The Accidental Carnivore

Take a look at your hands: You’ve got nice fingernails . . . not claws. How about teeth? You’ve got relatively small teeth, specifically lacking the sharp, powerful cutting power of large canine teeth. You’ve also got strong, somewhat thick-enameled molars. In short, we lack the natural tools of carnivory. While a hyena, jackal, lion or other carnivore can tear the throat of a gazelle with ease, you and I would not chance such a thing.

Based on such observations, some people say that humans are born herbivores and that carnivory is unnatural, perhaps a perversion of primate aggression. (All ruminant readers of the Wheat Belly Blog, however, are encouraged to continue reading the vegetarian literature.)

I’m going to propose a different perspective. I propose that Homo sapiens, likely derived from one or more herbivorous primates of the Australopithecine variety, is the exception to the rule that form determines function: Humans became carnivorous (or, more properly, omnivorous) because of their brains (and brains likely evolved as a consequence of this behavior). Let’s review the sequence that many anthropologists tell us occurred since the first Homo species walked (and climbed, given their residual arboreal capacity):

Image courtesy Wikipedia

–The earliest Homo species likely killed small game for food, such as small reptiles and rodents, on their own, while scavenging the larger kill of natural carnivores. This may have provided the basis for rudimentary tool use, e.g., cracking open the skull or long bones of a scavenged gazelle with a rock. This precedes the taming of fire, so meat and organs were consumed raw. Nonetheless, the fat and protein was likely deeply satisfying to hungry Homo.
Homo became more adept at creating tools and weaponry–The reign of the very successful Homo erectus and related strains witnessed the development of spears, knives, cutters, scrapers, pounding tools, all stone, of course. This made Homo a more effective hunter/trapper/killer of animals. Somewhere along the way, likely spottily and inconsistently, fire was used and tamed to cook food, making calories more bioavailable. (See Dr. Richard Wrangam’s excellent discussion about the role of fire in human evolution in his book, Catching Fire.)
Homo developed the ability to group hunt. While non-verbal carnivores can group hunt, Homo likely discovered the substantial advantage that emerged with communication. Imagine taking down a wooly mammoth: One or more humans slash the tendons of the rear legs, for instance, while several humans distracted the creature from the front. Such collaborative efforts, surely terrifying, required some means of communication–language–as well as the vocal apparatus for speech (absent pre-Homo).

It is not entirely clear why or how, through this 2.4 million year long story of adaptation to life on earth in its varying habitats and climates, brain size increased 3-fold, from the 450 cc chimpanzee-sized brain of Australopithecus, to the 1600 cc brain of pre-agricultural Homo (e.g., Cro Magnon and Neandertal). Anthropologists speculate that the combined effects of animal flesh and organ consumption, increasing need for more effective tools and weapons, and the advantage of communication/language/vocalization fueled this growth in brain size, coupled with mutations favoring such phenomena. (Carnivory alone, of course, is insufficient explanation, else lions would be the smartest creatures on earth.)

So consumption of animal organs and flesh, acquired via the unique brain, technological, and cultural evolution of Homo, sets us apart from other animals. We are not exclusively herbivorous like Australopithecus, nor are we obligatorily carnivorous like a Bengal tiger. We are something in between, uniquely positioned and unlike any other creature.

And, of course, we are most definitely not evolutionarily suited to consume the modern grain products of agribusiness, the stuff that even ruminants may struggle with.

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86 Responses to The Accidental Carnivore

  1. Pingback: What do you mean I can’t eat bread anymore? | TheRamblingsofMrsEisenach

  2. LydTN says:

    I have been a vegetarian (or more specifically a pescatarian) all of my life – I think I could count the number of times I have eaten meat in 30 years on one hand and almost every time it has made me quite ill. It wasn’t my choice, it’s just how I was raised. I do have ethical issues with the particular way in which modern Americans consume meat and the effect that the meat industry has on the environment, but I am not one who believes that a carnivorous diet in general is immoral or unnatural. However, that said, I do not think that I could at this point in life change that about myself. I have no real desire to start eating chicken or beef or anythin else with legs. Though intellectually I don’t find it reprehensible, my reflex every time I have even considered eating meat as an adult has been to gag. I do eat fish, but of course have concerns about mercury levels and am wary to increase my fish intake much more, and most vegetarian meat substitutes are chock full of wheat and gluten. Could you make any recommendations for safe ways to avoid getting stuck eating nothing but veggies and quinoa without violating who I am as a person? Thanks!

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Well, you’ve still got plenty of nuts in all their glory, seeds including chia and flaxseed, mushrooms, coconut flour/oil/shredded/chips/water, avocados, shellfish!

    • While I empathize with your dietary challenges……I take issue with your statement regarding “I do have ethical issues with the particular way in which modern Americans consume meat and the effect that the meat industry has on the environment”. ( I don’t think anyone here supports, nor endorses, the CAFA industry and this blog promotes the use of pastured/sustainable meat options.) The truth is that the agriculture industries of the world (primarily corn, soy and wheat) are largely responsible for the most egregious devastation and deterioration of our planet……by ruining the topsoil, destroying natural lands and forests, driving multitudes of animals/birds into extinction, and ravaging our ecosystem (among a great many more atrocities)…..and if we don’t change something soon, the damage may be irreversible.

  3. unterderlaterne says:

    I do not know if this is the right place to post this, but please go to this video, it has some humor woven into it ! I was mesmerized by this young Swedish Doctor. The accent helped too! You will enjoy it and find it very interesting, the Swedes are way ahead of us when it comes to eating low carb. Enjoy and please see it to the end, it is worth it!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSeSTq-N4U4.

    • Neicee says:

      under, thank you so much for posting the link. I’ve visited his website often, but never taken the time to listen or watch a video. Sage advice, and enjoyed the Q&A session by Dr. Lustig as well. I have watched his youtube presentation about the evils of sugar and sent numerous links to it.

      • Neicee says:

        Not “under”…..apologies for murdering your name or nic.

        • unterderlaterne says:

          I was frustrated because I could not post the beginning of the video, there the Doc shows Michelangelo after eating the high carb diet , it was very funny.
          After I watched the video , which is 54 min,.long, I discovered that there is a button which enables one to interrupt and finish watching when it is convenient again..Who knew?

  4. unterderlaterne says:

    I am very embarrassed doing such an incredible bad job in posting this information !!!
    Here is the Video from the beginning. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSeSTq-N4U4
    Please forgive me.

  5. unterderlaterne says:

    Alright so now I misspelled ” embarrassed” . How fitting is that?
    I think I will just hang my head in shame and go away for a while. LOL.

    • Neicee says:

      unterderlaterne, thanks for my laugh of the morning! I’ve been over visiting other paleo/primal vs HFLC websites. It’s hard to figure out how to describe one’s lifestyle….everyone wants to know exactly and why. Guess I’ll just stay a WB warrior. Usually get strange looks…..

    • Barbara in New Jersey says:

      Unterderlaterne,

      That pix of “David the Fatty” is just priceless! Thank you for all your efforts it was worth it!
      Many people, myself included, have commented about not being able to correct posts, so don’t feel like you are the only one to make mistakes that can’t be fixed.

  6. unterderlaterne says:

    An *Edit* button would be nice. Thank you Neicee and Barbara for being so forgiving, I feel like an idiot !