Tuesday, April 10

Some thoughts on the 'humans are meant to eat meat' argument

So now that I'm officially a vegan, I've been doing some thinking about the arguments people come up with as to why I'm a weirdo. One of them is "But humans are meant to eat meat, it's our natural diet". If the person who says this is somewhat intelligent it is often backed up with "That's why we have canine teeth".

Canine teeth. Let's talk about canine teeth.

Canine teeth are named, I assume, after the pointy fangs of dog-animals (wolves, foxes, jackals etc), as their family name is canidae (not to be confused with Canada, they are very different), and wolves and dogs are also from the genus canis. Let's have a look at some human canine teeth.

There they are, they're the ones coloured in red. Basically, there are 3 kinds of teeth. Incisors are the ones at the front (the blue ones), they are chisel shaped and used for cutting plant matter; think of biting an apple or a sheep nibbling grass. Canine teeth are pointy, they are used for tearing flesh and are handy if you want to gnaw meat off a bone. Then there's molars (the green ones), they are flat and ridgy and are used for grinding up plant matter that has already been chomped by the incisors.

Take a look at the set of human teeth, the incisors are actually the longest teeth, if you're canines were longer than your incisors then you'd look like a vampire and people would be creeped out. In fact, people tend to find people with big incisors quite attractive, just look at American celebrities. The widest teeth are the molars, and humans have quite a lot of them, 20 in an adult, and they are nice and flat for grinding. The canine teeth in humans are actually quite small and inconsequential. Sure they might be sharp, but they're no sharper than any of the other teeth.

The argument is that, because humans have canine teeth, they must be 'meat eaters'. It is true that some herbivores lack canine teeth, look at a cow for instance:

 And elephants, in fact, lack everything except molars and 2 incisors (their tusks):

However many, nay, most, herbivores do have canine teeth. Here is a good example of canine teeth in a horse:

The thing about evolution is, it's not neat and simple. There are dead ends and there are leftovers. All animals are descendants of animals which, at some point along the line, probably engaged in a bit of flesh eating. When diets and lifestyles changed over millions of years and generations, the evidence of this didn't disappear, it just started to shrink. In animals that weren't eating as much meat as they used to, canine teeth began to shrink as they became useless. That's why herbivorous animals such as horses, sheep, and deer have little canine teeth that are not suited to meat eating. Why is this relevant? Because people have little canine teeth that are not suited to meat eating.

Cats are one of the few types of animals that are truly carnivorous. While they do occasionally eat grass, they seem to do this to make themselves vomit, rather than for sustenance. Here is a great picture of cat teeth:

Can you even see any incisors? They are virtually non-existent because they are useless to a cat. Cats don't bite apples or nibble grass. Ok, so maybe they do nibble grass, but you'll notice they awkwardly do it with their tall, pointy molars, made for slicing meat rather than grinding like our short, flat ones.

Some will say that the reason people don't have large canines and tiny incisors like cats is because we are omnivores. Is this true though? Dogs are omnivores. Their teeth look like this:

Kind of similar to a cat really. The incisors are bigger but the canine teeth are still huge and the molars are not flat. However, dogs do eat a fair amount of meat so let's take a look at an omnivorous animal that eats very little meat. Grizzly bears. People usually think of bears as carnivores and indeed some bears have to be, such as polar bears. Most bears though are omnivorous and eat mainly plant matter. The majority of a grizzly bear's diet is plant matter, with a few small animals thrown in every now and then. This is a grizzly bear skull:

Those incisors are starting to look familiar and the molars sure are looking nice and flat. However, the canine teeth are still long and very thick. Maybe this is because grizzly bears are more closely related to dogs (and many other animals!) than to humans. People often say that chimpanzees are out closest relatives and indeed their behaviour is very similar to ours. Chimpanzees eat plant matter, but they also hunt mammals and meat makes up a fair percentage of their diet.

Their teeth reveal that it has probably always been this way, or it has been this way for a very long time. While they have large incisors and flat molars, their canine teeth are huge. They overlap each other and protrude as far out of the jaw as those of a grizzly bear. The jaw is also very thickset and strong. Compare this to our actual closest relative, the bonobo. Bonobos are quite peaceful and sociable animals whose diet is almost entirely made up of plants. They do not actively hunt mammals for food though they will eat small ones if the opportunity arises. Mostly the animal-product part of their diet is made up of insects, eggs, and honey. They are foragers, and their teeth look like this:

So let's go back to the human teeth.

We have short flat, molars, largish incisors, and very small canine teeth. This evidence suggests that humans are inherently vegan. We are foragers and scavengers, opportunists who would eat meat if they found it (probably dead) but otherwise lived quite happily on what they could eat from plants. It appears that, up until quite recently, our natural diet consisted of less animal-products than the diet of a bonobo. So why do we eat meat now? Well, lots of reasons really. Farming livestock is easier than foraging, eating meat means that you eat smaller meals and less often than if you were eating only plant matter, and the main reason? Dogs. Dogs hung around people, people hung around dogs. Dogs kill animals and leave leftovers. It doesn't take long for opportunists such as ourselves to work out that if we work in partnership with the dogs we can get a free feed.

Does this mean that we need to continue eating meat and other animal products though? When we are now lucky enough to be able to access our natural diet without the inconvenience of foraging, why would we pass this up? It's been widely shown that eating meat is not very good for our health. It contributes to cancer, cholesterol problems, high blood pressure, heart problems, obesity, and a whole range of other, and related, health problems. Since going vegan I have really felt the change in my body. I have energy, I have vitality, I feel as if I work properly now. I believe this is because I'm now giving my body what it needs, its natural diet.

Canine teeth do tell us what our natural diet is. Our natural diet is pretty much vegan. So take that somewhat intelligent people that try to make me feel like a weirdo because I don't consume the breast milk of another species. Weirdo.

Happy eating! :)

No comments:

Post a Comment

What do you think? I'd love to hear from you!