The Anthropological Basis for Eating Meat
I have frequently quoted Dr. Joel Fuhrman who wrote a good book about fasting in 1995 called Fasting and Eating for Health: A Medical Doctor’s Program for Conquering Disease. What Fuhrman writes about fasting and fasting research is excellent, but what he writes about diet is quite terrible. Fuhrman is what I call a radical vegan, an individual who promotes the idea of a 100% plant-based diet and has embraced, without reservation, the now-largely-discredited, government-sponsored lipid hypothesis. The lipid hypothesis holds that all our diseases, from diabetes to cancer, have their origins in eating animal products.
Fuhrman bases his radical, and now largely discredited theories, upon the idea that we descended from large forest apes that were herbivores and did not eat meat.
Unfortunately they do not teach anthropology in medical school and Fuhrman’s forest ape theory is bogus and based on bad science and an inaccurate understanding of human evolution.
Central to understanding human evolution and its connection with diet is our understanding of how our big brains that we now take for granted, developed. However, our big brains that distinguish us from the rest of the animal kingdom may not at one time been an advantage in natural selection. Our big brains require a huge amount of energy compared with the rest of our body. Pound for pound our big brains require nearly 10 times as much energy as the muscles in our arms and in a given day require about 20 % to 30% of the total energy our bodies consume.
Where did these big brains come from and how did they evolve? About two million years ago East Africa had more diversity of life than any other place on the planet. And some of the most interesting life was six species of upright walking apes with some human-like characteristics. Most anthropologists agree that one of these species emerged as our most likely ancestor and the others went extinct.
Of these six species only two were the most likely to win the evolutionary lottery for becoming our ancestors, Paranthropus Boisei and Homo Habilis.
At first glance the Boisei seemed to have the advantage. They had huge jaws and big strong teeth that enabled them to eat virtually any plant material, even dry reeds and grass. The Boisei could just sit in a field of grass and eat all they wanted and it did not matter if draught dried out the grass; they could still eat it.
Their main competitor, Homo Habilis, did not have the big jaws and had to be more selective about what they ate. They had to move around to find what they needed and they developed something the Boisei did not have, curiosity. Homo Habilis became inquisitive scavengers. They would, for example, note circling vultures and go to that area to discover a dead and edible animal.
But there were two things that really gave Homo Habilis an advantage over the Boisei. The first was that Homo Habilis learned to make primitive tools out of stones.
And the second thing that put Homo Habilis over the top in the race to become the ancestors of the humans that would come to dominate the earth was what they did with these tools.
With these tools Homo Habilis learned to butcher and eat meat. And in addition to the edible muscle meat they were able, with these powerful new tools, to gain access to a new and incredibly rich source of nutrition, bone marrow.
By discovering animal protein and particularly animal fat, Homo Habilis had discovered a rich source of concentrated calories and it was this discovery that gave them the dietary energy needed to emerge as the dominant upright apes that became our ancestors. Their dominance was assured by the development of big brains and they could not have developed big brains without eating animal products.
The only animal products the Boisei had access to were termites. The Boisei lost the evolutionary race and went extinct. Homo Habilis won the evolutionary race because they ate meat and other animal products and subsequently developed big brains.
I do not have the space here to debate the merits of Joel Fuhrman’s fruit and vegetable diet, but the one anthropological fact that I am certain of is this: We did not, as Fuhrman asserts, descend from large forest apes that only ate leaves in the jungle; the human race developed into what we are today because we learned to eat animal products.