Vegetarian evangelism

June 15th, 2009


I haven’t eaten meat since 1979.

My reasons are sentimental. Basically, I am not prepared to eat anything I am not prepared to kill myself. However, I have never urged other people to give up meat. I’m not one of those whiners who is so insecure in their own beliefs that they have to try to persuade everyone else to stop eating meat too.

When I was a teenager, many meat eaters tried to persuade me I was wrong not to eat meat, as if they somehow felt that I was silently judging them. In response to their challenges, I latched on to any scientific or pseudo-scientific opinion to support my position. But that was because I was young. As I grew older, I realised I only needed two arguments:

  • Fuck off and mind your own business
  • I’ll eat what I want

By the time I hit my late twenties, people no longer felt the need to challenge me. Perhaps people assume a teenager doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Anyway, Manahan the Magnificent sent me a link to an evangelising piece about why people just aren’t designed to eat meat and he asked me what I thought.

Here are some key points from that article followed by my own point of view (as someone who loves fwuffy bunny wabbits).

“Eating meat is a relatively recent phenomenon in human evolution.”
Yes, compared to lions, but it is still at least 2.5 million years. In any case, it is a phenomenon in human evolution. Should lions become vegetarians because their ancestors were?

“eating meat was an essential step in human evolution… While this notion may comfort the meat industry, it’s simply not true, scientifically.”
Actually, scientists believe that scavenging for bone marrow and brains is what caused our own brains to grow larger. In any case, all evolutionary steps are taken in response to a change or an opportunity in the environment. The word “essential” is disingenuous and so is arguing against it. Whether essential or not, it happened.

“the birth of agriculture only started about 10,000 years ago at a time when it became considerably more convenient to herd animals”
Yes, but the implication that meat eating began only 10,000 years ago is disingenuous. People began herding animals that they had already been hunting for millions of years because it was an easier way to get meat.

“To this day, meat-eaters have a higher incidence of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other problems.”
Because they eat too much meat, not because they eat it at all. Oriental men have a higher rate of illnesses related to Oestrogen Dominance because soy contains the plant equivalent of oestrogen (phyto-oestrogen). Do we conclude that people should not eat soy at all?

“Leakey notes that ‘[y]ou can’t tear flesh by hand, you can’t tear hide by hand…'”
Perhaps modern humans cannot.  Who can say what feats of strength humans were capable of two million years ago. In any case, why are we the only ape that can throw a spear? Why did we evolve that particular skill?

So how come we evolved the ability to throw spears?

So how come we evolved the ability to throw spears?

“carnivores have short intestines so they can quickly get rid of all that rotting flesh they eat”
If that were true (notice the emotive language), they would shit rotting flesh instead of, well, shit. In any case, they have shorter intestines because they are carnivores, not omnivores. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would argue that humans are carnivores. The article should compare humans and other, similar, omnivores like chimpanzees. Comparing humans with animals that are exclusively carnivorous is (you know what I’m going to say) disingenuous.

“And most of us (hopefully) lack the instinct that would drive us to chase and then kill animals and devour their raw carcasses
Bollocks. That’s social conditioning, not instinct. The word “hopefully” gives away the author’s real motivation, which is not scientific fact, but emotion.

“Thousands of years ago when we were hunter-gatherers, we may have needed a bit of meat in our diets in times of scarcity, but we don’t need it now.”
True, but that does not mean we are optimal without it, nor does it imply any lack of moral fibre in those who do eat meat.

“our evolution and physiology are herbivorous, and ample science proves that when we choose to eat meat, that causes problems”
The first statement is absolutely untrue, as evidenced by tool marks on fossil bones dating back 2.5 million years. As for the second statement, for every study there is a counter study. So if I chose to eat a bacon sandwich right now, what would happen? Would my intestines explode?

“it’s convenient for people who like to eat meat to think that there is evidence to support their belief that eating meat is “natural” or the cause of our evolution.”
The corollary is also true for tree-hugging yoghurt-knitters.

“But in fact top nutritional and anthropological scientists from the most reputable institutions imaginable say categorically that humans are natural herbivores”
WHO says that? And how do they explain the tool marks in the fossils? Is it God testing us (again)? Other “top” scientists will no doubt say the opposite. Mostly, each side will say whatever supports their emotional prejudice.

“It may be inconvenient, but it alas, it is the truth.”
It is Kathy Freston‘s truth. Why does she feel the need to make it everyone’s truth?

I would agree that many people would be healthier if they ate less meat and that the environment would be healthier if we produced less meat globally, However, no anthropological or pseudo-palaeontological argument stating the humans were never supposed to eat meat is required for those two points to be true. In fact, this kind of nonsense detracts from real arguments for producing less meat globally.

If someone doesn’t want to eat meat because the idea of killing an animal upsets them, they should just say so. That’s a good enough argument for me.

4 Responses to “Vegetarian evangelism”

  1. Rowan Manahanon 15 Jun 2009 at

    Sorry to be such a pedant, but you appear to have allowed a spelling error to creep into your post – shouldn’t it be “wove fwuffy bunny wabbits” ?

  2. Declan Chellaron 15 Jun 2009 at


  3. Kevin Murphyon 15 Jun 2009 at

    I have always thought we are evolutionary opportunists.
    If a more calorically dense / easier to obtain source of food is available we will go for it.

    Millions of years pass and one day…. Pizza!

  4. wychwoodon 17 Jun 2009 at

    Interesting piece. Awhile ago i read something which pointed out that animals commonly accounted meat-eaters actually tended to eat the contents of other animals intestines – ie predigested food, not actual muscle tissue, which is what barbecue enthusiasts – and i – like to chomp.

    On the other hand – and i foresee that many hands may issue from this post – muscle meat packs a lot of amino-acid punch nutrition into a body.

    i’m not posting to push anyone into a particular view on this. Many people have a physical makeup that works well on meat, others work better on vegies.

    Current material on nutrition that I’m reading suggests that lean protein and green leafy food is the way to go (low carbs for the carb-addicted0- it doesn’t specify that the protein should be exclusively legume or meat-based, and with so many allergies around it can be a challenging task.

    What does this translate to, all up?

    Nice post, I’m with you on the evangelical thing, though not in a way that would betray my innate independence and as for the rest – work out what suits your body and try to stick to it!

    Oh, and manufacturers? Please stop making choccy so darn tasty! You know who you are – don’t make me come after you!

    Goodness, i’ve written an essay. Oops.

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