Carnivores or Herbivores – Do Humans Need Meat?

Any vegan or vegetarian, or meat-eater seeking information can find what seems to be scientific-based and scholarly authority for either side of the argument as to whether humans are or are not natural carnivores and thus require the consumption of meat in order to attain and maintain good health. While the traditional view, espoused by generations of meat-consuming scientists, anthropologists and meat-industry purveyors, is that meat provides essentials to human health and that this is supported by the inescapable existence of numerous anatomical traits, this belief is susceptible to many valid arguments that mitigate against its validity.

Those espousing the natural carnivore argument cite both anatomical arguments and those based on evolution, as well as the chemical needs of the human body. The best evidence for a meat-based diet, they argue, includes such allegations as the presence of human teeth that include incisors and canines designed for biting and tearing and ripping flesh, and molars designed for chewing. They even argue that animals with this type of diversity in their mouths are “built” to be omnivores. They also allege that our closest relatives, along side whom we developed from common ancestors, are the chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are, of course, carnivores,

and thus, the argument goes, so must be humans. Physiologically speaking however, chimps are stronger and faster, have larger incisors, and overall are significantly better predators than are humans, but the analogy is still commonly made. And don’t forget that while your average chimp loves a good steak, their primary diet is, in truth, composed more of vegetables, easy to capture insects and grubs, and just the occasional carcass.

From the medical standpoint, it is also a common argument that human bodies have proteases as do other carnivores, but lack cellulosic symbionts that are generally present in herbivores, that humans require vitamin B!2 which is generally obtained from animal sources and some bacteria, and vitamin C which is found in organ meat as well as in citrus fruits, which were not readily available to much of early human population. While a B12 tablet or other supplement can certainly provide this, there are some non-meat foods that do provide B12, such as fortified cereal grains and fortified soy. As to Vitamin C, a glass of orange juice (or a generous squeeze of lime juice in your margarita or vodka Collins) easily solves those needs.

Experts writing and researching opposing viewpoints are however at least equally if not more persuasive. For example, renown Cornell University biochemist T. Colin Campbell, lead scientists of the China–Cornell–Oxford Project on diet and disease and author of the landmark publication “The China Study”, described by the New York Times as the “most comprehensive large study ever undertaken of the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease”, has stated that historically speaking, man has only recently begun eating meat. His belief is that it

has only been over the past 10,000 years, coinciding with the “birth of agriculture” that the raising and herding of animals for food began, and that until then humans subsided on primarily a plant-based diet.

Anatomically speaking, it is inescapable that the human body is not really designed to overpower and kill stronger, faster and bigger meat-laden animals. Compared to big cats, equines, antelopes, even stampeding elephants, humans are considerably slower afoot, and yes, humans are missing the claws needed to dismember the prey they may be able to capture. Humans also are not in the same league with larger numbers of animal species that climb trees and jump between them with ease. Plants seldom did any of that. No less an authority than Dr, Richard Leakey has declared that humans are herbivores, based on his observation that a human can tear neither flesh nor hide by hand and that the teeth we call “canines” are not canines in the traditional sense, that historically humans could not deal with living, breathing food sources that require the real canines of true carnivores.

Then there is the issue of the human intestines, which are very long and perfectly designed for digestion of plants, as opposed to the shorter intestines generally associated with carnivores that allows flesh to quickly pass through before it has time to rot. It has also been observed that human hands are more perfectly designed for grabbing and picking fruit and vegetables than for wrestling with animals bearing claws, fangs, horns, and deep coats of fur.

As to the evolution argument, many experts believe that during their evolutionary development it is the great ape that most resembled the human, and great apes largely subsided on plant-based diets, with meat-eating eventually developing through scavenging the leftovers of carnivores. Professor Medicine at George Washington University and President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Dr. Neal Barnard has documented much of this in his book “The Power of Your Plate”.

A further argument has been raised that humans never really adapted to a meat-based diet, which is an argument supported by the verifiable fact that meat eating is directly related to higher than normal incidences of a variety of human maladies such as heart disease and cancer.

There is also the desire among the vast majority of humans that do eat meat to refrain from eating the raw flesh of their kill and to cook it before consumption, something that despite evolution no other known carnivore has yet to adopt. Such observations and more are discussed

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by Dr. Milton Mills in his book “The Comparative Anatomy of Eating”. Dr. Mills also has commented extensively on the fat that the human jaw is neither large enough nor designed properly to be that of a true carnivore.

As referenced by health and wellness activist and author Kathy Freston, it is easy for people who eat meat to think that that is natural, and that animal products are “good” for people. Today, however, there is a wealth of evidence from eminent scientists that says no, in fact humans are natural herbivores.

High cholesterol, hypertension, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other maladies have all been related to the consumption of meat. But studies have shown that when true carnivores have been fed 200 times the amount of animal fat and cholesterol that humans eat per day on a meat-based diet, they DO NOT develop the disorders that plague humans. Perhaps that is because humans are not true carnivores, and do not “NEED” meat.


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