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