Meat Eaters: The Caveman Argument

caveman spearAlthough we can please our taste buds, promote our health, protect the environment, and show kindness towards animals, many are militant about continuing to eat meat.  Ben Ralston, a Yoga Instructor in the in the Sivananda tradition provides three reasons  for becoming a vegetarian in his article THE 3 reasons to be Vegetarian and also addresses ‘what are the reasons for eating meat?’

If we’re really truthful with ourselves, we see that in no way can a meat-based diet be justified; in the light of the environmental, economic, ethical, and health crises that we are living through today, giving up meat is quite simply one of the smartest, and best choices you can make.

Ben’s posting of a Shameless  Blog Promotion thread in the blogcatalog forum produced the same old arguments that many previous forum threads there bear witness to.

urban cavemanThe Caveman Argument

Despite the obesity statistics and the fact that many Americans do not eat a sufficient amount of vegetables and fruits to obtain optimal health, some are resistant to decreasing meats and increasing the vegetable, grains, nuts and fruits component in their diets today, let alone being resistant to the notion of becoming vegetarians. They rely  on a revisionist view of history proclaiming from caveman days onwards  humans have always eaten a  meat based diet. Although a return to the Paleolithic hunter-gatherer lifestyle is not sustainable, it is still what some who argue against vegetarianism  advocate. Photo credit:  Lord Jim Flickr

You really think our “caveman” ancestors and society would have evolved if they had continued foraging for berries and eating roots? The adoption of meat into the human diet provided protein and other nutrients necessary for our evolution. — BiggJ

The archeological facts don’t necessarily support this. Our meat-eating triggered a number of adaptations over countless generations. When humans switched to meat-eating, they triggered  genetic changes that enabled better processing of fats and improved our ability to process cholesterol.

If true, though, the new find reveals unsuspected behavior and dietary habits of the Lucy species, Australopithecus afarensis. Though no hominid fossils were found near the butchered bones, A. afarensis is thought to be the only species living in this region at the time. Their large teeth with thick enamel indicated they subsisted mainly on tubers and other vegetation. – Lucy’s Kin Carved Up a Meaty Meal, Scientists Say

The so-called ‘urban cavemen’ — also known as ‘hunter-gatherers’ and ‘paleos’ — are doing their part of go back to basics with their eating. But pre-historic eating in a post-modern time is challenging — you’re not supposed to consume anything developed after the invention of farming. So, things like bread and sweets are out. What’s in? Meat — and lots of it. Vegetables and fruits are allowed, too. –  Urban Cavemen: Eating Like Our Ancestors Did

Our jaws have become smaller —our teeth are too big for our downsized jaws and most of us need dental work.  Our wisdom teeth don’t have room to fit in the jaw and sometimes don’t form at all, and the propensity to develop gum disease is on the increase.  — Evolving to Eat Mush: How Meat Changed Our Bodies

evolution imagesWere Our Ancestors Meat Eaters?

Despite the image of the noble hunter, the experts believe early hominids probably derived a substantial portion of their meat,  (a minimal component of their diet) by scavenging ie. by driving predators off the carcasses of the animals they had killed.

In his blog entry a vegan palaeontology student reflects on whether our early ancestors were vegetarian and whether that is relevant to whether we should be vegetarian today.

The jury is still out. This touches on the issue of how vegans should handle the caveman argument. Many of us are tempted to strain credulity and torture the evidence to “prove” humans are “naturally” vegan. This is a trap, and one into which carnists (especially paleo-dieters) would love us to fall; the evidence isn’t on our side. There’s no doubt that hominids ate meat. But, it should be remembered that this fact doesn’t tell us very much about an “ideal” human diet, either. Read Were Our Ancestors Meat Eaters?

In a recent article from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, ‘Latitude, local ecology, and hunter-gatherer dietary acid load: implications from evolutionary ecology’, the researchers report that the diet of Homo sapiens’ East African ancestors appears to have been predominantly plant-based.

Stephen Walsh of the Vegan Society helps us understand the concept of ‘acid load’ which is utilized in the article above. In terms of hunter gatherers, animal foods (meat and fish) are acid and plant foods (leaves, fruits, tubers, flowers and many nuts) are alkaline. However, milk is essentially neutral and grains are mostly acid.  See page 63 of Stephen’s Plant Based Nutrition and Health

3 cavemenThe Brain Size Argument

The relatively large human brain and correspondingly high intelligence is  apparent. The object of current research and debate, however, is the examination of what evolutionary factors have driven the development of increased human brain size.

Without the adoption of meat into the human diet, it is doubtful that your brain would have evolved to the point where you could even comprehend and debate these topics. The adoption of meat into our diet fueled growth and development that got us where we are. While I don’t think consuming large amounts of meat is good, it definitely has its benefits. — BiggJ relying on information  from Mark Sisson, author of the site Mark’s Daily Apple and the book The Primal Blueprint.

Research provides insight into our evolutionary diet, and also reveals why any comparative proof that ignores intelligence and the significant impact of brain size on metabolic requirements is logically dubious.

Traditionally, when scientists spared a thought for our hunting and gathering forebears, they focused on the hunters and the meat they brought in. But it may be that it was our ancestors’ less glamorous ability to gather, eat and digest roots, bulbs and tubers — the wild versions of what became carrots, onions and potatoes — that increased the size of our brains and made the hunt and the territorial expansion that came with it possible. — Starch Made Us Human

B12 bacteriaThe B12 Argument

B12 is water-soluble vitamin is needed by every cell in the body. Like all other vitamins, it is not directly derived from either plant or animal sources.  B12 is  derived from bacteria.  The only dietary sources are animal products and bacteria: meat, fish, poultry, eggs and milk, and nutritional yeast.  Consequently, vegans, who consume no foods derived from animal sources, must take a B12 supplement or eat plant foods fortified with the vitamin.

A common misconception in vegan circles is that fermented foods and spirulina contain B-12. This claim may, at times, be supported by lab tests for B-12 based on the USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia) assay methods. Unfortunately, as explained in Herbert et al. [1984] and Herbert [1988], the USP assay method for B-12 is unreliable.

Spirulina and tempeh contain mostly analogues of B12.  Herbert [1988] reports that tests on tempeh, a fermented soy product, and spirulina revealed they contained almost no true B-12,  and the presence of analogues, rather than true B-12, in fermented foods makes them unreliable sources for B-12. — Key Nutrients vis-a-vis Ominovorous Adaptation and Vegetarianism.

The two reasons modern vegetarian and vegan diets  can lead to a  B12 deficiency are: (1)  people are not aware of all of the sources of B12 and the need for supplementation, and (2) they are not aware that our modern food production techniques that have led to living a more sterilized world,  most particularly in developed countries, has led to less B12 in their diets.

On one hand, B12 can be readily found in the soil that your vegetables grow in, assuming they haven’t been sterilized for the market. By pressure washing our produce, we are stripping B12 from them in exchange for cleanliness. On the other,  overcooking meat to avoid ecoli or salmonella poisoning, means meat eaters are  eliminating vitamin B12, and Americans who  eat meat may also suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency.  Read more in my upcoming article  B12: A Myth and A Note of Caution.

Related posts:

The Best Overall Anti-Cancer Diet
Fruits and Vegetables: Reducing Pesticide Exposure
The Raw and Living Food Vegan Diet

15 thoughts on “Meat Eaters: The Caveman Argument

  1. Pingback: Health and Vegetarian Diets | this time – this space

  2. A comprehensive and engaging article, TT, with many points of interest and debate. I have read that meat contains enzymes (all necessary for adequate metabolism) that cannot be found in other food sources. The author said that we should eat meat regularly, but not in excess of course.

    I was not aware of the B-12 issue as carrying much weight, but I hope to read more about it at some point.

  3. Hi TT !

    I am just wondering what to say, but first and the most important thing is, I want to thank you and congratulate you for another well researched post.

    Last time I posted on the discussion forum on a thread, related with this topic, without actually having gone through this post, on this blog called This Time This Space, which is in fact worth spending time at.

    Even though I felt that, Humans may have been designed as such to eat meat based on their tooth structure. But consuming it in large quantities is contrary to what actually the body needs, is against the natural laws.

    Speaking about myself first, I basically like vegetables, all that is green and leafy, and I myself do not eat much meat.

    I have also felt that eating meat in regular quantities poses serious health problems.

    It’s hardly a good scenario when many of the people are getting Obese and posing a risk to themselves.

    I think a balancing act can do the trick, so that we take in all the more important B12 in the Vegetables, and keep a check on fats they’re growing by eating large amount of meat.

    I gave a fast reading of your other post on Vitamin B12, may be we need to do more research on the types of vegetable produce we should be relying mostly up on.

    By reading through the last of the lines in your post, I have to come to realise the fact that, I am seldom washing any Veg’s these days before cooking. I hope to correct that.

    Besides B12, thankfully which you have already did, I would encourage you to produce just another one, which agriculture produce, we should be mostly relying upon ?

    By meaning ‘which’ I mean to say that, there’s been huge increase of fertilizers in farm produce. So, What is the choice for us ?

    I will myself be watching out for info on this topic in the coming days. Thanks again, for bringing up such a nice post. Wish you great times !

    Crawler

  4. A very informative article and interesting discussion. I agree that it’s not sustainable to eat meat and that overeating meat and protein is not healthy for you.

    It’s ironic that due to environmental toxins, in part, people are now developing allergies and delayed intolerances to all sorts of “healthy” foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains. That makes it more difficult to choose a totally plant based diet on behalf of a healthier environment. It’s a viscous circle.

  5. Thanks for the interesting post! I think it is important to consider all the different research that has occurred on the subject of humans’ past eating habits. As a vegan myself, I can say though that I feel great, and even if I’m not eating the same as my ancestors, I’m very healthy as far as I know, without the animal products. So if a vegan diet is not what humans evolved on, it is something we can currently thrive on.

  6. I used to eat meat at least for 1 meal per day. But that gradually faded over the last 12 yrs. or so. Now it averages around 2-3 times per month. Right now, I’m eating fish more often because of the local salmon run.

    Meats tend to be seafood, chicken breast.

    I’ve always had a great balance of veggies and fruits in my diet. Growing up on a Chinese diet here in Canada, I actually didn’t understand kids my age who didn’t like veggies. Meanwhile I was scarfing up koh rabi, chinese greens, bitter melon (it really is bitter but healthy stuff), butternut squash (when it wasn’t fashionable/known 30 yrs. ago. It was cheap veggie, now it’s more expensive.)

    I eat less meat partially due to need to save money, but also I’m just lazy. Meat requires more care in preparation to eat or to freeze.

    One of 4 sisters was vegan, for 4 years but dropped off to approx. the same amount of meat I eat or so. Her children were raised vegetarian during the first 6-9 yrs. of their lives. They do eat meat now, as adults.

    I do choose to eat meat because partially I want my palate to be as flexible as possible as a guest when I visit other people and other countries. Participating in their culture, means eating/trying their food. Boy, we sure learned our lesson when we visited the Czech Republic this past June! Alot of their restaurant cuisine choices have alot less veggies. It surprised us because Prague is the most cosmopolitan city of all Czech cities.

    My personal feeling, and it’s a strong opinion, is that parents do need to be patient and persist to try veggies cooked in different ways for their children when they are young. I’m pleased to see my 2-yr. niece much away happily on butternut squash, bok choy, green beans, asparagus…. It’s all adult food but gently cooked and seasoned for a kid. My mother cannot speak/understand much English with her grandchildren, but she’s more than happy to send over veggie home-cooked ‘care’ food for them.

  7. This is a balanced and well presented blog post. I like how you present both arguments. I am convinced that a diet high in veggies and grains are far better than a diet high in meats. But as one commentator stated, I adhere to the wisdom of his grandfather and my mom that says “Everything in moderation.”

  8. Hi, TT!♥

    Personaly I am vegetarian .. On the other hand being vegetarian is not necessarly healthy for all of us, becouse if they don’t eat meat can “eat” something more dangerous then meat:sweats, alcohol, tabacco … which can also lead to diabetes, obesity ,cardiovascular disease or cancer … The most appropriate measure is to have all …to be balanced!

    It is interesting to see how people with terminal cancer can not eat protein products, especially meat…Proteins are actually the “bricks” who build tumor, unfortunately, and the body tries to defend how he can..

    Always very healthy and very well documented your article – smiles.

    Thank you for sharing! Wishing the Best of the Best!♥

    Kisses & Hugs ..

    Dy,

    ೋღ❤ღೋ

  9. What an interesting post. Great information.

    I’m also a meat eater who heavily incorporates fruits and vegetables into my diet. I think balance is key. Still, I have great respect for people who choose to be vegetarian.

    To me the big debate should really be the influx of fast food/junk food/pre-packaged foods into our diets. Talk about an epidemic! Combined with less active life-styles and we’ve major health problems going on.

  10. Very interesting post!

    I eat anything and I’ve always folllowed my father’s advice, “Everything is good for you, if taken moderately.” In other words, I have quite a balanced diet. I consume meat once to twice a week. My biggest source of protein is fish/seafood. I eat loads of fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and grains daily. I am perfectly healthy; in fact, my doctor told me recently, I have a heart of a 20 year old athlete, considering I just turned 39. I must be doing something right with the food I consume.

    I don’t believe in the right or wrong choice of food you eat because I believe our anatomy is capable of adapting to what ever nutrients is given. It may change the structure of our DNA or how our body looks but it will not make us any less healthy. What makes us unhealthy is over-eating and not having a well-balanced diet.

  11. Pingback: B12: A Myth and A Note of Caution

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  13. Interesting article, TT! I call myself a vegetarian, which is a bit of a misnomer, because my diet is mostly fruit and grains. I do eat shrimp occasionally at restaurants, and small amounts of cheese. I take no supplements. According to the experts, I’m probably deficient in all sorts of “essentials”, and yet I feel great, have no significant health issues, and am one of the happiest people I know. I think the argument against vegetarianism is mainly a defensive one on the part of those who love to eat meat. None of their “scientific” reasons hold any water. On the other hand, I see no reason why people shouldn’t eat however they want. I respect everyone’s individual choice.

  14. In my lectures I always emphasize the difference of carnivores and herbivores and make clear that our jaw is much more similar to the jaw of plant-eating animals than it is to meat-eating animals.
    We just do not have teeth for ripping apart meat, we have teeth for chewing plants, vegetables and fruit.
    Our whole system is not really made for eating meat!

    • There are a lot of misconceptions about being a vegetarian. Vegetarian diets have a proportion of three macronutrients, which are complex carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Vegetarian food sources (plants) tend to be higher sources of most micronutrients. Protein is one of the main topics of debate as a lot of people think that you can only get protein from meat. That’s wrong, of course. Vegetarians get a lot of protein, if they eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. What vegetarians don’t get is the excess protein of traditional American diet, excess that leads to kidney overload and mineral deficiency diseases.

      Thanks you for your comment.

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