limb from limb and eat and digest their raw flesh.

Who-ho-hoa!  Second paragraph and they’ve already made a mistake.  While humans are incapable of tearing animals limb from limb, we are perfectly capable of digesting raw meat, as long as the meat has not been contaminated by dangerous bacteria. Such contamination is easily avoided by proper gutting and handling of the carcass.

Also, I don’t know if this was what they intended, but this statement claims that an animal must be capable of ripping another animal limb-from-limb to eat it.  But several wild predators, including owls, small cats, and chimpanzees, perform no such task.  Cats and owls are, of course, capable of easily killing an animal without the aid of tools, which does make them more natural-seeming predators than humans.

Even cooked meat is likely to cause human beings, but not natural carnivores, to suffer from food poisoning, heart disease, and other ailments.

Even before I checked out their links, I detected something fishy.  Food poisoning, which they claim is  a direct result of eating meat, comes from eating food that has been contaminated with certain bacteria – bacteria which can be and has been found on either meat or plants.

The claim that meat causes heart disease is also based on faulty evidence.  While it is true that the clogging of arteries and high cholesterol are directly related to heart disease, recent scientific studies have revealed that these problems are caused by consuming hydrogenated fats, or trans fats.  In fact, other studies suggest that a diet rich in meat can help to reduce the levels of dangerous cholesterol in your body.  (Not that a vegetarian lifestyle is incapable of having benefits, but they are not nearly as certain as GoVeg asserts.)

People who pride themselves on being part of the human hunter tradition should take a second look at the story of human evolution. Prehistoric evidence indicates that humans developed hunting skills relatively recently and that most of our short, meat-eating past was spent scavenging and eating almost anything in order to survive; even then, meat was a tiny part of our caloric intake.

I assume that GoVeg is referring to pre-Ice Age humans (and likely pre-human species) who, living in a warm and welcoming climate, found plenty of readily-available plant matter.  This is a correct statement.  However, the evidence found by archaeologists does not support their other claim, which is that these early humans ate nothing but plants.  In fact, our stone-wielding ancestors have included meat in their diet for the past two and a half million years.  After that long of a period of almost always eating some meat, they would certainly have evolved to support it, and the diet of their predecessors cannot be considered reliable evidence.  Using the same argument, one could declare that panda bears are not natural vegetarians, because although their bodies have changed to support their mostly-vegetarian diet, their ancestors (and closest relatives) are meat-eaters.

The other claim is that meat only comprised a tiny portion of the human diet, and this may be true.  But the extension claim – that if you only eat a small amount, you don’t need to eat it at all – is most certainly not true.  Many animals eat a mostly-vegetarian diet, limiting meat to the rare times that they can get it or the few times that they need it (such as when pregnant or nursing).  While GoVeg would quickly paint them with a vegetarian brush, these quantities of animal flesh are significant and necessary to the animal’s welfare.  Animals will not typically continue to eat a food unless their body expresses a need for it.

During the worst of the Ice Age, of course, most northern humans ate large quantities of meat, as the frigid weather made plants scarce.

Humans lack both the physical characteristics of carnivores and the instinct that drives them to kill animals and devour their raw carcasses.

The validity of this statement is entirely dependent on two things: the idea that an animal can only be a carnivore or an herbivore, and the belief that an animal must have a full mouth of sharp teeth or a set of deadly claws to be a carnivore.

Again, scientific study reveals that this is not the case.  Perhaps the best example would be PETA’s favorite intelligent animal: the omnivorous pig.

Pigs are already compared quite frequently to humans, likely because they have similar body mass.  They also have a few other interesting things in common.  Like humans, they have no killer claws; they tromp about on small hooves entirely unsuited to hunting.  Also like humans, they lack an entire mouthful of sharp teeth – the rear sets have become plant-crushing molars.  Bears, another well-known omnivore, have a similar dental structure.

Of course, unlike pigs and bears, the front teeth of humans are not as obviously carnivorous – unlike the meat-tearing beauties of other species, our canines and incisors are short and rather nondescript.  I will not discount the possibility that this is a reaction to a plant-based diet.  But the lack of fangs is not a certain indicator; humans also lack the large shovel-like incisors common to plant-eating animals such as rabbits and horses, while mostly-herbivorous animals such as pandas and chimpanzees – and some entirely-herbivorous species, such as the fruit bat – still have prominent canines. (On the other side of the spectrum, omnivorous rats have very similar teeth to rabbits.)

I might suggest that the shape of the teeth is not as important as whether or not we are able to use them on our diet of choice.  By developing tools that enabled them to remove the meat from the carcass and separate it into serving-sized chunks (or smaller), early humans would have relieved their canines of their main purpose for existence.  At the same time, humans were discovering another use for their teeth – complex speech, which promotes social cooperation and would have only been hindered by oversized fangs.

The first vegetarian who tells me that tools are not a natural way to get food is going to have to answer to crows, chimpanzees, and otters.  Humans are only one of a number of species who have used their intelligence to compensate for a lack of relevant features.

As to the instinct bit… well, I only ask that GoVeg explain to me why humans started eating meat in the first place.  It wasn’t because meat farmers were trying to make money.

Ask yourself: When you see dead animals on the side of the road, are you tempted to stop for a snack? Does the sight of a dead bird make you salivate? Do you daydream about killing cows with your bare hands and eating them raw?

All right.  At this point, all scientific arguments are off; this is a battle of sheer smart-aleck attitude, and I will meet the challenge accordingly.

Ask yourself: When you see someone’s lawn, are you tempted to stop for a snack?  Does the sight of a withered bunch of carrots make you salivate?  Do you daydream about picking rice with your bare hands and eating it raw?  If you answered “no” to all of these questions – congratulations, you’re a normal human carnivore, like it or not.  Humans were simply not designed to live on vegetables.  Or, more accurately, the three questions listed above do not pose accurate situations.  While most carnivores would certainly answer “yes” to #3, very few could agree with the first two statements.  Rotting flesh is not particularly popular in the gamekiller world.

By the way, GoVeg, I answered “yes” to your third question.  Raw beef is fantastic.


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