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

Meat 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. “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”

    Then why is it that the brains of animals who eat lots of meat like lions and tigers don’t seem to be able to perform as well as that of the human brain?

    saab wrote on November 3rd, 2011
  2. While I don’t deny that I don’t eat meat anymore, I am still in the research phase of that decision. The taurine argument is void, as most meats when cooked lose the taurine bioavailabilty, it is destroyed. Hence companies adding a taurine supplement to cat food that is cooked. B12 is a good argument, but not much is needed… 2.5mcg required by the average adult. I believe fish is the answer, while not in very high doses… A few ounces per day would probably be enough meat on average. Protein requirement is ballooned by companies and the FDA, my research has shown an average active male doesn’t need more than 40 – 60g per day. Until there are more in detail studies of multiple diets for a lifetime, assuming people will stick to a certain diet, which seems nearly impossible, then I’m not sure we will really know what the answer is here. All I know is there is something wrong with our food, we are getting too much cancer, diabetes and obesity to not have a major issue, that needs to be repaired.

    Krystal wrote on January 26th, 2012
  3. So many vaccines are made with the help of animal parts. So is vaccinating people and curing disease immoral?

    Tony wrote on February 19th, 2012
  4. The front twelve teeth (six upper six lower) are the meat tearing teeth called cuspids, bicuspids, and incisors.

    Passa Caglia wrote on February 26th, 2012
  5. Having been an IBS sufferer for the past two years and trying to find a diet that keeps me pain free and sane, I have to say that the Paleo diet seems to work for my gut issues the best. I wouldn’t DREAM of eating raw veggies even if I was starving and don’t get me started on the frankenwheat we are being served these days. Beans and grains that are so highly flouted by our governments are NOT natural food to humans. They can not be eaten raw and thanks to human interference, wheat isn’t even close to the plant we’ve been enjoying for thousands of years. You couldn’t pay me to go vegetarian/vegan. The mere thought of it makes my neck hairs stand on end anticipating what that would do to my digestive system. I’ll stick to meat, veg, seeds and nuts and occasional fruit with the occassional cheat of chocolate cuz I’m human after all. On a side note, I get all my meat from a butcher that only sells non-medicated, non-steroid etc meat. Humans are meant to eat meat not wheat!

    Sheryl wrote on February 27th, 2012
  6. Oops, meant to say that I loved the article and all the comments. It’s nice to see everyone’s view.

    Sheryl wrote on February 27th, 2012
  7. Being a recent converter to a more veggi existence and taking on board the opinions expressed here. i would like to add some thoughts i have in regards to our dietry needs and further evolution firstly we may have actually evolved to eat a principally omnivorous diet our appendix is the remnants of a secondary gut (please correct me if i am wrong) perhaps able to break down cellulose which would support our ability to evolve in almost any environment’ unfortunately we have not evolved fast enough to to keep up with our current environment the intensive rearing of the meat component in our diets. everyone panics at the thought of gm foods but we say nothing of all the gm meat being produced. there is a lot wrong with the way we treat the animals we are so dependant upon. and the irony is that with our big brains we are still not smart enough to spot when we are being fed garbage. I have worked in a factory where meat is processed and if you dont mind bleaching of stinking green chicken to make nuggets or water injection into chicken joints to make scrawny chicken plump and heavier you pay by the pound remember. Forgetting all the harm the processing does to us when we eat it. If we were all responsible for the killing gutting and preparation of meat i guarantee there would be more veggies. i see lots of arguments from both camps and wonder why all the anger it is of course personal choice if you feel that another being should die so that you can eat meat. (your choice) meat is an option not an obligation for us smug full bellied westerners we could adapt to eat less of it put the land to better use and maybe feed more people. I guess that most of the people responding to this forum have pets at home and love them like family members enjoying their personalities but at the same time see animals raised for meat as sentient and devoid of personality and feelings. you need to go work on a farm and spend some time with these animals that give us so much. Much more than your dog or cat could ever hope to. In my experience these animals do not seem to be sentient but we feel better about killing them on production lines if we think they either dont know whats happening / have no feelings/ or deserve it with all our great power and intellect we could be living in the garden of eden but we will only know for sure when all the humans are gone we are shitty with each other greedy and cruel we are all victims of this. if you think that you have choice and freedom or control in your life then you must be doing better than me. i work for a bank though only because i owe them so much money i eat from a supermarket because all the little shops are gone and i behave myself so that i dont have to go to prison and get raped. so when you talk about the benefits meat has made to our evolution how its made us smarter. I have to think i need more veggies. ignorance sure must be bliss. its a shame the gift we have went on us not.
    And on the subject of our gift when will we start to see ourselves as guardians of this planet if not for ourselves and our children but also for all the outstanding diversity and complexity that we are lucky to be a part of. We maybe the only living creature able to shape its own evolution we certainly have the technology and the resources but it seems that we would rather justify laziness fear and some kind of macho behavior. as well. i was made this way. we have the ability to grow meat in a lab if we so wish the best possible meat no additives no steriods no penicillin no killing. no chance there is too much already invested and who cares anyway

    jason wrote on March 17th, 2012
  8. Kevin wrote on June 9th, 2012
  9. Don’t forget that meat allowed us more energy to go to the brain.

    Without meat, Homo erectus wouldn’t have the “brains” to discover fire, create tools when the earth was changing to grasslands with less plants to eat on and more vulnerable on the planes.

    Before we ate and ate fruits, vegies and had zilch for the brain.

    E.g. Koalas, Cows, Sloths, Pandas have to eat huge amounts of plant material just to sustain itself.

    Felonius wrote on July 2nd, 2012
  10. That big ol’ ribeye I had tonight was good, along with a couple of mushrooms and a spinach salad!

    I can’t wait until hunting season, when I can replenish my freezer with all sorts of good, natural protein sources.
    I don’t harvest animals, by the way. I kill them.

    I suggest you leave your Mom and Dad’s basement, get out into the world, and find yourself a life. Get a little sunshine, lift some heavy things and eat more protein. Your brain has been affected by your diet. Cheers!

    Richard wrote on July 19th, 2012
  11. Meat and dairy eaters are lowly theives. They steal life from others (starving people, enslaved animals, and the poisoned earth). Their lives are just as important to them as yours is to you. You are stealing life. That is when it becomes my business. I defend the defenseless. If I see, with my own eyes, an adult, a child, or an animal being hurt, in any way, it becomes my responsibility to defend them. Anyone with a conscience, and an understanding of right and wrong, would do the same. Wouldn’t you? Just because you don’t see the children starving, the animals being murdered, the effects that the death industry has on our earth, does not mean that the same principles of ethics and morals don’t apply. Selfish, violent, cruel, egotistical, people steal life, and are parasites on this earth.

    missjessicaveganlovemarino wrote on July 19th, 2012
  12. Do you believe that a starving predator would not eat an injured human grazing on the tubers of its territory? Does this make the animal a lowly thief in much the same way as you have labeled the human race? Life moves its energy up the pyramid, and it has always done so. We have evolved accordingly. Only with the advances of technology has the “farming” so common today become the means through which we procure our food. There was once a time when we had to work much harder to earn our keep, but that is the nature of technology and the continual advancement of our ability to use it.

    MisterMeatDefender wrote on July 19th, 2012
  13. Of course they would. They are a starving predator, in the wild. They do not have access to the technology, of which you referred, that has made preying on others, and stealing life, an outdated, inexcusable, vile way to live.

    missjessicaveganlovemarino wrote on July 19th, 2012
  14. This article is rubbish. We started eating meat for survival just like we learned how to create fire to live through the cold. THe only reason we started eating meat is because all vegetation freezes in the winter… My guess is that you haven’t experienced the cold. Nowadays we have the technology to ship foods from areas of the world that can grow vegetation to other areas that can’t. There is no need to eat meat…everyone who does is actually forcing their digestive systems to work harder, as well as their immune systems which are constantly fighting off the bacteria from rotting meat inside our extremely large intestines and colon. (the colon’s purpose is to cause fermentation for breaking down the plant matter you speak of). drop the meat and dairy and you will have hope for living without health issues :)

    ali wrote on July 26th, 2012
  15. “Non-violence leads to highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.” ~ Thomas Edison

    “As long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower livings beings, he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love. Animals share with us the privilege of having a soul.”
    ~ Pythagoras, 570–495 BC, Greek philosopher, Mathematician, Mystic, Scientist, Vegetarian, Founder of the Pythagoras Diet which laid the foundation for modern vegetarianism.

    “It is both auspicious and peaceful for people to choose vegetarianism. Vegetarian food leaves a deep impression on our nature. If the whole world adopts vegetrianism, it can change the destiny of humankind.” ~ Albert Einstein, 1879– 1955, Physics Nobel Prize Winner, Vegetarian

    “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

    As long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.” ~ Leonardo Da Vinci

    “It is certainly preferable to raise vegetables, and I think, therefore, that vegetarianism is a commendable departure from the established barbarious habit. That we can subsist on plant food and perform our work even to advantage is not a theory, but a well-demonstrated fact. Many races living almost exclusively on vegetables are of superior physique and strength. There is no doubt that some plant food, such as oatmeal, is more economical than meat, and superior to it in regard to both mechanical and mental performance. In view of these facts every effort should be made to stop the wanton and cruel slaughter of animals, which must be destructive to our morals.”
    ~ Nikola Tesla 1856–1943 – Inventor, Mechanical & Electrical Engineer, Vegetarian

    Kay wrote on January 29th, 2013
  16. Whether you believe humans are now at this stage in our evolution, carnivores, omnivores, herbivores, it has been proven that humans can survive just as well (if not better) on a plant based diet.

    So now you have a choice. Do you want to live until 90 on a plant based diet and support the growth of our planet and all living things on it, or do you want to live to 90 and support the torture and murder of billions of animals per year along with the destruction of our planet?

    Don’t be a stubborn coward. Educate yourself and do the right thing.

    Alex wrote on March 19th, 2013
    • Yes, humans can survive on a plant based diet, as well as an omnivorous diet, as well as if need be a carnivorous diet. Since going Primal, my awareness has been raised of the dismal quality with which conventional livestock is raised. There is a right way to do something, as well as a wrong way. It’s sort of like forestry: They cut down the trees, but the effort they put into re-growing the area after harvesting is JUST AS important. Now, we Primals sure aren’t about endangering animals, and we certainly use most (if not all) of what one animal has to offer than does the average Westerner. Everything in context. You may have a good argument, but throwing emotion in with, “Don’t be a stubborn coward.” doesn’t really help you, to be honest.

      By the way, since a year of being Primal, I have decided I want to do Small-Scale Livestock Farming as a career. Because yes, conventionally raising livestock is wrong. Bad for the animal–bad for the consumer. Grok ON!!

      ninjainshadows wrote on December 17th, 2013
  17. Hey Mark, I was working on an essay and looking for some backing on this notion that human brains grew due to eating meat and your essay really locked it in for me. Thanks.

    Bill Hillmann wrote on May 14th, 2013
  18. Well, maybe the entire point of life is a test for our consciousness.

    Those who will sacrifice others for their own benefit.
    Those who will sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others.

    I believe it’s the deep intelligent consciousness (AKA ‘Spirit’) which serves the real purpose of our being and not our visible six pack.

    Just my 2 cents 😉

    Daniel wrote on July 29th, 2013
  19. The meat industry is, generally speaking, cruel and inhumain. Unfortunately “slaughterhouse porn” as it’s described here is often just what happens in slaughterhouses. I am lucky enough to have a fairly good job at the moment, and to live in a country where free range meat is affordable. If I was only able to afford meat and eggs that came out of intensively farmed/battery type operations, then despite the fact that I agree with most of the nutritional message here, I would ditch meat in a heart beat. That massive meat fed brain of ours has become capable of some pretty good philosophical thought, which I would argue is just as important a step as when those herbivore relatives of ours first picked up a rock and threw it at another animal.
    To requote Richard Dawkins, “it’s not that we were meant to eat meat, just that we evolved doing so”
    In any case, factory farmed meat is hardly paleo!

    Emma wrote on August 14th, 2013
  20. I believe, Humans are born Vegetarian due to 2 simple reasons.

    1. Humans cannot digest raw meat. Humans might have started eating meat after they start using fire. If we cook and provide meat to Herbivorous, they can even eat.

    2. Its is not a basic instinct of Humans babies to hunt/catch animals and eat it. Later in the days they will be trained to eat meat.

    Ranjeesh wrote on September 27th, 2013
  21. As far as meat eating evidence is concerned it varies on the place in the world your are are were. I eat a plant based diet and I love it because since I adopted it I haven’t gotten sick and my energy is through the roof. I am loving it. I do personally think it is the better overall diet or at least fruits vegetables, nuts, legumes, seeds should be the major part of the diet, and if you do choose to eat meat it should be grass fed meat because it is healthier.

    Aqiyl Aniys wrote on February 15th, 2014
    • There have been no 100% vegetarian peoples/cultures in the world and have lived to tell about it. They are getting at least some of their protein from animals/fish/shellfish. You may cite Hindus, but in the ancient Indian texts like the Gita’s they would slaughter 200,000 animals at a time and feast for days on end. The main reason they went vegetarian was because they became very heavily populated and could feed more people using the ghee/butter, milk and cheese. The vegetarian population in India is , I believe, one of the lowest, if not the lowest lifespan on the planet. They die very young and unhealthy. You are correct, grass fed/finished meat is the way to go.

      Nocona wrote on February 15th, 2014

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