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?
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.
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.