Thursday, September 17, 2009

Our Imaginary Vegan Ancestors (Of Whom There Are None)

I elevated this from comments because I have a cogent rebuttal. (Astonishing as it sounds.)
In this fantasy pre-historic cave-man land that you all seem to think you know so well, meat would probably have been damn hard to come by. Most days, if you were lucky enough to eat, you'd be eating vegan.
Well, no. Vegans don't use any animal products at all -- that means no honey, no leather, no fur, no silk. I was once told (but can't be bothered to confirm) that many vegans won't drink certain brands of beer as some brewers use gelatin in filters during brewing. A vegan lifestyle for our prehistoric forebears is unlikely.

But if you just want to restrict your comments to food, well, you're still wrong. Our ancestors ate all the way up and down the food chain. We share about 98-99% of our DNA with chimps, and if they can eat termite larvae, so can we.

But the most powerful argument against prehistoric humanity living in some kind of vegan paradise comes not from archaeology or sociology but from mathematics. You simply can't eat only vegetables and fruit and ingest enough calories or enough protein to survive outdoors, especially in a place that has a winter. (Note: I'm talking about pre-cultivation history here. Once you settle down and plant rice or wheat, things change a little)

And if you want more evidence, you should look at the great die-off of animal species that happened everywhere that humans emerged from Africa and spread around the world.
In North America, dozens of species disappeared 12,000 to 13,000 years ago, after the arrival of humans, including mammoths and mastodons (both relatives of modern elephants), giant ground sloths, tapirs, a large camel, llamas, a large-horned bison, prong-horned antelopes, oxen, a type of mountain goat, a giant armadillo and the glyptodonts, large mammals covered with solid armor. Large predators such as the saber-toothed cats, dire wolves and some bears also died off.
Just to make it clear: they died off because WE ATE THEM. A LOT.


Moriarty said...

Well stated. It's interesting to consider that chitinase has been preserved in human physiology.

Not that I'm advocating a big plate of pan-fried grasshoppers for breakfast, but I think it puts to rest the notion that we're vegans by our evolution.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with your general thrust. (The idea of a vegan aboriginal tribe is just silly.)


Re: mass extinctions in North America 12-13k years ago...

The Clovis Comet impact, 12,900 years ago, in Michigan, and the resulting continent-wide fires might have had something to do with those extinctions as well.

Atom Smasher said...

Elevating animals to be the equal of humans leads to moral confusion as well. Even if they weren't so darned delicious.

MeatAxe said...


Well the Clovis Comet impact might have had a LOT to do with it, but the fossil record seems to show the extinctions of those species took about 1200 years, which is consistent with the on-foot migration of homo sapiens from the north west of the continent on down.

Don't let me be misinterpreted. I have a LOT of respect for multi-ton missiles moving at 1% of the speed of light, but in this, as in just about everything, there are probably multiple causes.

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog, via Tam's. Just a thought concerning that vegan Craig's ad: somebody mentioned 'the secret life of plants' in the comments. Now if somebody could actually prove that plants are sentient - you could argue that eating plants is actually much more cruel than eating creatures with a central nervous system. The latter you can kill fast and painlessly, if you want to. Plants you have to pretty much either eat alive or torture to death by dropping them into boiling water or something. So, as said, if somebody proved that 'plants = sentient' part in a manner modern science can't deny, how long would it be before we got something like 'carnivorism', people who refuse to have anything to do with torturing poor plants and try to get all they need either from animals or plants that have already died a natural death... (ok, I suppose fruits would be permitted, they are, after all, something plants make so they would be eaten).

Even if you cant hear them scream doesn't mean that they don't :)


Anonymous said...

There is no way to prove a direct causal relationship between mass extinction and over hunting. It seems more believable that man was spreading and animals were dying at the same time. Man spread because food got scarce; plants and animals were dying because food got scarce.

Climate, cosmic, whatever - the simplest truth is a simultaneous happenstance.

Post a Comment