Is It Natural To Eat Meat?
It's natural to eat meat. I've heard it a thousand times. But is it true?
What is natural?
First off, let's define natural.
existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind.
So for something to be natural, it has to be present in nature - without having been produced and placed into it by humans.
So the true question is: did humans begin eating meat as a natural progression or evolution, or did they manufacture the circumstances required to make the consumption of meat possible?
Let's look at the available evidence.
An integral part of the 'meat is natural' argument is the assertion that the human body is meant to consume meat. Let's take a look at human anatomy and compare it to that of carnivorous and omnivorous animals of different species for clarity.
Carnivorous animals have rasping tongues which are rough. This aids in the ripping of flesh. Ever been licked by your cat? Then you know what I'm talking about.
Humans? We have smooth tongues. Just like all other non-carnivorous animals such as giraffes and pigs.
Of course, omnivores such as dogs also have smooth tongues. So perhaps we are omnivorous rather than carnivorous?
Many a time have I been shown humans' canine teeth as evidence for our need for meat. Let us compare, for a moment, our canine teeth to those of carnivores...
Which look most like ours?
If you said the frugivores, you're right!
Just like frugivores and herbivores, our incisors are broad, flattened, and spade shaped.
Just like frugivores, our molars are flattened with nodular cusps.
As for our canines? We fall somewhere between a herbivore with rudimentary, dull and short canines (or none at all) and frugivores with dull and short canines (or long canines for defense). Human canines are rudimentary, short, and blunted - very much ill-suited to ripping flesh, unlike the long, sharp, and curved fangs of omnivores and carnivores.
Not only are our teeth similar in appearance, but they are similar in function.
The jaws of frugivores and herbivores can move up and down like those of carnivores and omnivores, but unlike those creatures they can ALSO move side to side - allowing for the grinding and chewing motions that we require for proper digestion. Carnivores and omnivores rip flesh and swallow it whole, without chewing.
Not only do our jaws differ in movement, but they also differ in range of motion. Humans along with all frugivores and herbivores have relatively small mouth openings, where the upper jaw sits on top of the lower jaw. Carnivores and omnivores, however, can open their mouths very wide to allow for biting into flesh and have lower jaws that embed into their upper jaw.
There are many aspects of digestion which can help give us an idea of what foods certain animals are well-suited to eating.
After our teeth and the way we chew (or don't), comes saliva. Carnivores and omnivores have small salivary glands which produce acidic saliva without carb-digesting enzymes. Herbivores and frugivores, like humans, have large salivary glands which produce alkaline saliva full of carb-digesting enzymes such as ptyalin.
Next comes the stomach. Humans, frugivores, and herbivores have stomachs with a capacity less than 30% of the total volume of their digestive tracts. In the case of carnivores and omnivores, however, the stomach is far larger: 60-70% of the total volume of their digestive tracts.
But stomach size is not the only difference. In those animals suited to eating meat (carnivores and omnivores) stomach acidity rests at a pH of 1 or even less with food in the stomach. In animals suited for plant matter? Stomach acidity falls between a pH of 4 and 5 with food in the stomach. Humans fall perfectly into the plant-eater range of a pH of 4-5.
After the stomach, food moves into the intestines. In carnivores and omnivores, peristalsis (the motion that moves food through the intestines) does not require stimulation from fibre (as fibre is completely absent from meat). In herbivores, frugivores, and humans? Fibre is required for peristalsis.
But wait, there's more! Let's talk about intestine length.
The small intestine length in carnivores? 1.5 to 3 times trunk length.
In omnivores? 3 times trunk length.
Herbivores? 20 times trunk length.
Frugivores? 9 times trunk length.
Humans? 9 times trunk length.
But it's not just our small intestines that differ from that of meat eaters in nature. Our colons do, too. Everything from colon type, length, shape, and chemistry places us with plant eaters over meat eaters. Our colons are long and complex, sacculated and acidic, just like herbivores and frugivores. Those of carnivores and omnivores? Short and simple, ranging from somewhat sacculated to smooth, and alkaline.
At this point you may be starting to see a trend.
Humans cannot properly digest raw meat. Our extended intestinal length (and a digestion time from 12 to 18 hours) leads to the rotting of flesh within our bodies, a problem no true carnivore or omnivore experiences with their short digestion of 2 to 10 hours.
Humans cannot metabolize large quantities of cholesterol as carnivores and omnivores can, leading to the huge increase in heart disease in humans who eat meat-heavy diets.
We are also very similar to herbivores and frugivores in our circadian rhythm. We sleep around 8 hours per day, while omnivores and carnivores sleep an average of 18-20 hours per 24 hour period.
As you are probably aware, humans are made to give birth to one baby at a time. Frugivores also give birth to one child at a time.
Carnivores and omnivores? They give birth to litters, requiring them to have many teats to feed their offspring.
To make things a little easier, I've put together this table showing the comparisons I've already covered as well as many more:
So we can see, without a doubt, that we are far more similar to frugivores and herbivores than we are to carnivores and omnivores as far as our anatomy.
But what about our thoughts and desires?
Many people claim that humans crave meat; that their mouths begin to water when they see or smell it.
But is that really true?
Sure, once it's cooked and prepared, covered in sauces or spices, it may be appealing. But imagine a big hunk of bloody, raw flesh. Does that make your mouth water? How about a live rabbit? Do you feel an urge to bite into it?
Humans are often disgusted by the process of killing and preparing animals to eat. That's why they like to pay other people to do it.
One of my favourite ways to look at this comes from a speech by Gary Yourovsky. Imagine you put a baby in a crib with a bunny and an apple. Which would it eat and which would it cuddle?
Humans don't have a killer instinct. We have to remove ourselves from the reality of slaughter to eat the meat we do.
"But what about hunting!"
Yes, we have developed the means to hunt and kills animals, and the means to cook their flesh.
But is that natural?
By the definition we agreed on earlier, nature is that which is NOT man-made. Under this definition, tools are not natural. Therefore hunting using them cannot be natural, either.
Without this unnatural technology, we have no chance as hunters. Our teeth and fingernails are dull. We are not fast. We don't have acute senses of smell or hearing or sight. Basically, we are suited for foraging and little else.
Our closest relatives in the animal kingdom don't eat meat. From time to time, a chimpanzee may eat a bug, but other than that they are plant based eaters.
So if it's not natural, why did we start doing it?
Well, humans are survivors. In times of famine and scarcity, we found another food source, concentrated calories, to keep us going. For the short term, we didn't recognize the negative side effects of eating a diet ill-suited to our bodies. But today, with an abundance of animal products available at every meal, we are seeing a significant decline in our health.
Coincidence? I think not.
However, the true reason we diverted from our natural diet to include meat doesn't really matter. Humans have never needed a reason to manipulate our bodies, the bodies of others, and our planet for our own pleasure. Our lives are artificial through and through, and imagining ourselves as omnivores is just another part of that fantasy.
Do you think eating meat is natural? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time,