“To err is human; to forgive, divine.” What 18th century poet Alexander Pope, in his essay on Criticism, missed is that to eat meat is also human or at least what made us human. Those who advocate and participate in a vegan lifestyle are fond of saying mankind was not meant to eat meat and that we by nature are herbivores. Yet, research proves them wrong and, in fact, shows that, if not for meat in our diets, we would not be human or civilized.
A recent study published in Nature magazine found that human brain evolution would not have been possible without eating meat. The report stated that energy saved from less chewing and the calorie-rich, nutritious benefits of meat played a large role in the evolution of facial and dental sizes, speech production organs, locomotion, and perhaps the size of the human brain. According to the study, it was about 2.6 million years ago that meat first became a significant part of the pre-human diet. According to Harvard University evolutionary biologists Katherine Zink and Daniel Lieberman, the eating of meat is what made us develop into humans rather than root and berry eating animals. They suggest that it was having meat in our early diets that helped us move up the evolutionary chain, “A brain is a very nutritionally demanding organ, and if you want to grow a big one, eating at least some meat will provide you far more calories with far less effort than a meatless menu will.”
Those of us who subscribe to a different view of man’s creation can make the case that man was physically designed to be a meat eater rather than a root digger, and was given “dominion” over the beasts of the earth. The domestication of animals and the livestock industry is first mentioned in Genesis 4: 2.
The eating of meat has also contributed to man’s sociological development. In this book Should Humans Eat Meat, Vaclav Smil postulates that hunting and killing of large animals, butchering of carcasses, and sharing of meat have inevitably contributed to the evolution of human intelligence in general and to the development of language and of capacities for planning, cooperation, and socializing in particular. Undoubtedly, this explains why the backyard barbecue remains so popular today.
Many vegans and environmentalists advocate for the elimination of a meat diet and the production of livestock. They point to the environmental impact of growing feed and raising animals, as well as the health effects of eating meat. Yet, vegans have their own health impacts and, as Smil points out, replacing meat production with vegetable production would actually be worse for the environment. He advocates continued growth in global meat production, but with improvements in efficiency to minimize the impact on and use of natural resources, “The most obvious path toward more rational meat production is to improve efficiencies of many of its constituent processes and hence reduce waste and minimize many undesirable environmental impacts.”
Vegans and vegetarians get a lot of media attention these days, and their lifestyles is seen by some as being chic. Yet, statistics show that only 5% of the population is vegetarian and only 2% vegan. For the majority of us steak-loving, bacon-chewing carnivores, meat is what makes us human and civilized. Just remember as you reach for another drumstick, those with meatless diets may have smaller brains which may explain their dietary choices. Or, as Alexander Pope once said, “What some call health, if purchased by perpetual anxiety about diet, isn’t much better than tedious disease.”
By Gary Truitt