Friday, December 02, 2005

Being a Meatatarian.

Last night, I went on a night hike in North Park with Venture Outdoors. That went well enough but at the beginning, a few of the women there were discussing having had a vegetarian Thanksgiving last week. Again, well enough, but one of them made a statement (that I don't remember exactly) that was looking for the opposite of a vegetarian Thanksgiving.

"That would be my Thanksgiving," I said. "Turkey, turkey and some stuffing. I'm a meatatarian."

She proceeded to tell me that I was wrong to eat meat. One of her primary statements was that my intestines were too long to eat meat. I countered that my stomach was too small to subsist on only plants.

"You have the right to believe what you want, no matter how wrong you are."

I had never actually hear that phrase used before except as satire or on bumper stickers. She wasn't willing to go any further, having made her declaration that she was right and I was wrong no matter how much evidence was offered.

So, it has me thinking about vegetarianism, being an omnivore and how to defend oneself from those who think meat is evil and humans shouldn't eat meat.

* Our nearest relatives, the chimpanzees, hunt other animals and eat them. We share a common ancestor some 5 to 8 million years ago. Anatomical comparisons show that this common ancestor probably didn't have eating habits much different from modern chimpanzees.

* Vegans argue that mountain gorillas are vegetarians. They are not as closely related to humans as the chimpanzee so that comparison only slightly less valid on that basis but, in point of fact, it is completely wrong because the gorilla isn't a herbivore. It is an omnivore. Granted, the bulk of the meat they eat is from termites and other insects but it is still meat. The huge canine teeth and incisors for ripping and tearing flesh shows that they have not completely evolved away from their more predatory ancestors.

* Humans have lost the large canines that the apes still retain, and both families have lost the claws that the carnivores still retain, but we still have binocular vision, which is the mark of a predator. All the herbivores, those things that are exclusively vegetarian, have their eyes on the sides of their heads because they are "prey" and need that wide field of vision to protect them from predators. Humans may not be the best predators, but we are still designed to hunt.

* At about 2.3 to 1.5 million years ago, the first "true" humans appeared. This coincided with an increased consumption of meat. In fact it is likely that the huge amounts of energy that can be derived from meat proteins actually lead to the development of the large human brain. Archeological and anatomical evidence shows that some human ate meat as up to 40% of their diet.

* Between 1.7 million years and 230,000 years ago, the human diet consisted of even more meat, with teeth wear micrographs of Homo erectus being comparable to that of the hyena.

* This much more meat-using diet allowed humans to move into new environments where proteins are more difficult to find in plantstuffs. During the ice age in Europe (25,000 to 15,000 years ago), the Cro-Magnons, fully modern humans, survived on a diet of nearly 50% meat.

* After the Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, agriculture began to take over from hunting/gathering. By about 7,000 years ago, the human diet had shifted to about 10% meat. As meat consumption declined in paleolithic times, tooth decay, malnutrition, and rates of infectious disease increased. This has more to do with the types of vegetables (mostly starches) that were replacing meat in the diet than with a decline in meat consumption. But also, agriculture is hard, backbreaking work whereas the hunting/gathering lifestyle, while it can also be difficult, is not as oppressively and continuously stressful

So, this is where we come from. Millions of years of evolution that not only has always involved the consumption of meat but was actually accelerated by it.

* Vegans argue that human intestines are too long to digest meat. That the meat rots before it is digested. It is true to say that human intestines are too long to EFFECIENTLY digest meat when compared to carnivores like cats but conversely the stomach is too small to effectively digest an exclusively plant diet. What allowed humans to eat an up to 50% meat diet was the control of fire and cooking. Cooking the meat helps to break it down so that our so-called overly long intestines can handle it. We still have long intestines because we are designed by evolution to eat MOSTLY plants.

Now, saying I am a meatatarian is not saying I'm a carnivore. I invented that term because it sounded like the opposite of vegetarian. I eat a lot of meat because I happen to like meat and don't like vegetables and fruits. The proportions in my diet are a matter of taste. But the fact that I continue to be quite healthy and active shows that my diet is not so bad as the vegans claim I should be.

This is not to say that people shouldn't be vegetarian. The big brains that we have (thanks to meat eating) have also allowed us to develop alternatives to eating meat. We can get our dietary requirements elsewhere. But that comes with risks. There are some vitamins and minerals that are best found in meat. Sure, they are found in some vegetables but we simply couldn't eat enough of those in a day to fulfil our requirements. Multi-vitamin supplements must be taken to take care of that.

But don't go telling me I am wrong to eat meat. I am designed by millions of years of evolution to eat meat.

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