Why the History of Meat Eating is Irrelevant to What We Eat Today


Photo: iScience

During the past eleven months that I’ve spent as a vegan, I have noticed that there are a few things almost every meat eater likes to present me with as a way of reasoning why they have decided not to hop on the veggie bandwagon.

Sometimes you get the people who like to ensure me that they “always buy local and organic as much as possible.” Other times, you get the people who say that they’d love to go vegan but that “they could never give up cheese.” And sometimes there are the people who remind me that there is nothing unethical about eating meat because we’ve done so for the entire history of the human race.

In fact, over the past year I have noticed that many people seem to think humans were meant to eat meat purely because we have done so for so long. But there are so many things that come into play with here that should be brought to attention. 

For several reasons, the history of our meat eating tenancies has become almost irrelevant to the way we consume food in 2016.


Population Growth

Laurence C. Smith discusses the earth’s population growth in his book, The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization’s Northern Future.

In it, he states, “Before the invention of agriculture some twelve thousand years ago, there were perhaps one million persons in the world. That is roughly the present-day population of San Jose, California,”(9). That’s right, only a little more than twelve thousand years ago (a mere flicker of time in the grand scheme of things) the population was 7,500 times smaller than it is today.

In the year 1800 we hit our planet’s first billion people. From there we hit our second billion in 1930, only 130 years later. 30 years later we hit 3 billion, then 15 years to the 4th billion, 12 years to the 5th, another 12 years (1999) to the 6th and our seventh billion came in 2011.

Today, our world’s population is at almost 7.5 billion people.

This growth in population is crucial to understanding the world’s meat and dairy consumption. 12,000 years ago people were consuming far
less animal products because it was being taken from animals in the wild and only as needed for survival.

Now, with our population taking up more room than this planet has space for and our meat consumption ever increasing, there is not enough room to raise enough livestock and keep them fed. Humans – especially Americans – are simply demanding that which we cannot provide.

In order to attempt to fulfill this demand, agricultural companies have resorted to cutting down our world’s precious, natural environments such as the Brazilian Rain Forest. Soon, if these trends continue, we will not have completely depleted Earth’s natural resources. 

This is why the argument that we have always eaten meat simply doesn’t matter anymore. The amount we ate and the way we obtained it has changed so drastically over recent history that it has simply become irrelevant . We need to look forward, not back. 


We Weren’t Built to Consume Meat

While, yes, we have been eating meat since we developed the ability to hunt – it used to be done so for purely survival, this doesn’t mean humans were built to be chewing and digesting meats. In fact, many studies have come out suggesting the opposite. (ScientificAmerican).

What once may have been necessary, or even healthy, hundreds of thousands – even millions – of years ago, is no longer so. As Katherine Harmon states in her 2012 Huffington Post article, “just because a meatier diet was good for our early Homo forbearers does not necessarily [mean] it will keep each of us contemporary humans alive longer. Now that we no longer have to fend for ourselves in quite the same way, increased red meat consumption has actually been linked to shorter individual life spans.”

Most of the health problems in America are diet-related. Risk of heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, strokes, and even cancer can be reduced significantly or even eradicated entirely through a change in diet. Consuming dairy is even being connected now to an increased risk of Osteoporosis. These risks are only growing in severity as we continue to consume larger and larger quantities of animal products each year.

The biologic make up of our bodies is another hint towards this idea. Our bodies are not built like the predators in nature, nor have they ever been. An article by Aimee Kuvadia discusses this when she quotes Neal Barnard saying, “‘We are not quick, like cats, hawks or other presidents,’ says Barnard. ‘It was not until the advent of arrowheads, hatchets and other implements that killing and capturing prey became possible.”

Humans are also lacking a set of teeth meant for ripping and tearing at flesh. While we have so called “canine” teeth, they are nothing in comparison to the canine teeth of other predators such as tigers, bears, dogs or wolves.

What’s more is that we not only differ in many traits from meat-eaters, but we share many traits with herbivores. “Other characteristics humans share with herbivores are the length of their intestines, the fact they sip water instead of lapping it up with their tongues, perspiring to cool off instead of panting and the size of their mouths (they’re small in relation to their heads). Carnivores’ mouths are more conducive to ‘seizing, killing and dismembering prey.’”(Kuvadia).

The discussion could keep on going, we were simply not meant to be consuming and catching meat. Our bodies weren’t meant for it. Our development of tools and other such devices to aid us in the acquiring of meat was the beginning of our consuming it – and in much smaller amounts than we do today, and purely for survival and to minimize the need for nomadic living.


Things Change

Finally, it seems almost unnecessary to point out the fact that times change. To say that eating meat is fine because we have always done so is like if we said that men and women shouldn’t be equal, because we’ve been unequal for most of history. Or, really, any number of changes that we’ve made as a society. If we didn’t make changes in this world simply because it’s just what we’ve always done, then we would never see progress.

Perhaps at one time in this world we were able to consume meat in a way that was healthy and natural, but since the explosion of the human population, the development of animal agriculture and the increase in the amount of animal products we are consuming, things have changed.

No longer is it ethical, healthy, sustainable, economical, or even possible to continue in the direction we are heading. It is clear that we, as a society, either need to completely stop eating meat, or at least cut back significantly. It doesn’t matter what we have done in the past. It matters where we are going.


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