Are humans made to be vegetarians?

Artist Rendition of the Hunting of a Mammoth.

We’re used to hearing about our as hunter-gatherers. We also have cultural evidence such as the cave drawings depicting scenes of hunting. Despite this, there is a growing debate whether human beings’ anatomy resembles more a herbivore and therefore we are made to be vegetarians.

In Favor

There are many articles such as Shattering the Meat Myth in The Huffington Post, Humans are Actually Plant Eaters 9 Reasons your Canine Teeth don’t make you a meat eater, Human Ancestors were Nearly All Vegetarians in Scientific American and almost every vegetarian website has its article taking a position in terms of the debate.

The one big argument that most of these sites make is The Comparative Anatomy of Eating by Dr. Milton Mills. The table below summarizes the findings:


The majority of the food consumed by primates today–and every indication is for the last thirty million years–is vegetable, not animal. Plants are what our apey and even earlier ancestors ate;…for tens of millions of years those ordinary guts have tended to be filled with fruit, leaves, and the occasional delicacy of a raw hummingbird

-Rob Dunn

The International Vegetarian Union has a collection of articles on the Diet of Early Humans. Including Omnivorous or Vegetarian? What Famous Naturalists Think about it:

These are the researches by the most famous naturalists that mankind has had. We have to observe that their studies were frequently supported and made reference by comparing the anatomy of man to that of other mammals, especially the ape family, and speak to us about the formation of teeth and digestive tubes of these animals. In this way all these famous naturalists arrived at the same impressive conclusion: man is vegetarian by nature, and if the word vegetarian does not appear in their writings, it is because the word did not exist.

– Luis Vallejo Rodriguez.

The Opposition

Neanderthal Eating Vegetation

An article written by Thomas M. Greiner, Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin arguments about human’s omnivorous characteristics. In Are We Meat Eaters or Vegetarians? a post in he discusses and proposes that it was our meat eating whih allowed us to evolve to have bigger brains and make us human. In Beyond

Including in the website of the Vegetarian Resource Group, Humans are Omnivores:

Nearly all plant eaters have fermenting vats (enlarged chambers where foods sits and microbes attack it). Ruminants like cattle and deer have forward sacs derived from remodeled esophagus and stomach. Horses, rhinos, and colobine monkeys have posterior, hindgut sacs. Humans have no such specializations.

-John McArdle, phD:

Let’s go back to our original quote in Scientific American, which goes on to conclude:

The recent adaptations of our bodies differ from one person to the next, whether because of unique versions of genes or unique microbes, but our bodies are all fully-equipped to deal with meat (which is relatively easy) and natural sugars (also easy, if not always beneficial), and harder to digest plant material, what often gets called fiber.5 …what our histories and ancestral diets offer is not an answer as to what we should eat. It is, more simply, context.

In my opinion, we’ll continue discussing and discovering how ancient man actually fed, if he naturally hunted or naturally foraged, and all of this is irrelevant to me versus how we evolved. A great article in the New York Times concludes:

Take dairy products, one of the classic modern foods we supposedly aren’t meant to eat. Most people who can’t tolerate them lack a gene that confers the ability to break down lactose…Our Stone Age ancestors couldn’t digest milk as adults either, but a recent study shows that about 5,000 years ago, mutations that keep that gene switched on spread throughout Northern Europe. That’s also when cattle began to be domesticated; being able to drink milk as well as lower-lactose cheese would have been advantageous as a source of nutrition and fluids… This major change in diet — and genes — happened within an evolutionary blink of an eye.

-Marlene Zuk, biology professor

The truth is that  humans are equipped with the biology necessary to be an omnivore. Omnivores don’t consume equal amounts of meat and plants. This means that we can choose how much meat we eat, if any.




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