If you watch any of the many You Tube channels devoted to vegetarianism and veganism, you will note in the comments the numerous people arguing, among other things, that it was the eating of meat that caused the explosion in our brain size, that meat offers us nutrients that aren’t available from the plant kingdom, and that our history and biology show that we are omnivores. I would like to address these points and suggest that we are natural herbivores and opportunistic eaters of meat.
Current anthropologists, including Richard Leakey, the famous explorer in the Rift Valley in Africa and Nathaniel Dominy, PhD, a biological anthropologist at Dartmouth, assert that humans evolved as herbivores. Dominy goes so far as to say that it is the ability to consume starch, and the evolution of Amy1 (amylase), an enzyme that allows us to digest starches that other animals do not have, that establish that the incredible brain growth that led to our current form was based on the eating and digesting of cooked starches. Whether this is yet the mainstream, I am in no position to judge. However, on the scale of experts, I’m not sure there’s anyone higher than a Leakey.
The next argument, that meat offers nutrients that cannot be found in the plant kingdom, is a strange one. Virtually all of the animals produced for meat consumption are by nature herbivores. They obviously get everything they need (as do elephants, rhinos and giraffes, among others) from plants. Ask one of the meat proponents to explain what animals have that plants don’t have is an exercise in near futility. When pushed, they usually fall back on the B12 fallacy. They claim that meat is the only way for humans to get B12, without recognizing that for hundred of thousands of years, humankind and its ancestors in fact survived very well without whatever B12 is found in meat.
B12 is a vitamin produced by microbes in dirt. It is not produced by animals or the elements of the plant kingdom that we utilize for food. Every source of B12 is from that dirty beginning. B12 deficiency wasn’t a problem in the past because we didn’t wash our vegetables as well as we do now. In fact we didn’t wash anything as well as we do now, meaning that we were getting our B12 from the dirt we were always exposed to. This is why chimps and gorillas don’t have a B12 problem.
The meat industry knows that B12 is no longer found in the beef cattle raised in feedlots and on mashes made of GMO soybeans and corn. As a result, the big feedlots and slaughterhouses have a process whereby they inject B12 into the cows before they are killed. It’s big business. And it’s part of their marketing effort to establish that meat is good for something.
Meat is bad for us. We are not meant to eat meat. Regular meat-eaters have a different microbiome than non-meat-eaters. (For a quick study of the microbiome science, see here.) This is because you need different bacteria to digest the meat. People who never eat meat don’t need these bacteria, and they are shoved out by the bacteria that feed on plant based diets. What’s wrong with the biome for meat eating? It creates substances that are toxic to the human body. One of the most important is TMAO (trimethylene N-oxide), one of the best markers for premature death due to artery or heart disease. TMAO is not created in someone who does not eat meat
As the Cleveland Clinic HeartLab reported last year, “The trouble with TMAO is that data show high levels contribute to a heightened risk for clot-related events such as heart attack and stroke—even after researchers take into account the presence of conventional risk factors and markers of inflammation that might skew the results. In their most recent analysis, scientists showed that high blood levels of TMAO were associated with higher rates of premature death in a group of 2235 patients with stable coronary artery disease. Those found to have higher blood levels of TMAO had a four-fold greater risk of dying from any cause over the subsequent five years.”
I can’t say it enough––TMAO is a byproduct of metabolism of meat, specifically L-carnitine (a product of red meat) and choline (abundant in red meat, dairy, and eggs). If you don’t eat meat, you don’t have TMAOs in your system, unless you drink energy drinks with L-carnitine in them. Want to change your microbiome so you don’t create TMAO? Look here.
Finally, there’s the question of our morphology. Many argue that the fact that we can eat meat means we are omnivores. They also point to our canine teeth, our appendices and an occasional other trait, none of which stand up to scrutiny. Let’s start with teeth and chewing. Look at any carnivore you can think of, or omnivore. They cannot move their jaw side to side. They chomp up and down, tearing at their food. Only herbivores can move their jaws side to side. Think of the cow, chewing her cud. Or pictures of giraffes with their lower jaw an inch to the right of their upper jaw. Guess what? We inherited from our ape progenitors the side-to-side jaw, Go ahead, move your jaw and you’ll see what I mean. There is no recognized omnivore that can do that.
Look at our back teeth, and compare them to the teeth of a crocodile or lion. Ours are broad and flat, to grind grains and fiber in vegetables and fruits. The teeth of the omnivore or carnivore are uniformly sharp. They don’t grind. (How many of you grind your teeth at night? Herbivore!)
Perhaps the most compelling part of our anatomy in the length of our intestines. In a carnivore or omnivore, intestines are short, no more than 3 times the length of their torso. Why? Because meat has to travel quickly through the gut to be released before putrefaction. It’s never good to have food rotting in your gut. Herbivores, on the other hand, have guts 10 times or more longer than their torso. Why? Because plants are full of nutrients that need different processes to get all the goodness out. Fiber takes a long time to digest, and our hungriest bacteria for fiber may be in the last stages of our colon. Our intestines are 10 times longer than our torsos. Think of the koala who only wants to eat eucalyptus. To make sure it gets all it can out of this one type of leaf, it has one of the longest intestines to body size of any animal on earth. Luckily, we have a much broader availability of food, and don’t have to rely on one plant for all our nutrients.
So this is a long piece, and I’m happy if any of you made it this far. But I want to ask you one thing. Are you surprised you haven’t heard about any of this before? You must understand the power of certain groups, like the Cattleman’s Association, Big Dairy and the Egg Board. in the establishment of our eating habits and pubic policy. The USDA is the federal agency charged with two competing missions. One is to promote American agriculture both within the country and over the world, and the other is to provide safety and dietary guidance to the people of this country. Given that the bulk of their work is in promoting agriculture (including the three players mentioned above), is it surprising that it helps these industries put out ads suggesting that beef, pork, chickens, eggs, and milk are all good for us?
Is it surprising that they support school lunch programs by pushing the very things Big Ag produces? Is it surprising that schools teach us from our earliest school age that we need certain products to grow big and strong? Compare that to the science that shows that meat and dairy are prime causes in heart disease and stroke, cancer and diabetes, and realize that the USDA is selling us death, not healthful food.
Ask yourselves why the various disease societies cancer, diabetes, Susan G. Komen, don’t tell you that these diseases can be treated by a whole food plant based diet. Then Google who their supporters are. They are the same groups, Big Ag, Big Pharma, Big Dairy, that have a vested interest in our continuing to eat the way we have learned to eat under their watch. Our top killers are all lifestyle diseases, and they have been foisted on us by the very groups that should be protecting us. In spite of this, meat consumption in this country is going down. Milk consumption is going down. And they should because they are poisons to our very bodies.