Earlier Rua Lupa commented on my ‘Go Vegan’ post that humans are omnivores. Now I can’t argue with the fact that humans eat meat, that they can eat meat and that there are some people who have issues with certain plant foods and so need to eat meat. Nor can I argue against the fact that some communities must eat meat because they can’t get the nutrients they need from plant life nearby e.g. the Eskimos.
However, I do want to tackle this issue head on. Lets start by asking, while we are capable of eating meat, should we? Meat consumption causes serious problems for the environment and over the long term it a major contributor to heart disease, stroke, diabetes e.t.c (see here). No one can argue with that fact and its been proven again and again throughout the scientific literature. Did you know that Vegans and Vegetarians live on average 7-10 years longer than meat eaters too? A small amount of meat may not harm us but its not going to do anything for us either. Meat is full of bad fat, cholesterol and excessive amounts of protein. It contains no fibre, no vitamins and no carbohydrates. It contains no antioxidants or any other beneficial chemicals. The fact is that meat is there simply to fill up on calories and fat. This might be good if you live in an area with little plant life and need to get through a starving winter, but that’s a very small minority of the earth’s population. And with globalisation today, we can access a lot of products year round that we couldn’t before (although we should eat as local as possible for the environment).
It is perfectly possible for most of the world’s population to get all the nutrients they need (except possibly b12) from plants. There is protein in plants, there are carbohydrates in plants, there is fat in plants, there is omega 3 in plants, there are antioxidants and vitamins and phyto-chemicals all in plants. The fact is that the healthiest and longest living people on the planet consume a diet rich in plants and eat little or no meat.
The question has been raised about what is excessive meat consumption? Is having meat once a day excessive – Yes! The evidence would suggest you should have a maximum of two servings of fish a week and can possibly have some red meat once a month – does any meat eater in the west do that?
Lets look at some facts about our nearest ancestor in the animal kingdom – the apes. They eat a diet of 95% plants and 5% insects. That is the way our bodies are designed (although I don’t really like the idea of eating insects.) Now and again they’ll kill another monkey but its very rare. What about our hunter gatherer ancestors. Well modern Anthopology is showing that while meat consumption was part of their diet, they mainly lived on plants, roots and grains. The emphasis should perhaps be “gatherer-hunter” rather than “hunter-gatherer.” Meat would have been an unreliable food source and even when they did eat it, it was most likely small lean mammals not pigs and cows. So if you want to eat meat, perhaps a few termites with your salad and the odd rat each month would be about all that’s needed ;).
Most people argue that we need meat for protein and while meat does contain a lot of protein, meat, milk and eggs contain far too much. The scientifically recommended level of protein intake is around 5-10% of calories. All plants contain protein (that’s where herbivores get their protein from) and they contain it within this range. But meat doesn’t, meat contains 20 or 30% protein and the scientific literature links protein above 10% to higher risks of many chronic diseases (see this scientific lecture). So, the question is – do you want to risk that?
Now lets have a look at biology. Are humans designed to be meat eaters, plant eaters or both? Have a look at this chart and video….
In conclusion, we have evolved a few attributes which mean we can eat meat, but most of our biology is undoubtedly designed to eat a plant based diet. When you take into account the health costs of prolonged meat consumption, as well as the negative effects on the environment, I would suggest that we are much better adopting a whole foods, oil free, plant based diet unless there are serious constraints on us doing so.