Saturday, March 22, 2008

Are Humans Really Omnivores?

I am researching the chapter on what kind of foods we are designed to eat for my book Reasonably, Rationally, Realistically Raw, and I see that carnivore is the name that we have given animals that mostly eat other animals. Plant eating animals we call herbivore. Omnivores eat plants and animals. Simple enough, right?

Well, I wanted to find out why animals ate what they ate. So I started exploring the anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry of the different groups. Carnivores are characterized by having claws, sharp teeth, short smooth colons and digestive tracts, rasping tongues, no lateral jaw movement, and an acidic saliva and urine. They also eat large meals, swallowing their food whole. They have no digestive enzymes. And they control their body temperature by hyperventilating.

Herbivores have flattened nails or hooves, broad blunted incisors and flat molars, long sacculated colons, smooth tongues, side to side jaw movement, non-acidic saliva and urine. They eat smaller meals more frequently, chewing and crushing their food. Digestive enzymes are important to their nutrition. And they perspire.

When it came to omnivores, I found that anatomically and physiologically, omnivores were almost identical to carnivores. Think grizzly bear.

As I researched herbivores I found that primates were not really herbivores, but frugivores (animals that eat mainly fruit). That made sense because primates do not have the same kind of digestive system that cows and other herbivores have. (Fruit is easier to digest than grass or seeds.) Our closest living relatives in the animal world, sharing more that 98 percent of our DNA, live on diets consisting of approximately 80 percent fruit. (Bonobo chimps.)

I have lived my whole life thinking I was an omnivore. Michael Pollan made a lot of money writing The Omnivore's Dilemma. So why all the confusion? Simple. We have confused the verbs "to do" with "to be." Just because we can eat other animals doesn't mean that we should. I may say stupid things, that doesn't mean that I am a stupid person.

Yes, people can eat animals, we can also eat cardboard, that doesn't mean that it's healthy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Humans lack gut flora to digest the cellulose found in cardboard so im not really sure where you are going with this, also chimpanzees will frequently eat many insects and have been observed using simple tools to capture ants/termites also. If you want to avoid meat there are thousands of good reasons to do so, but evolutionary history of biological ancestry is not one of them.