Are humans meant to be vegetarian?

I get this question all the time. People compare our biology to wolves, bears, horses, cows… Biologically we are most like pigs actually. Pigs are omnivores, but can live off a purely vegetable diet. So can we.

Cows have several stomachs so they can eat grass. Humans can only digest the grass we eat (wheat and other grains) when cooked, which is something humans have been doing for thousands of years.

Wolves and other pure meat eating species have special types of teeth we don’t have. Similarly, we don’t have the types of teeth and the intestinal tracks of species that eat only raw vegetable matter. Like cows and horses. The biological argument can go both ways.

As omnivores our biological make up is between that of vegetarian animals like cows and that of purely meat eating species like cats and dogs. In other words: we get to choose.

Human beings are quite adaptable. Our teeth, like those of other omnivores, are adapted to both meat (cooked usually though) and vegetable matter. A diet purely based on health considerations would include very little, but some meat or fish products. There has hardly been a time in history when people ate meat daily. Meat was simply too expensive to eat daily. Food like chips and fries have little resemblance to what our ancestors ate.

Similarly there have been very few people in history to be purely vegetarian. Those Brahmans who were, would resort to Ayur Vedic medicine when things went wrong. Some of the things that went wrong were solved by medicines which would include meat.

On the other hand: our modern hygiene makes it harder for some of the nutrients we need to develop naturally in our foods. I’m talking about vitamin B12 which we usually get through animal products (yogurt will do, though meat and fish have it as well). It is one of the most difficult nutrients to get for a vegan, but it is present in rice that has gone off a bit.

Ultimately humans have been known throughout history to have all kinds of diets. In the days before the grand migrations of the 20th century it was found that what was most healthy for people was the local diet. That is: for people used to living off blood and milk for generations – that was the most healthy. Similarly people used to living off rice, fruit and vegetables for generations, that is what they will thrive off.

Most of us come from mixed stock however. We have to find our way in our modern world. This includes options our ancestors never had. A vegetarian diet is possible these days with the full use of modernity. I can get meat substitutes in the supermarket that make it easy to turn out a dinner in 20 minutes or less. I can get fruits and vegetables from all over the world into my refrigerator, which means that the various nutrients present in them are at my disposal. When I worry about the few nutrients that may not be present in my diet automatically, I can take pills to supplement. [See also my collection of health tips for vegetarians for details on vegetarian health issues]. However, I recently had my blood checked out, and there were no abnormalities. That is without taking any pills whatsoever for months and living on a purely vegetarian (not vegan) diet.

Taking pills or eating meat substitutes based on soy may not be ‘natural’, but then neither is typing at this computer, or riding a bike, or flushing the toilet. For humans it is natural to have a culture that makes us eat differently all over the world and do things our ape like ancestors would never have done. Our time is unique in that we have more freedom than ever before in determining our diet.

As biological omnivores we have a choice to be vegetarian or not. There are several reasons why I’m a  vegetarian (ethical, environmental and spiritual). Each person has to make their own choices in that regard. But the ‘nature’ argument is just not a good one. It’s our nature to be responsible. It’s our nature to be flexible. It’s in our nature to make choices.

I don’t have a problem with people eating meat. But please don’t rationalize eating meat daily by saying ‘it’s natural’. It’s not. It is very unlikely your ancestors even three generations ago could afford to do that.

Why Vegetarian? The Environment & cruelty to animals

Why are people vegetarians?

There are several reasons for people to become vegetarians. For me it has to do with the spiritual effects of eating meat as well as the impact of eating animals on animals and the environment in general.

Like everybody vegetarians have to watch their health. I’m sometimes surprised at the fire with which meat eaters can worry about the health issues associated with vegetarianism, when they DO go out and eat fast food themselves. Do they really think that’s healthier?

Spiritual reasons

I’m a vegetarian for various reasons: the environmental reason would probably be enough for me and animal cruelty is certainly an issue I care about.
The most important reason I’m a vegetarian is totally different however.

Basically I’m a vegetarian for spiritual reasons. Many Theosophists feel, like many people who do yoga, that eating meat just isn’t good for your spiritual development.

Eating meat is said to coarsen the aura: making a person more susceptible to aggression, strengthening the lower emotions.
This isn’t to say that only bad people eat meat. Nor that all vegetarians are saints. That would be foolish.
It is saying that if you want to be a better person, grow spiritually, becoming a vegetarian is one of the things to consider.
If it’s the only thing you do – it is obviously not going to help much. But combined with introspection, service to others, meditation perhaps – vegetarianism should be a help in changing your life.

Eating animals just isn’t good for the environment: wasting space and energy

Sorry folks – eating animals is just a waste of space and energy. With global food shortage it is becoming very clear that this issue needs to be addressed.
It is really simple: if one acre of land is used to grow vegetables a lot more people can be fed with them, than if the same acre is used for grazing livestock. It’s just less efficient.

Eating fish is also a problem: fishing has become so easy through technology that many of the fish species people consume are in danger of becoming extinct.

Animal cruelty

These days animals like pigs, chicken and cows just don’t live very natural lives. They are cramped together, often eating unnatural foods and kept alive with a lot of drugs.
Those of you who eat meat contribute to those problems, unless of course you eat organic meat.

26 thoughts on “Are humans meant to be vegetarian?”

  1. I seriously doubt that diet has little if any effect on longevity, unless one suffers from diabetes or some other abnormality. I don’t believe a true vegetarian or vegan even exists, because although one may refrain from eating meat or dairy products, each of us nevertheless consumes animal products every day. Soap, for instance, is comprised of animal fat. A true vegan could not even use paper, because animal products are used as starches in the processing of wood pulp.

    1. I am a true vegetarian – most of Indians are. Here, still you will find more than 50% pure veg restaurants. It is obviously you will think that way because you wanted to eat and your mind will make different claims to prove your point WHICH IS WRONG. Don’t give unnecessary logic; Atleast in India Soap don’t contain Animal Fat. Paper are also not processed that way.

  2. Do you really think vegetarians and vegans hadn’t thought about all that before? We do the best we can in minimizing the impact on the environment and cruelty to animals. Can you say the same?

    As for the health thing – the effect of eating only French fries and burgers on human health has been pretty well established.

  3. I’ve never undestood these dietary concerns. Hitler was a vegetarian, and what difference did it make? I’ve worked with vegetarians, and their level of protein seems to be so deficient that they are always in some kind of mental fog.

    Daniel Boorstin in his book The Discoverers points out how the use of the printing press in the Muslim world was delayed for centuries because of the dietary ban on pork, the concern among Muslims being that if the printing block contained the name of Allah, he would be defiled if the block were cleaned or touched by a hog bristle brush. In fact the first officially published edition of the Koran did not appear in Egypt until 1925, and even then moveable type was not used, but block printing which reproduced written manuscripts.

  4. You mentioned meat substitutes… in US supermarkets they are mostly packaged, and health food stores/co-ops often have those (expensive,) but also similar dry mixes, and there are recipes for all that: mostly legumes/beans & spices, and usually glutinous grain/flour for cohesion. It is said people need only 5% protein, and either sometimes more, or legumes do not usually add up to that much, since they are partly starch/carbohydrate, and because of that composition they are not considered great by Natural Hygienists, who recommend use enough nuts/seeds and avocadoes, and (maybe, or recommended for avoidance or moderation,) if one needs fats (which one needs more than people think who were on SAD diet and think ‘eliminate it,’) then olives–which have mainly/only good fats, like most nuts/seeds. Good recipes include blending fruits, nuts/seeds of simliar PH.

    Your recommendations say b12 is in “rice that is off.” It is likely in several “off” foods: spoiled or poorly washed, especially dug up, and it is in certain torula yeast (AFAIK,) maybe purslane (or it has ω-acids or both,) and ‘fortified’ processed foods (soy-based or simlar.) AFAIK, non-vegans need not pay much attention to b12, but should for ω-acids (vegans must.) However, dirty or processed food are as unreliable to the extent they are hard to use consistently and keep track of, which they mostly are verily, and they can be unhealthy. Many b12 tablets are vegan; most may have a little bit of excipients, but if they are even slightly harmful, they are better than inconsistent use and can be counteracted.

    This page mentions ‘natural,’ which the rest of my comment is off-topic on. I think some toilets, bikes, computers are relatively natural (otherwise supernatural, sub-natural, or otherwise unnatural, which probably still refers to ‘natural.’) They use no nuclear force; they might not use electromagnetism; maybe they use gravity–primitive simple mechanics, which all animals use; plants, maybe even minerals, react to gravity. Flush toilets were used by an ancient Cretan civilization–the Minoans (IIRC 🙂 likely one of the 2 – 3 most natural civilizations (top or 2nd in Eurasia-Africa, besides India, equal in different ways,) and many/most other primates in civilization use drained toilets; maybe some other animals use them or latrines. If those include the recently invented composting toilets, people could switch back.

    Pedalled vehicles may be more natural than animal-drawn ones; bikes are certainly more natural than cars: they contain metal, but, like its production, need only primitive machines, most/all of which some animals apply, except to ignite, but some animals are used to humans’ fire and results. The control of mind & body, classical elements, physics forces are only progressively less natural (and animals use part of all listed.) I could explain better in-depth, but not perfectly. Rational animals may not always be afraid of natural forces or humans’ usage. Particles are in atoms, which HPB calls souls, so discarnate beings may be more used to souls & parts, such as (ideal) forms, which along with kosmic nature (all the above) is natural, i.e. understood, for adepts, so it should become so for humans, despite & because of ‘human nature.’

    Most computers are not (electro)mechanical, not electronic. The quadrivium uses computers: arithmetic uses abaci, slide-rules, hands; geometry uses those & other (still used) simple mathematical instruments, music uses arithmetic & time-based instruments (and tools for instruments,) astronomy uses some combined from quadrivium 1 – 3, and post-quadrivium is similar. Relatively recently computers were electromechanical (and electromagnetism includes magnetism, of somwhat old use.) many machines are: anything industrial pre-electronic. Any computer that is (one was) like a loom or uses punch cards could work from simple mechanics, though power by organisms’ mechanics starts from at least electromagnetism (nerves.)

  5. Sorry my comment is displayed long: newlines must have been ignored. I should try html newlines or spaces. These were paragraph places:

    ‘Your recommendations…’
    ‘This page mentions “natural,…”‘
    ‘Most computers are [not] (electro)mechanical…’ (also, omit that 1st not.)

  6. For me the vegetarianism is not a question of a diet nor a religion but the way of good behaving to the rest of the world. Unfortunately there is a sort of people who are not able to understand this.
    P.S. Hitler wasn’t a vegetarian. He mentioned himself sometimes to be, but people of his pack after the War wrote about his occasional eating meat.
    Vegetarianism doesn’t mean a panic or phobia from accidental eating meat, but it grows out of conscious tendency not to maltreat the world. An effort not to kill and not to eat animals is an inseparable part of it.

  7. The new lines get cut off by my blogtheme. I’m working on a new one which will display comments WAY better than this one. For now you’ll have to live with it as it is.

    You’re right about the fact that anything that’s a bit off is likely to have B12. The main criterion is whether the bacteria that get it to be off create B12. Yeast bacteria do, so anything with living yeast is likely to have B12.

    As for beans: they need to be combined with rice for an optimum blend of aminoacids. But for most people in the west getting enough protein is hardly a problem – vegans included.

    You are right about the fats and oils: going to the other extreme of eliminating fat altogether isn’t a good idea either. The same is true for eliminating sugar or fiber etc.

  8. Red meat contains a substance called “imperil”, for a lack of better words – it is the contamination of nerve endings of the animal that instinctively knows of being slaughtered. This is a poisonous substance and will cause problems in the consumer. These problems are varied and manifest in cancer and other diseases. If you must eat meat, eat it in moderation and avoid red meat.

  9. I do think eating meat means desensitizing yourself to the fact that an animal was killed for your consumption – and their suffering. I would not go so far as to say there’s a chemical result to that and causes cancer.

  10. Interesting. I look forward to further results along that line of research. But there is a definite disclaimer at the bottom there:

    “these results are preliminary and were obtained from analysis of only three individuals.”

    “Large-scale population studies would be needed to prove if this molecule has any role in human disease including cancer.”

  11. I get raged on all the time for eating meat, like the post says “we are like pigs”, so we can choose to eat meat or vegetables. So doest that mean all the native Americans were wrong for eating meat, grains, vegetables? They were doing just fine for couple thousand years along with others. I mean I guess it’s up to what ever you choose to do, but to be moderate and not to be a “”pig”” I might be wrong, but I guess we all are humans can’t live with them can’t stop being one.

  12. This is one of the more responsible explanations a vegetarian has produced. However, it is not entirely accurate. For example, there are ways to eat meat w/o the need for the animals to suffer like so many like to point out. Meat eating can also be done in an environmentally friendly way as well.

    Because we are biological omnivores I would argue it is very natural for us to eat meat. Why wouldn’t a prehistoric human have eaten a raw kidney scavenged from a freshly killed mammal (killed by lions or whatever)? What about a hand full of grubs they may have found? Eating a humanely raised/butchered steak a couple times a week sure is more natural than taking pills.

    All things considered, even as a happy and healthy meat eater, I would say moderation is the key.

  13. One of my readers comments:

    Meat eating is associated with great suffering in the animal kingdom. These highly organized, sentient beings are herded into slaughterhouses with the smell of death in the air, shocked with cattle prods, shackled, hoisted, and murdered. It is a cruel, sadistic, brutal process that leads to the eating of the poor creatures’ corpses by humans. As we evolve as a species, we should leave that behind along with bullfighting, bear baiting, throwing Christians to the lions, and all other relics of our barbaric past.

    1. While I don’t disagree that a slaughter house is not a happy place for animals, I would have to say that evolving as a species, as you suggest, involves more learning from our “barbaric” past instead of simply leaving it behind. If you cannot understand the motivation behind why someone does something, you are at an incredible disadvantage when trying to alter their behavior.

      Including descriptors such as cruel, sadistic, brutal and murder makes clear what your point is, but at the same time, if we can’t stop ourselves from acting in such ways toward each other, it seems difficult to believe that it should be so easy for humans to stop acting in such ways toward animals. I understand the ideology behind vegetarianism/veganism and I don’t disagree with it, I just believe it’ll take more than calling people murderers to effectively eradicate consumption of animal meats.

      And let’s not forget Christians have committed their fair share of cruel, sadistic, brutal and murderous atrocities against their fellow man. Not to mention coveting many aspects of pagan spirituality and “relics” from our “barbaric” past and attempting to pass it all off as being completely original.

    2. The cruelty behind it is the only reason I am a vegetarian. I am not convinced that not eating meat is any healthier than eating it. You have to realize that the cultivation of grains and legumes on a wide scale is relatively new, 10,000 years, and just a blip in the time span of human history. For a large part of that time, 10’s of millions of years, humans ate what they could hunt and gather which included some meat and fish, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens. We have to process and cook grains and legumes, tubers too, in order to be able to extract nutrients from them and to reduce toxins. We were not doing that for most of our history and there is evidence that eating these foods that we have not had time to evolve to eat without processing and the resulting insulin spike caused by eating foods that turn to sugar in our bodies is a major cause of obesity and disease. You mention fast food a lot but a large part of a fast food meal is the soy used to “cut” the meat, the grains used in the buns, and the starch in the potatoes. Could it be that the meat in a burger is not the problem but the grains and legumes, simple carbs, present that are causing the massive health problems we are experiencing. Author Jared Diamond said something to the effect that the development of agriculture was the worst thing that has ever happened to the human race in terms of human health. Something to think about in any event.

      Julia made a good point about the dark past of Christianity. I hope they learn to leave the rest of us alone.

  14. Thank you for a very interesting write up on Vegan/vegetarians.

    I am proud to be Vegan, but agree that everyone has a choice!

    Well written article!

  15. Actually, evidence points to humans being frugivores – animals with a mostly FRUIT-based diet – which would explain our need to cook the grains we consume. This also points to how many people are raw foodist, and get along fine. Our teeth don’t actually resemble omni/carnivore teeth – they’re characteristic of herbivore teeth. Same with a number of other features of our bodies, from saliva and stomach acid pH, to our kidneys and small intestines, that suggest we are herbivorous animals by nature, and opportunistic, not biological, omnivores.

    1. I don’t have the data at hand, but last time I asked a biologist they made it clear that there are some features that we have in common with omnivores or even meat eaters while we have others in common with fruit eaters or herbivores.
      I have a hard time believing that living ONLY on raw food is good for us: our stomachs really aren’t suited to eating all vegetables raw. We’re not cows: we don’t have multiple stomachs to get the most out of vegetable food.

  16. I’ve been transitioning to a diet more focused on vegetables over the past year. It was really just an experiment based on a suggestion by my daughter to change my diet (heavy meat consumption and lots of dairy products) as well as a desperation to rid myself of a terrible case of bronchitis. I still consume meat from time to time as well as some dairy – just not nearly as much. Honestly, when I do I feel ‘heavier’ and more congested. In any case I truly enjoy raw (and cooked) vegetables much more these days. I appreciate your thoughts.

  17. You have ignored the fact that only 2% of an Eskimos diet was non-meat and the North American Indian’s diet (all tribes) was also based on eating meat – from every animal including snakes, rats, buffalo, bear etc and all parts of the animal were used – nothing wasted.

  18. I think the human was designed with a pretty durable digestion system. That being said we were also designed with the ability to figure out what is right and what is wrong. If we teach our young that hurting others is wrong, then shouldn’t that cover everything under the sun even animals? I often wonder what this world would be like if we practiced what we preached.

  19. Now I fully understand that not everyone has the same accessibility as I do but here is why I eat meat. My husband and I hunt our meat. No I don’t mean with a shot gun blasting bullets in the air, I am talking about sitting in the weather and waiting for the proper deer to come. We are selective on what we take down (want to keep the population reproducing) and we only take what we will use for the year. We butcher the animal and use every bit that we can. We also have chickens that we raise ourselves, eggs we harvest, and we enjoy going fishing. Again we never take more than what we will eat. We believe in conservation. Not every meat eater is a gun-toting, animal slaughtering, planet hater. I know where my food comes from, and what was sacrificed to feed my family.

  20. I was a vegetarian then vegan for eight years. I recently came to the decision to incorporate fish in my diet. I agonized over it but feel doing this is the best decision for me. I am very active. I lift weights, I do cardio, I swim twice a week, I look after my kids – all under the age of 12 – and I found that the only way I have enough energy and strength to carry out these tasks is to pay through the nose for vegan protein powders and high-priced exotic Superfoods or eat pricey, soy-based meat substitutes. A lot of vegans and vegetarians don’t like to admit this but these food choices are very real and expensive parts of all many vegans’ and vegetarians’ diet. Might not be a big deal financially if you are single or if there are only two or three in your household. Anything over that and it gets to be a small fortune for some of us. Being a veg is only inexpensive if you subsist on fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and beans and many vegans/vegetarians simply don’t exclusively. Some consume Vegannaise, Tofutti, soy steak, etc. Raw vegans have simpler diets but that sort of diet would not be sufficient for my needs as I have tried it. I could nix the protein supplements and just rely on dairy for calcium and protein but dairy makes me very mucous-y. Having enough money to care for my family, myself and for emergencies is just as important as my health. Going off my budget, for me personally would prove to be irresponsible. Since I have been consuming fish (three times a week only), I haven’t had to buy protein supplements and I have more strength and energy. In terms of the impact on the environment, I still don’t eat beef, pork, and chicken and most diary. Eating no meat is good for the environment so is eating less meat. Also, all of my kids are still vegetarians. The environment is negatively impacted not simply because of people eating meat (among other negative things impacting the environment) but because people consume too much meat which is bad for the Earth and most human beings’ health. Militant vegans and vegetarians on this post and others would do well to try not to force your views on others or guilt people who are not strict vegans into following your path. You then sound no better than the biased, opinionated, ill-informed people who make fun of vegetarians and think that every human being should be eating steak burgers with bacon.

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