Most people would assume that meat-eating is natural, as many cultures have been eating animals for almost all of recorded history. There is even evidence suggesting that eating meat was essential to human development for our primal ancestors. Despite the human legacy of eating meat, we no longer live in the stone age and therefore can afford to be more selective with our diets.
Technology has advanced since our ancient ancestors’ time, providing us an opportunity to step back from those carnivorous habits. 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.
Unfortunately, we have used many of these technologies to excessively produce meat, to the detriment of our health, the environment, and our animal counterparts. With 70 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”.
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 originally leads us to believe our ancestors consumed a predominately meat-based diet. 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% 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.
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.