Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
16 Dec

In Defense of Meat Eaters, Part 1: The Evolutionary Angle

meat1Meat is murder.

Meat will clog your arteries.

Meat is an unnatural food.

Man is really an herbivore.

Meat will give you cancer.

Meat is bad for the environment.

It’s easy to forget that these are the common arguments leveled against meat-eaters. It’s easy to forget that most of the developed world assumes meat is inherently unhealthy – for our health, for the environment, and for animals. It’s easy to forget these things because, as Primal Blueprinters, we’re immersed in the literature and are actively involved in what we eat. To that end we understand that man evolved eating meat, that meat is an important part of a healthy human diet, and that meat production doesn’t have to be the unsustainable, industrialized monster it’s mostly become (and which rightly garners the most negative press). Still, what is the average meat eater to say in opposition to these charges?

First, when people condemn meat-eating, they aren’t actually railing against Primal eaters. They’re fighting a bogeyman, a perverted corruption of what a real meat-eater constitutes. They see the slaughterhouse-porn videos and assume that’s how it always goes down. You mention you eat a high-fat, high-animal food diet, and all they see is E. coli-contaminated blood on your hands. You mention something about local farms and pastured animals, but all they hear is the imagined cries of slaughtered calves, fattened on corn and soy that could have fed starving children. You smell the seared gristle and delicious beefy scent of a grilling steak, while they can smell only the excessive methane flatulence of a cow on a junk food diet. Now I don’t mean to paint an unfair or inaccurate portrait of your average anti-meat activist. But the fact remains that many simply have a viscerally negative reaction to the very idea of meat eating. They see the horrible conditions on factory farms and can think of nothing else. It makes sense, actually; I cringe (and wrinkle my nose) whenever I drive by that CAFO in Coalinga on I-5 heading to northern California, for example. If that’s all they see, I can’t say I blame them for being intolerant of meat-eating.

Still, it’s largely an emotional argument against meat eating, and that can be easily countered with real facts and awareness. By definition, an emotive argument shuns reason (when it conflicts) and clings to straws that bolster the emotion. The passionate anti-meat activist even carries a static arsenal of factoids and soundbites that sound true and gel with Conventional Wisdom. They might sound sensible, but they crumble under close scrutiny. My personal favorites are the anti-meat arguments that invoke human evolution as justification, simply because they’re so specious and so easy to counter. Let’s take a look…

Man is really an herbivore.

They love pulling this one. Fruitarians point to the fruit-loving chimps as proof – they’re our closest living relatives (though not as close as the purely carnivorous Neanderthals were, not that they’d acknowledge that little fact) and they eat a diet of roughly 70% fruit, with some insects and other plant matter thrown in. If they’re our closest living relatives, doesn’t it follow that our diet should be pretty similar to theirs? I dunno about you, but I consider six million years of evolutionary change to be a pretty significant amount of time. Oh, and don’t tell them about those chimps that actively hunt monkeys and other apes for fresh, raw meat. Just show them this video instead.

A lot can happen in six million years. Why, it might even be enough time – theoretically, of course – for a hominid to develop a big brain, hands with a precision grip that facilitated tool development, a fully bipedal gait with proper weight transmission at the ankles, mastery over fire, and a fully-fledged linguistic system. But no, six million years isn’t enough time for hominids to adapt to eating meat.

In reality, of course, meat fueled our evolution, as you’ll see in a bit. We are obligate omnivores, if not closet carnivores (if we have to).

But wait – what about our eight times body length small intestine? Carnivores’ small intestines are around three times their body length, while herbivores have much longer ones, right?

Actually, when measured from ass to mouth (the real distance that matters), our 8 to 1 ratio lies roughly in the middle of the pack between obligate carnivores like dogs (3.5 to 1) and cats (3 to 1), and herbivores like cows (20 to 1) and horses (12 to 1). How perfect is that? The obligate omnivore is nestled right in between the carnivore and the herbivore.

Besides, intestinal length isn’t even the best way to determine dietary need. An animal’s particular arsenal of digestive organs is. Actual herbivores have special organs designated for breaking down cellulose – multi-compartmental stomachs, for example. We have but one, and it absolutely cannot break down cellulose to any significant degree. If we were herbivores, we might even have rabbit-like cecums, highly developed digestive sacs that do the brunt of the digestive work for hindgut digesters. I almost wish we had that capability, if only for the advantage of cecotropes – fecal pellets high in vitamins, nutrients, and proteins that rabbits expel for later consumption. Delicious.

Our measly little stomachs can’t handle all that fiber. If a person really wanted to be a true herbivore, he or she’d have to chew cud for hours (that’s why cows are known for chewing cud – it’s a way to predigest all that tough stuff), vomit it up after a little digestive work in the stomach, and repeat the process. Thanks, but I’ll just take some steak with my salad.

And, like clockwork, they interrupt with:

Okay, maybe we did eat some meat, but we were scavengers fighting over scraps. Meat wasn’t a big part of our diet!

Not if you believe the fossil evidence that shows hominids actually manipulated bones “on which flesh was abundant… rather than defleshed from field kills.” We weren’t just starving opportunists. We actively hunted animals, large and small, to obtain large amounts of meat and fat. The only way to get your hands on an intact carcass loaded with delicious flesh – as the evidence clearly shows our ancestors did so on a regular basis – is to kill it yourself. Waiting around for the lions to have their share is hyena territory, scavenger stuff. You don’t become the ultimate predator and propagate your species across the entire globe by solely scavenging for bone scraps – although we did plenty of that, too, as fossil records show evidence of bone marrow extraction from two million years ago using complex stone tools.

If we were meant to eat meat, we’d have claws and big fangs.

Tool-making and large brains are as much an inseparable part of humanity as claws and fangs are of lions. You might argue that claws and fangs “make” the lion, because without them they would die out. Tools and big brains make the man. You can’t take tools away simply because they aren’t a physiological member attached to our bodies; tool making is an integral aspect of human evolution. Our hands and brains make tool usage possible. Think of our tools, our weapons, our hands, and our big brains as our “claws and big fangs.”And as I mentioned earlier, we’ve been using those technological “claws and big fangs” to obtain meat and marrow for at least two million years, plenty of time for tools to become an essential aspect of our human-ness.

Besides, we aren’t arguing that man is purely carnivorous. He certainly can be, but the point of contention is whether meat is a natural part of the human diet. It clearly is. Throwing in shoddy comparisons to actual carnivores like lions and tigers is dishonest and only serves to muddy the waters.

And so, it’s not that we were “meant” to eat meat. It’s simply that we evolved eating meat. Meat represented a reliable source of dense caloric energy packed with nutrients and vitamins essential to our prosperity. Big brains (the existence of which, I’m hoping, even the most ardent vegetarians don’t argue against) were made possible by the consumption of meat, organs, and other nutrient-rich animal products. Instead of spending all their metabolic energy processing cellulose and plant matter, our ancestors turned to a high-meat diet, which utilized fat-soluble vitamins (already converted into the forms we can best take advantage of) and meant energy could be diverted away from a big fermenting pot of a stomach and toward fueling their massive brains. Our brains eat up about 25% of our basal metabolic rate, compared to 8-10% for the apes who eat far less animal matter. Our brains are large and our guts (well, sometimes) are small and bereft of cellulose-consuming bacteria, while a gorilla’s brain is relatively small and its gut enormous and well-equipped with the proper bacteria. How else are they supposed to process all that plant matter?

Easy to digest meat and fat made our big brains possible. I’m not saying vegetarianism makes people stupid, because it doesn’t. I’m just saying they should give credit where credit’s due. You’re able to ruminate on the horrors of meat eating and “articulate” your arguments for a very simple reason: your ancestors ate a ton of fresh, bloody meat and animal fat. Just be glad they didn’t share your dietary proclivities, or else you’d be ruminating on actual grass, twigs, and sticks instead of enjoying culture, language, music, and the other accomplishments of mankind’s big ass brain.

And that about sums up the evolutionary anti-meat angle. It sounds compelling, if all you’ve got under your belt is a semester of high school biology, but it crumbles under real scrutiny.

Tomorrow, we’ll explore a couple other arguments, but for now, let’s discuss any other examples of pseudo-scientific anti-meat talking points grounded in faulty evolutionary science. I’m sure I missed a few…

Read Part II: In Defense of Meat Eaters – Animal and Human Well-Being

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Don’t forget that we also have canine teeth – albeit, not like wolves or big cats, but they are there for a reason and are quite useful in tearing up a good, juicy steak!

    vargas wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • Mmmm, gorillas and chimps have quite impressive canines…

      pieter d wrote on December 16th, 2009
      • Gorillas and chimps hunt for meat, so need the impressive canines.

        Karen Vaughan wrote on December 19th, 2009
        • Gorillas don’t eat meat.

          Seb wrote on January 8th, 2011
      • Gorillas most certainly do not hunt meat! Primate canines are not functional except as sexual and aggressive displays. Humans do not have enlarged canines.

        Davy wrote on December 25th, 2009
        • using gorillas as an example of primates with canines that do not eat meat is debatable, at best. an article in National Geographic, for instance, takes up this very question.

          http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/03/100305-first-proof-gorillas-eat-monkeys-mammals-feces-dna/

          one must also recall that we [humans] did not evolve from gorillas, but that both humans and gorillas evolved from a common, and very probably omnivorous, primate ancestor. chimps have been well documented as voracious hunters and eaters of meat when they so desire.

          all primates, from our current lineage back through the fossil record of primates that have been discovered so far, show signs of some vestige of carnivorous activity.

          it is probably safe to refer to humans as opportunistic omnivores, but to claim that humans as a species are supposed to be herbivores goes against everything we know of our own evolution.

          rtabish wrote on August 3rd, 2012
    • but if we are sophisticated modern humans, we lack the instinct to kill and eat animals. if we were real carnivores we wouldnt turn up our nose at fresh roadkill, or eating the family pet.

      hahahahaha roflmao. that always gets me as the first deer I ate was hit by a car in front of me and left with a broken leg. I cut it’s throat, threw it in the back and brought it home to cut up. have eaten good softshell turtle and rattlesnake as fresh roadkill, but never hunted them. and yes I have no qualms eating dog or bunny or goldfish or any other “pet”.

      I like the subtle subtext they use: if I eat raw meat and pets and roadkill, I must not be a sophisticated modern human. this particular argument is unfalsifiable.

      jon w wrote on December 16th, 2009
      • oops, above post was not meant to be a reply. anyway, about teeth.

        I find the best use of my back “herbivore” teeth is for crunching bones and exoskeletons so they dont have anymore sharp edges, as well as grinding up animal skin and gristle into swallowable chunks. funny how the “herbivore adaptation” often cited by veg heads helps to get the most nutrients out of animal parts.

        jon w wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • “Tool-making and large brains are as much an inseparable part of humanity as claws and fangs are of lions.”

      There seems to be some looping logic here. Many papers say we developed large brains BECAUSE we ate meat. This guy is saying we have large brains to make tools to capture the meat to eat. Which one came first? If we had smaller brains we couldn’t capture meat because we were dumb and couldn’t make tools. We certainly didn’t/don’t have body features to capture any meat like a lion. We can’t rely on any physical attributes to capture meat.

      Rick wrote on June 25th, 2012
      • Environmental pressures forced us to search out new food (meat). We did not have the natural tools (claws) for it. We (meaning homo habilis) had to either die, or pick up a sharp rock to slice the meat free and escape scavengers. Many probably did die, but it just required *one* to figure out the sharp rock and get the meat, others just copy behavior. After that brains get rapidly bigger and jaw/gut gets smaller, it’s all about energy dense easy to digest food (meat).

        It’s not hard, but there is a slight “chicken or egg”. How did we get smart enough to use the rock without the meat first? The answer is necessity is the mother of invention. Those who didn’t figure it out are not in our blood line.

        Kimchi wrote on July 6th, 2013
  2. “Still, it’s largely an emotional argument against meat eating, and that can be easily countered with real facts and awareness. By definition, an emotive argument shuns reason (when it conflicts) and clings to straws that bolster the emotion.”

    I don’t disagree with this assessment, but the issue at hand is the question Is killing animals for food wrong or not? That is a moral question and if you take a side one way or the other, with a commitment to avoid appeals to emotion, then you are necessarily committing yourself to some objective view of morality. And I’m not so sure there is one. After all what argument against killing people at random does not, strictly speaking, appeal to emotion? Rather than shooting down simpleminded arguments used by some anti meat eaters, you need to begin by establishing and defending this objective basis for morality, in my opinion.

    Most sophisticated anti meat eaters will argue along the lines that the business of morality is all about improving conditions for happiness and flourishing and ameliorating suffering. Animals clearly have a capacity to suffer, therefore causing them unnecessary suffering is wrong. I tend to agree with this basic view of morality. But I don’t see it as an argument against eating meat, I see it as an argument in favor of eating meat raised and slaughter in the most humane way reasonably possible.

    InviQtus wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • True, the moral question is not so easy to tackle on objective grounds alone. But the issue at hand here was explicitly the arguments from human evolution, leaving other arguments (including perhaps the moral question, though it is a bit off-topic for this site) for a later post.

      Gunnlaugur Briem wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • Nature doesn’t care about morality.

      Kimchi wrote on July 6th, 2013
    • InviQtus: I am a vegan to. I agree with that it is all about a subjective moral choice that meat-eaters and vegans make.

      But your last sentence could have some more arguments. You say:
      “I tend to agree with this basic view of morality. But I don’t see it as an argument against eating meat, I see it as an argument in favor of eating meat raised and slaughter in the most humane way reasonably possible.”

      I also agree with this basic and simple view of morality. But I DO see it as an argument in favor of NOT eating meat.
      Why: because I am vegan for more then 10 years and I am extremely healthy and I even compete in amateur boxing. also there are societies that are vegan/vegetarian for many centuries and proven to be very healthy. So one can conclude that we do not need meat.
      And slaughtering an animal: there is always a change that it is accompanied with suffering. statistically if 7 billion people eat meat: it is IMPOSSIBLE TO PREVENT animal suffering. so logically speaking if we can agree to the basic view of morality (that we want to prevent suffering) we can not slaughter animals for meat.

      So your logic had it almost right, but not entirely.

      veritassemper wrote on July 17th, 2013
  3. Great post, Mark. Those chimps are intense!

    People always point out that apes are herbivores, and that we do not, at first glance, seem carnivorous at all.

    In one of your rebuttals to this, you touched on my favorite argument for meat consumption: The human digestive system.

    One of the most intriguing arguments is to tell them that the only reason we evolved bigger brains in the first place is because our intestines became smaller with the introduction of meat. You know, Kleiber’s law and all that.

    Martin wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • Chimps also hold little sticks in an ant trail or ant pile…letting them crawl up the stick. Once enough are on the stick the chimp licks the stick like we lick a straw…and the ants are gone:)

      Ants-on-a-stick! delicious….

      Suvetar wrote on April 13th, 2011
  4. Would there be any pigs left in the world if people didn’t eat them? What else are pigs good for? If we didn’t eat pigs, they would go extinct. Do vegetarians want that on their conscience?

    Dave wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • Au contraire!

      The pigs from the first Spanish settlers in Florida still have descendants running around. Texas has more wild boars than any other state. In both states they are considered nuisances because of the environmental damage to native animals.

      OnTheBayou wrote on December 16th, 2009
      • And my husband and I plan to put several of those nuisances in our freezer after a week-long hunting trip near Eagle Pass. Grocery store pork doesn’t hold a candle to these IMO.

        SLowe wrote on December 17th, 2009
  5. Great post! I am definately going to share this with my vegetarian friends :). You couldn’t have said it better.

    Sam wrote on December 16th, 2009
  6. “And so, it’s not that we were ‘meant’ to eat meat. It’s simply that we evolved eating meat.”

    I think this gets to the crux of the real argument. Most vegans (esp. raw dieters) would say if we weren’t meant to eat meat, then we shouldn’t if other sources are available. Killing animals with tools and cooking them is not the same as killing them with our hands/teeth (or scavanging for them) and eating whole chunks of flesh raw. The extremists would say the best diet tactic is throw out your stove. Blah blah blah. The debate will go on forever.

    I guess if we have gluten, nut, egg, dairy, and/or fructose allergies, we should just die off. Not sure how moral that stance is.

    Come to think of it, is there such a thing as a meat allergy?

    Honestly, I think for the most part man has been adapting food to him, rather than adapting to food. Cooking meat is part of this, but so is modifying and distributing fruits and vegetables from their original wild form. And with the intro of grains, everything is now thrown completely out of whack.

    In any case, what we are meant to eat or not based on someone’s chosen point in history is almost irrelevant today–from a nutritional and moral point of view.

    However, if we are finding sickness and disease are becoming more prevalent in society, we should at least begin to look at that newcomer called grains, rather than excuse it.

    Steve-O wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • Some of the common ancestors of humans and other primates seem to have evolved to eat meat, and it is speculated that this could have led to bigger brains and longer lives.

      However, about 2.2 million years ago, our ancestors lost the ability to properly metabolize Neu5Gc, which is very high in red meat. Neu5Gc causes acute inflammation in humans, and we are the only species of primate that does not produce it endogenously.

      Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the Mediterranean diet seems to work so well. The Mediterranean diet is low in red meat and contains a moderate amount of fish. Fish is low in Neu5Gc.

      So my guess is that our ancestors did evolve to eat meat which led to bigger brains and longer lives, as the Paleo diet claims, however we later switched away from a meat-centered diet and yet kept the evolutionary gifts from our brutish past.
      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/3346666/Mystery-of-the-meat-eaters-molecule.html

      Neu5Gc wrote on December 16th, 2009
      • Did you ignore these parts of the article:

        ‘Prof Varki stresses, however, that “we have not proven any link to disease, just suggested that it is something to explore”.’

        That’s good, because I’d like to see the explanation for why the Inuit, some of whom subsisted mostly on caribou (i.e. red meat), were never observed to have developed significant amounts of heart disease, or any other disease of civilization until they switched from traditional to Western diets.

        ‘They found that we are the only primates whose bodies do not produce Neu5Gc – although further research established that our Neanderthal cousins were missing this version of the sugar acid, too.’

        Note: Neanderthals were purely carnivorous, and likely did not eat much fish.

        Also, as far as I know, homo sapiens did not begin to eat seafood until relatively recently, much later than 2.2 Ma. Also, the Mediterranean diet is not uniquely healthful; in most prospective trials, IIRC, it does slightly worse than a standard low-carb diet on markers of health.

        Icarus wrote on December 16th, 2009
      • Also, we did not evolve eating just the red meat anyways. Why throw away all the bone marrow (bone marrow has the correct balance of ALL minerals to neutralize ph btw), soft cartilage, eyeballs, heart, liver, brain?

        A balanced carnivorous diet would include most everything of an animal.

        Central Europe has wild boar, deer, used to have elk, different breeds of rabbits (Kaninchen, Feldhase, etc..), wild turkey, brown trout, probably salmon, other little fish, beaver, squirrel, reindeer up north, and the organs and bone marrow of all the above.

        It takes only small amounts of plant matter as in little parsley to counter the slight acidic effects of RAW meat…kinda like what dogs do to balance ph. Plus there were no super clean kitchens, meat was dragged through dirt and clay which is loaded with minerals, which can only turned into chelated minerals through saturated fat! Dirt has a highly alkaline ph.

        We humans chelate rock minerals through saturated animal fats! Now if that isn’t proof enough I don’t know what is.
        Also, plant matter has K1…which is turned into the bio-available K2 through an herbivores digestive system and deposited in various areas in the body e.g. glands.
        Humans can barely turn K1 into K2, much of it is lost. You’d have to graze ALL day forever to turn enough K1 into K2 to sustain perfect health.
        What more proof do we need.

        Suvetar wrote on April 13th, 2011
    • “Man has been adapting food to him, rather than adapting to food.”

      Succinct but powerful truth.

      Jack Christopher wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • Those allergies are mostly a result of the way we eat and produce foods. Take brazil nut for example, some time ago almost nobody was allegic to it, but since it contain GMO alot of people became allegic to it!

      Gluten, dairy, and fructose aren’t allegies (exept when you absorp the protein (when you don’t break don’t those protein into amino acids)) they’re food intolerence or digestive problems.

      Seb wrote on January 8th, 2011
  7. This is just awesome; I love it.

    You’re dead-on when you talk about the growing bias against meat-eating, especially in our touchy-feely, divorced from nature society. (I’ve got nothing against being touchy-feely, by the way; just noting that “sensitive” is now often equated with “weak”, and how much we’ve lost touch with the facts of the natural order.) When I tell people I eat meat, I always hold my breath, waiting for the looks of disdain, because of all the times I’ve been judged by ill-informed vegetarians. Isn’t that cracked?

    I’m definitely looking forward to the sequels to this post.

    AdamKayce wrote on December 16th, 2009
  8. I’ve found that presenting facts to vegetarians doesn’t work. They argue from an emotional slant, and you can introduce all the facts that you want, but you an’t overcome the fact that they’ve fallen for the “cute factor” of animals, and that’s why they don’t eat them. They’re just too darn cute. They’re many times PETA members, and don’t get me started on them! I got an email from their fearless leader once after posing a (politely worded) question, and her response dripped in self-righteousness. I let my energy and body speak for me now. A picture (or live body) is worth a thousand words.

    Dave, RN wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • Right on. We should start our counter group MEATAA (Meat Ethically Acquired To Appease Appetite).

      Aaron Blaisdell wrote on December 16th, 2009
      • None needed, I tell vegans I’m a member of PETA, “People Eating Tasty Animals” that is. They usually politely end the conversation!

        DTC wrote on March 8th, 2011
    • I’m a vegetarian and I feel like the way you are speaking about vegetarians and rude and offensive and I never speak this way about people who choose to eat meat. I personally choose not to eat meat for many reasons. I think that the way may meat is produced now is so wrong its not even funny and believe that we eat TOO much meat in modern times, too much for the planet to handle. I also do not eat flesh for moral reasons. But I have not fallen for the “cute factor” of animals. I just feel that we do not NEED meat, but can eat it if we choose. I am an educated vegetarian and know that meat has been integral to our evolution but regardless would never eat it. I think you should re-evaluate your view of vegetarians and vegans.

      Cara wrote on February 11th, 2013
    • Oh, and I cannot stand PETA, and cannot stand that people seem to believe they are the spokespeople for ALL vegetarians and vegans, they’re not. You’ll find that most educated vegetarians and vegans do not endorse PETA as well.

      Cara wrote on February 11th, 2013
    • Ok. I’ not power from emotions. I adopted a vegetarian diet for health reasons. I arrived at 50, not overweight. I’ve been exercising non stop all my life from the age of 6, swimmers from primary school up to college, then later I picked up weight training and running. I’ve been running every week for the past 25 years and lifting. Again I was never overweight and never smoked. Last year my cholesterol was 260. I brought it down to 137 by giving up all animal products. I will not have the arrogance to tell my doctor and the medical establishment that his education is bullshit and that actually cholesterol level don’t matter. In the same way I will believe specialist in aeronautics when they build planes that I trust to take, I will trust the world medical establishment that tells me that my cholesterol level should be lower than 180. I think you see my point. I simply can’t go around in my life doubting the knowledge of each specialist in their respective field. It’s not practical. I believe it when physicists tell me the speed of light is 300 000 kms/second, I don’t know and don’t have time to verify it. So, I’m going to assume that my cholesterol at 260 was bad. Do yo have any suggestion why, if I’m coming from a meat eating creature, I developped hight cholesterolemy? After removing all meat, I bench press the same, run better. I understand the B12 argument, but what should I do? Stop eating meat? Put it back in my diet? Please, help? I’ve also learnt that cats and dogs can’t be used in lab experiments to develop plaque in their arteries, but rabbits and humans and other non meat eaters can. So please, help me here. I do miss meat, but I don’t want to kill myself before the age of 60 and I wont’ take lipitor, dont’ like the list of side effect? What’s a guy like me to do?

      Philippe Orlando wrote on May 21st, 2013
  9. I think there’s a lot of vegetarians that actually frequent this site and other paleo blogs. I think vegetarianism is a lot of things to a lot of people. For some of us it is thousands of years of cultural and religious tradition not some new trend of the decade. So it’s going to be really hard to argue with someone’s religion, I mean whole wars fought over that kind of stuff.

    One of the problems I have with other vegetarians, or vegetarian options at a restaurant, is trying to get enough protein in my meal. I’m not sure why this is the case, but every vegetarian meal (outside of an Indian restaurant) is nothing but starch. India might not have the best dietary track record, but at least as a culture that has had a number of vegetarians for thousands of years and the heavy reliance on lentils helps the protein needs. It’s unfortunate that even my recently turned vegetarian friends haven’t figured out how easy (and tasty) lentils can be.

    Mark, since your family used to be mostly vegetarian I assume you share this observation? What kind of dietary advice do you have for vegetarians like these to increase protein intake? In India the majority of vegetarians do not consume eggs (as these are considered meat) but do consume dairy, and a large amount of lentils (masoor, channa, etc.)

    Meena wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • Mark Sisson wrote on December 16th, 2009
      • “And so, it’s not that we were “meant” to eat meat. It’s simply that we evolved eating meat. ”

        Hey Mark, did you ever study Evolutionary Biology, or read Richard Dawkins?

        You have a great grasp of how evolution actually works….

        Great post….

        as always….

        Joseph

        Joseph Michael wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • Grains were commonly used for religious rituals for thousands of years, too, and the Judeo-Christian bible, to pick just one example, mentions grains and grain-based foods (i.e. bread) many times. The eating of grain is undoubtedly an older practice than vegetarianism is in H. sapiens, as far as that goes.

      Also, are you intimating that one should never argue against a religious position simply because wars have been fought over religion? So, basically, I’m not allowed to argue against stoning children or slavery because the Torah/Old Testament (whatever you want to call it) mentions such practices as being permissible in certain situations? Nevermind eating shellfish or pork…

      Icarus wrote on December 16th, 2009
      • You are free to argue, but I think when things come to religious principles you have to accept that your arguments may fall on deaf ears. Religion doesn’t really exist in the realm of logic, so logically arguments won’t work for a lot of people if that is their primary motivation.

        Meena wrote on December 16th, 2009
        • Oh, personally, I’m totally fine with vegetarianism for religious/cultural reasons (and, incidentally, vegetarianism amongst those with a distaste for meat.) I just don’t think those are reasonable arguments in favor of vegetarianism, just like religious prescriptions for meat-eating (or a taste for meat) would not be valid arguments for carnivory/omnivory. Misunderstanding on my part :)

          Icarus wrote on December 16th, 2009
      • Grains were actually God’s punishment when Adam and Eve were cast out of The Garden of Eden and had to fend for themselves

        Ric wrote on December 22nd, 2009
        • Hey Ric I found this statement about grains being part of God’s punishment for Adam & Eve fascinating, can you follow up with more info or suggested reading? Thanks

          Frank wrote on December 5th, 2010
  10. Life forms eating other life forms is how capital-l Life continues itself. As far as I can tell, this system has been working pretty damn well for, oh, 3 billion years? 4 billion? I see no reason to mess with it.

    Anywho, here are a couple of specific evolutionary points in favor of meat eating:
    -Strictly speaking, none of the great apes (our taxonomic family) are herbivorous, as gorillas eat insects and orangutans eat insects and bird eggs. Insects are, in fact, animals, which makes all the great apes omnivorous.
    -Taurine: humans have a limited ability to produce the stuff, as do dogs, while herbivores can manufacture all the taurine they need. Cats, the strictest carnivores, famously cannot produce any taurine at all, and they will go blind and/or suffer heart problems as a result. Vegans, notably, have lower levels of taurine than the general human population. Taurine is not available, or is extremely low, in plants, but animals are rich in taurine.
    -Vitamin A: humans only have a limited capacity to convert beta carotene to vitamin A, and this varies from individual to individual to the point that certain people may have to obtain vitamin A in its final form – retinol. Retinol is, of course, only found in liver and animal fats (yolk and milkfat) because herbivores have no problems with the conversion.
    -Vitamin B12: Herbivores tend to obtain this vitamin by absorbing it through their intestinal tract or redigesting specialized feces (i.e. cecotrophy). Humans can do neither. There are no real plant sources of B12, and you’d have to ingest unreasonably large amounts of un-fortified brewer’s yeast, aka vegemite, to obtain the necessary amounts. Severe B12 deficiency will eventually lead to mental problems and death, though the symptoms may be masked for a while because the liver has large stores of the vitamin. (Not in children, though.) This is, natch, one of the more well-known (and rock solid) objections to vegetarianism, especially veganism. (By the way, eggs contain a factor that inhibits B12 absorption and milk was not available in the human diet, past childhood, until 10k years ago. But milk and eggs are animal products, last I checked, and do not come from plants. Maybe I’m wrong.)
    -There are no essential nutrients for humans, vitamin C included, that cannot be found on the carcass of an animal.
    -It’s sometimes argued that the Inuit and the Masai have some sort of “special” genetic adaptation that allowed them to live entirely on animal products. This argument is hard to take when, according to Steffanson, explorers of European, American, Polynesian, and African heritage lived with the Inuit and ate their diet in perfect health. The Plains Indians also survived for long periods of time on buffalo only, or on buffalo-derived pemmican, as did European fur traders who lived on the plains.
    -Haem iron, as opposed to non-haem iron, is only found in significant quantities in meat. The human intestinal tract has specific receptors for haem iron. If haem iron was not available in large quantities of meat during our evolution, then why would our guts have receptors exclusively intended for it?

    In short, I just can’t see that humans are herbivores if we cannot obtain, or adequately synthesize, every essential nutrient from plants. On the other hand, we CAN get all essential nutrients from animal products. Nevermind that other than regionally-specific plants (soy, quinoa) protein quantity and quality in plants is generally very poor. Humans, like dogs, seem to be digestive omnivores (dogs have similar digestive systems), but can (and sometimes must) function perfectly well on a carnivorous diet.

    Icarus wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • Hey Icarus, great reply!! I just wanna point out one thing, only the egg white portion of RAW eggs has that nutrient that blocks B12 absorption. Cooking eggs, or eating only the egg yolks (cooked or raw) has none of the B12 blocking effect. Just wanted to add that, but really great reply though.

      To you Mark, and all of you as well, this is a great article with very top-notch readers. I am a long-time lurker, and this is my first time that I felt compelled to post. Great site Mark! Keep up the good work.

      Steve-O wrote on December 18th, 2009
    • I see what you’re trying to say. But I would like to point out that the B12 deficiency is a modern deficiency. When we were mainly plant-based hunter-gatherers we were getting plenty of B12 from running water and plants as B12 is a soil based nutrient as only bacteria can synthesise it. Now our water is treated to excess and our soils are only ever replaced with NPK so our plants are deficient in B12 and many other vitamins and minerals. Oh, and we can reabsorb B12 just like animals, but not quite as much.

      I am a vegetarian who eats a varied diet, and I have never been deficient in any nutrient, including iron, and my B12 levels are perfect, B12 can be obtained in good quantities in fermented foods. I’m not trying to go all “don’t eat meat, be a vego” on you, I don’t do that, but I feel like you’re off base with your section on B12.

      Cara wrote on February 11th, 2013
  11. “Most sophisticated anti meat eaters will argue along the lines that the business of morality is all about improving conditions for happiness and flourishing and ameliorating suffering.”

    InviQtus, that is because most sophisticated anti meat eaters hold consequentialist views on morality, which make them subject problems like: why happiness should even be the greatest end (as apposed to beauty, love or some action being an end in itself), what if happiness of animals and humans are incommensurable (which is to say: is it actually ok for one human to die for any certain number of animals?) Also, how is it possible to determine the total net happiness? (what if conditions that seam to produce the greatest happiness today yield less in the long run?) What if we explicitly try to produce the least happiness but, by some unintended consequence yield the greatest? Does that make us right, regardless of our intentions?

    Wyatt wrote on December 16th, 2009
  12. Neu5Gc,

    My girlfriend is Moroccan and eats red meat with her family often.

    Wyatt wrote on December 16th, 2009
  13. I used to snicker-sneer at the herbivores often, but since reducing my meat intake tremendously, I feel better, lighter, more energetic.

    This wasn’t done purposely, just a gradual evolution once incorporating more whole grains, fruits and veggies.

    My body stopped screaming for meat as a necessity. Yet I am still carnivore, just the lighter kind.

    P.S. My husband has fangs and claws. Vampire.

    Yum Yucky wrote on December 16th, 2009
  14. Keep on preaching mark! I eat this stuff up like I do bacon & eggs cooked in coconut oil!!

    Evan wrote on December 16th, 2009
  15. This is wonderful and goes along perfectly with Dr. Eades “Are we meat eaters or vegetarians” (http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/peta-cspi-and-other-menaces/are-we-meat-eaters-or-vegetarians-part-i/)

    Thanks for such a great post!

    Mark wrote on December 16th, 2009
  16. I just tell vegetarians to watch the nature channel. Or “Survivor” right around the 2 week mark when all the contestants really get hungry, and the most ardent vegetarian, ‘girly-girl’ ends up killing a rat with a stick and eats it because self-preservation compels her to. It’s easy to be a vegetarian when you’re FULL.

    fixed gear wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • Regarding the “nature channel,” it’s worth noting that there are, as far as I know, no extant hunter-gatherer societies who are vegetarians.

      Icarus wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • Well said! I wish I’d have thought of “it’s easy to be a vegetarian when your’re FULL”

      Dave, RN wrote on December 16th, 2009
  17. Meat eating gives human nearly twice the average life-span of ape’s.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34433388/ns/technology_and_science-science/

    Johnny

    Johnny at The Lean Saloon wrote on December 16th, 2009
  18. My wife’s friend has been a vegan for over 2 decades, based on not health but the unethical raising and manufacturing of animal meats. It’s a political statement (though I think it’s more a religious proclamation) against the meat industry. I respect that.

    But when she made the decision to become a vegan and for boycotting, there was not much option or easy access to responsible animal farming and husbandry as there are now. If she wants to send a message to the large-industry meat growers and manufacturers, then do so by becoming a consumer of small, local meat farmers. What a terrible waste of a powerful message otherwise.

    Johnny at The Lean Saloon wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • Maybe your wife’s friend doesn’t find it within her values to be a part of the slaughter of animals in general. As twisted as it is I understand your claim for her actions to be a waste of a message but she’s speaking even louder because she is boycotting the meat industry all together. Also, if you understand her reasoning for not eating meat based on the factory farming logic, then have you considered buying cruelty-free meat as well? Keep in mind though – the animals that are raised on these local farms, if in any quantity are still being sent to the same slaughterhouses that the factory-raised animals are being sent to – another horror in-and-of itself.

      Heather wrote on January 6th, 2010
  19. Nice to read this with a stomach full of tasty Korean beef bbq and veggies! I look forward to part 2.

    Chris wrote on December 16th, 2009
  20. What a great coincidence, Mark.

    Had been working on this post all morning from an article I was emailed, just posted it and tweeted it, then looked over and saw yours announced on Facebook.

    Hope this complements:

    http://freetheanimal.com/2009/12/human-lifespan-another-potential-link-to-early-fat-meat-scavenging.html

    Richard Nikoley wrote on December 16th, 2009
  21. How timely. Here’s a related article from MSNBC:
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34433388/ns/technology_and_science-science/

    Uncle Herniation wrote on December 16th, 2009
  22. “InviQtus, that is because most sophisticated anti meat eaters hold consequentialist views on morality, which make them subject problems like:…”

    Wyatt, I agree with your list of problems associated with consequentialist views of ethics. My point in mentioning it is only to show that many who are opposed to using animals for food have, if not compelling, at least less embarrassing arguments than the ones shot down in Mark’s blog post. With regard to consequentialism, though, I would say that while your objections should be kept in mind, I am unaware of any ethical theory not open to a similar host of objections. That said, we are highly social beings and we cannot maintain functional societies without a workable view on how to treat other beings effected by our actions. Consequentialism seems to me to be the most consonant with the way most thoughtful people tend to decide moral issues and the view most conducive to maintaining healthy, functional societies. (Again, though, I don’t take it to be an argument against eating meat.)

    InviQtus wrote on December 16th, 2009
  23. “Consequentialism seems to me to be the most consonant with the way most thoughtful people tend to decide moral issues and the view most conducive to maintaining healthy, functional societies.”

    Well, I’d say that smart thieves are the very best at sorting out consequences, rather than operating from moral principles. After all, mere consequences go all ways. If mere consequences are the standard, then, consequences to whom?

    Thus, the most clever thieves can steal you blind all the while they’re making you believe that it’s to your benefit — that, or they guilt you into buying the “best for society” con and can take even more.

    Richard Nikoley wrote on December 16th, 2009
  24. Since I live in one of America’s most preachy-vegan-infested cities, this information is nice to have presented in a clear and concise manner. Bonus points for including phrase #1 of the top 10 phrases I never expected to see on this website… “ass to mouth.”

    countbeavertron wrote on December 16th, 2009
  25. Well, I’d like to just bring in a little theological question I have always had. Please don’t be alarmed atheists!! Only certain people believe evolution and christianity cannot co-exist, I am not one of those. It interests me however that we have evolved to eat meat, but haven’t evolved a completely ethical way of doing this. I myself am a huge meat consumer, but spent the majority of my life a vegetarian/vegan/raw vegan. When I was diagnosed with a tummy disorder raw veganism made me sicker and fatter than I have ever been, I took a metabolic test, taking my ethnicity into account (I’m American Indian) and started eating lots of meat and no dairy. I feel better, and truly feel like this way of eating is better for my body, but…if shalom is a restoration of the earth as it should be (no violence, poverty, crime etc) as we christians see it, is eating meat now as ethical as shooting someone in the name of Jesus? I’m a pacifist, and feel like that is not an area of real spiritual doubt, but the whole killing animals thing..still wondering about it. If anyone at all has anything interesting to add, feel free! I’d like to make a disclaimer that this is not about religion, I’m talking about these matters on a philosophical/ theological level.

    Jasetyn wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • Jasetyn:

      I’ve but a simple and straightforward question: as an American Indian, why would you take up the primitive philosophy (religion) of your conquerors?

      Language is one thing, as you have to get along and that’s the only practical means of doing so, but an unnecessary thing like virile, capable American Indians who forged that land and survived on their own for tens of thousands of years bowing to a myth of a crucified Jewish man?

      It offends and disappoints even me. Stand up, Woman! For your impressive heritage!

      Richard Nikoley wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • I don’t know about Christianity, but this is how some in Judaism see it:
      http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/858870/jewish/Judaism-and-Vegetarianism.htm

      I don’t think it is wrong to eat an animal if it is respected and elevated. I believe my body needs meat on a fundamental level, and I would not blame myself for eating it any more than I would blame a tiger for eating meat. The most important thing is to ensure that the animals we eat live happy, free lives and are killed as quickly and painlessly as possible.

      Gege wrote on April 25th, 2012
  26. I read the Book “Born to Run” and along with stating the obvious benefits of barefoot running and why we run McDougall goes into persistance hunting performed by the Masai tribe in Africa. Then he contradicts that whole thing with saying that a vegan life is what we really should stive for…huh? I believe he got everything right in that book except the vegan part…sad!!!

    Tab wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who picked up on this in the book… I’m reading it at the moment and was thoroughly confused by this. Other than that I think it’s a pretty good book.

      Squirrel Jo wrote on December 17th, 2009
  27. Regarding the raw meat argument I like what Don Matesz commented over at Free the Animal:

    “Just one point though, if you think it is natural to eat meat, you should eat meat like nature intended you to, raw. Just like EVERY other carnivore and omnivore.”

    Nice reasoning (sarcasm). Try this on for size:

    Just one point though, if you think it is natural to eat grains and legumes, you should eat grains and legumes like ‘nature intended you to,’ raw. Just like EVERY other gramnivore, e.g. birds.

    Joke’s on you. Humans can and do eat raw meat; but can’t eat grains raw.:
    http://freetheanimal.com/2009/12/is-there-really-any-such-thing-as-low-fat-eating.html#comments

    Sue wrote on December 16th, 2009
  28. I stepped into the world of eating raw meat earlier this week, and I must say it was probably THE best meal I’ve ever had. It fueled my body so perfectly. The meat was incredibly tender, I almost didn’t have to chew. Yes, there are risks, but with enough precaution I think I will continue to eat this way as often as I can. :)

    I <3 Meat.

    Diana Renata wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • eww…

      rd wrote on August 19th, 2011
  29. InviQtus, I agree with your statement and understand that you merely making observation. Utilitarianism does have an edge with most people because of its rooting in human psychology. That is to say, one can point to experiences like how,

    “… we are highly social beings and we cannot maintain functional societies without a workable view on how to treat other beings effected by our actions.”

    A question I have refers to equating usefulness with some transcendent or universal value. My questions extend to all ethical (and anti-ethical) systems. True that Mark took a swipe at popular vegetarianism. Wouldn’t you like to see him dig in against some more clever arguments of both a utilitarian and rights-based fold?

    Wyatt wrote on December 16th, 2009
  30. “If we were herbivores, we might even have rabbit-like cecums, highly developed digestive sacs that do the brunt of the digestive work for hindgut digesters.”

    How priceless that so many studies which blame animals fats for heart disease, etc. use rabbits as models!

    “The Vegetarian Myth” by Lierre Keith is a very good read for anyone who wants to look at the validity of vegetarianism from a political, moral or nutritional standpoint – coming straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, since Lierre was a committed vegan for 20 years before realizing it was not the answer for health, morality or the envirmonment.

    Elizabeth @ The Nourished Life wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • Elizabeth,

      that book in your hand is quite possibly the Bible of food! I just discovered it recently, and I have to say that it has changed my life immensely. Of course, I will be getting the Primal Blueprint here soon, because, well…… look what site we’re on. lol.

      Steve-O wrote on December 18th, 2009
  31. I experienced first hand that we have to eat meat to thrive. I was a raw foodist for 7 long months and it gave me innumerable problems.

    The reason why I stuck so long on a diet that was making me weaker is because the dogma is so strong in the raw food community that you are led to believe that everything negative is detox and that you are responsible and the diet is not adjusted well enough on your part.

    The dogma is dangerous for impressionable young minds looking for an answer and my guess is that a lot of people will go far enough to induce permanent damage on their body because of the dogma.

    I discovered that I already had leaky gut problems prior to eating raw, probably from the grains, dairy, NSAIDS… I felt bad all the time so I looked for an answer and found raw food. Let me tell you that its shocking when you start to see that the way you thought would heal you is making you sick. You find all sorts of reasons to deny it.

    Anyway, just my opinion, but I think its a good thing to have a voice to help people know that there are other choices besides eating the standard American diet or vegetarianism.

    Sebastien wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • Been there done that sold the t shirt. (Not so far as *raw* veganism.)

      “My karma ran over my dogma, now my car karma is out of alignment and my dogma is dead.”

      Walter wrote on June 19th, 2011
  32. Let us not forget there are predators that would certainly devour us as well.

    Tom wrote on December 17th, 2009
  33. “Well, I’d say that smart thieves are the very best at sorting out consequences, rather than operating from moral principles. After all, mere consequences go all ways. If mere consequences are the standard, then, consequences to whom?”-Richard Nikoley

    By consequentialism I am referring to the moral view that an action is to be judged good or bad on the basis of the consequences of that action as it effects sentient beings. The overriding drive of all sentient beings is toward flourishing and away from suffering. So I would argue that this basic fact about living things is our best frame of reference when considering the best course of action (and I would further argue that a society will be better off where the largest percentage of people give thought to just what is the best course of action, thus the need for a workable moral theory). The thief is chiefly concerned with the consequences of an action as they pertain to him/herself. This would be egoism.

    “Thus, the most clever thieves can steal you blind all the while they’re making you believe that it’s to your benefit — that, or they guilt you into buying the “best for society” con and can take even more.”-Richard Nikoley

    If your arguing here that a moral view can be wrong because credulous people might be duped by it, well, I would say that this charge would surely apply to any other view of morality you could think of.

    InviQtus wrote on December 17th, 2009
  34. “Only certain people believe evolution and christianity cannot co-exist, I am not one of those.”-Jasetyn

    I don’t see how a literal reading of Genesis could be made compatible with the theory of evolution. If Genesis were true we would expect to see all animal species appearing at the same time in the fossil record relatively recently in geological time. That is not what we see at all. So, if you accept evolution by natural selection then you cannot accept a literal reading of the bible. That being the case no one would be able to give you the theological information you are seeking without first knowing what method you are using for deciding what parts of the bible to keep and which parts to throw out.

    InviQtus wrote on December 17th, 2009
    • Literal reading with and understanding of the writer and the language it was translated from.
      “In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth” That should be a chapter in itself.
      “And now” The beginning of the chain leading to Jesus. Not the beginning of creation. Lucifer had reign over the Earth before Genesis.
      The Books of Moses were written about God’s chosen people, not about all people.
      Also the word LET…” Let there be light” etc. The original word did not mean create. It meant something similar to “bring back”.

      Ric wrote on December 22nd, 2009
  35. Save the earth! Eat enviro-friendly, grassfed cattle! Mono-cropping is destroying our topsoil, our ecosystems!

    It’s a moral imperative…..

    Rachel Allen wrote on December 17th, 2009
  36. Any interpretation of the Bible that suggests that evolution serves a divine purpose is completely incompatible with evolutionary theory. Evolution is based on *random* mutations and shaped by natural selection. Randomness and purposefulness do not mix.

    SerialSinner wrote on December 17th, 2009
  37. SerialSinner, check out chaos theory

    Wyatt wrote on December 17th, 2009
    • I am very familiar with it. Chaotic data is not = to Random data.

      SerialSinner wrote on December 17th, 2009
  38. According to this article:
    http://www.humanist.veggroup.org/articles/nature_tells_us_nothing_about_vegetarianism_572

    the arguments made in the article above are irrelevant.

    Stephen wrote on December 17th, 2009
  39. I cannot believe I wasted so much time as a vegetarian. Now I am zero carb (9 months now) eating just meat and my lifts at the gym have gone up, I have flat abs and tons of energy, clear skin, soft hair, etc. Meat is human food; the rest is for animals. We are meant to get nutrients from animals who eat the nuts, fruits and vegetables. We eat the fatty meat and protein.

    Katelyn wrote on December 17th, 2009
  40. SerialSinner, I stand corrected

    Wyatt wrote on December 17th, 2009

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