Over the 70,000 generations that our species has walked this planet, we have acquired skill at hunting animals for food and clothing. Accordingly, our bodies have made numerous adaptations to this lifestyle, including reliance on nutrients that only come from animal organs and meats.
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I have been talking lately about how we can take some very important lessons about human diet by looking at human dietary history, because if we look back and understand how we’ve eaten for the last 70,000 generations since our species walked this planet, we get an idea of what our genetic dietary script is.
So, recall that one example I use is, if you watch a lion tear open the abdomen of a gazelle or wildebeest, and eat its liver, intestinal tract, heart and meat — and you’re disgusted by that, and you caged that lion and decide you’re gonna feed it broccoli and kale — what will happen to that lion? It will die, in a very short period of time, right? What if you decide that because hay nourishes grazing creatures like horses and goats, so you feed your fish hay. The fish will starve and die, right?
Every species has a fairly specific dietary script written into its genetics, that has evolved over millions of years. Humans are no different. We have a dietary script written into our genetic code. Let’s go back 70,000 generations, to pre-homo species, that is the remnants of species that predate our species. What did they eat? They were largely, not entirely, but largely herbivorous. They ate plants and fruit. They scavenged the animals killed by other creatures (particularly creatures with big claws, large canine teeth and powerful jaws).
As humans evolved, as our species began to appear, we were very adept tool makers. We learned how to carve rocks into arrowheads, spearheads, axes. We learned how to create spears. We created something called an atlatl, which is a launching device that launches spears at very high speed, very effectively, and then more recently bows and arrows, and the equipment we needed to fish creatures from water. We became very effective hunters.
And the more we consumed animal products, including their brains, the more our brains seemed to grow. We developed a forebrain, a very highly developed forebrain, that allows planning, because hunting requires planning. It requires the hunters to anticipate the movement of a herd of animals for instance, off a cliff, or into water, so you can trap them, or trap them into a pit. So a developed forebrain, fed by consumption of animal products, gave us the capacity for effective planning.
It also gave us a speech center. It allowed us to communicate, because hunting means communicating with your other hunters. Humans became very effective group hunters: “You go in front and poke him in the front with the spear. I’ll come from behind with my axe and chop his knees.” or something like that — required communication. It also required the vocal apparatus for speech: a complex collection of tools that includes vocal cords that could enunciate a range of sounds, lips that had fine control, as well as a tongue, breath control allows you to speak.
All these things together allowed us to become very effective hunters — so effective the anthropologists speculate that the massive die-off of large mammals, like mammoths, that began around 130,000 years ago was because humans became such effective group hunters, and essentially made a lot of these species go extinct. Humans became very skilled group hunters, and our bodies changed.
We adapted through the consumption of animal products. Our colons were reduced in size, shortened, because we didn’t consume the large quantities of fibrous vegetable matter anymore. That freed up energy for brain growth, because the colon is very energy intensive (as is the brain). That allowed excess energy to be consumed by the brain. The brain is very energy intensive. Our small intestine’s length grew to be more efficient at digesting animal products.
We became dependent on the nutrients from animals. You can only get vitamin B12 from animal products. There are no plants that have B12, so you must consume animal products for vitamin B12. Likewise K2; it comes from grazing creatures. So K2 came from only from animals, as does zinc. Virtually all the zinc in your diet is from animal products.
Also, Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA: you cannot get sufficient quantities of EPA & DHA from the Omega 3 of plants (that is linolenic acid); you are therefore at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease, unless you get EPA and DHA from animal products, and of course marine products — fish. And there are other nutrients become we’ve become dependent on: iodine from consuming the thyroid glands of animals.
And so humans have become dependent on getting the nutrients: some nutrients you can of course get from plant products, but there are collections of nutrients that can only come from animal products. Humans have become dependent on them. People who do not eat those things become deficient over time. That’s why, for instance, in India where 30% of people are vegetarian, they have massive problems with impaired childhood growth and learning, because of B12 deficiency, iron deficiency and other deficiencies.
Humans also became very dependent on animals for clothing. When humans migrated away from tropical and subtropical climates and into colder climates, what did you wear in the winter when temperatures dipped into the freezing and below? Well you can’t wear plants very effectively. What did you wear? Animal skins; and you wore that on your feet as well. So we killed animals to survive, as we migrated away from tropical climates. If you don’t kill animals for clothing, in the old times, you would freeze to death. You and your family would freeze to death.
Now, interestingly, as we incorporated animals, we also learned to domesticate certain types of animals, primarily herbivorous or ruminant type creatures, like the auroch (which became our cows), and the ibex (which became goats). But in the early days of domesticating animals we lived in close quarters with them. Maybe your family slept in the hut or cave or adobe structure in one corner, a pile of hay, and your two goats slept in the other corner, because you wanted to protect them from other creatures like wolves or foxes, as well as other humans.
Well that was the origin of almost 300 of what are called zoonoses, diseases we caught from animals. This is this accounts for many of the most devastating diseases of humans including tuberculosis, smallpox (those two diseases alone have killed millions of people over the years), flu, measles. A lot of the common infectious diseases, diseases that we think of it as being commonplace, came from our domesticated animals.
In other words, animals have played a crucial role in our lives, and we rely on them for nutrients. Our bodies have adapted to consuming animal products: organs and meats. Now we didn’t make that mistake of living in close quarters with our domesticated animals. We don’t do that anymore, of course, but that’s another facet of the whole experience, the human experience with animals. And so, consumption of animal products, wearing their skins, etc., is a crucial piece of human evolution.
And thinking that we shouldn’t do that is, silly, because that’s how humans have been. I wish we could live on kale, broccoli and berries, but you can’t. You cannot do so and live a full healthy life. So we are left with the situation where we have a dietary script written into our genetic code, that causes us to be reliant, to some degree, on the consumption of animal products.