Have Humans Always Eaten Meat?

Most people would assume that meat-eating is natural, as many cultures have been eating animals for almost all of recorded history. But when archaeologist look back at our ancient relatives, Homo erectus, data on their Paleolithic diets are circumstantial, as animal skeletal remains are easier to identify than perishable plant remains.

Recently scientists have shed light on this overemphasis, which led us to believe our ancestors consumed a predominately meat-based diet. But, what our ancestors ate would have depended on the era we are talking about, where in the world they live, and the season. We do know they ate a lot of plants.

And today some of our closest relatives—chimpanzees, gorillas, and other great apes—thrive on primarily plant-based diets, with estimated animal and insect food sources comprising 10 percent or less of their diet. Gifts from a common ancestor are likely the reason we have the enzymes and jaw structure required to enjoy a vegan diet.

What Is the Most Natural Diet Today?

Should we be eating the foods our ancestors ate, when those same ancestors may not have lived past the age of 25? Should we be eating only animals we hunted ourselves and the berries we picked? Or have we evolved to know better and to have better choices available to us?

Advancement in agriculture and food transportation allows us to obtain a richly diverse selection of plant-based foods, while food storage, cooking, and processing methods have created innovative and satisfying ways for us to absorb and enjoy the nutrients these foods deliver to us.

In a shocking plot twist, however, we appear to have used many of these technologies to excessively produce and consume meat, even to the detriment of our health, the environment, and our animal friends.

Is It Natural for Our Diets To Damage the Planet and Ourselves?

With 80 billion animals farmed every year the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has described animal agriculture as “probably the largest sectoral source of water pollution contributing to eutrophication, “dead” zones in coastal areas, degradation of coral reefs, human health problems, the emergence of antibiotic resistance and many others.”

Evolving To Do Better

So, while it may have been natural, and was possibly necessary to eat meat thousands of years ago, we now have an opportunity to evolve past that history. By adopting a plant-based culture, we humans could improve our global health crisis, and reduce our impact on the planet and the animals we share it with. Our consumption of meat may once have been natural, but our cruelty to animals, environmental devastation, and gross overconsumption certainly isn’t.

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