When we reflect on the origins of humankind, we can easily feel grateful for our relatively safe life, that provides our necessities without fear. Nomadic humans relied heavily on each other to protect themselves from wildlife attacks, threatening weather, spoiled food and disease control.
At one time, meat sustained humans with a complete amino acid profile, as we faced challenges such as providing adequate food and shelter for our families. In the early days, it was not uncommon for one male to have 10 children or more, each. It took much energy to hunt and gather for so many individuals, humans adapted quickly to work together and outsmart the elite wildlife. It also brought pestilence, parasites carried by the animals they could not have foreseen.
Eating meat was thought to have increased our brain size, although we know now that typically "brain food" is fat based, and not flesh based. The finding of a fossilized human in 1924 in an article by biologist Raymond Dart warranted the description of barbaric practices to consume meat in their diets. Written years later in the 1950's, Dart describes these early humans as "carnivorous creatures, that seized living quarries by violence, battered them to death... Slaking their ravenous thirst with the hot blood of victims and greedily devouring livid writhing flesh". The biological changes incited by meat consumption include a shortening of intestines, resulting in an increased absorption of nutrients. It increased the level of energy required, as well. A brain that once required 8% of a human's energy, now required 20% of the body's energy reserves - at rest! Humans were able to procreate faster, from 3.5 years between average conception, to 1.5 year between average conception - the female reproductive system became more active as a direct result of meat consumption. We've identified already that simply providing nutrients for one's large family was already a struggle. Boosting reproduction by meat consumption, strained human sustainability greatly.
Early humans, like all mammals, were not biologically built to tolerate milk past infancy. Drought and famine introduced the use of other species' milk as sustenance. The idea that being sick (suffering lactose intolerance) was better than dying of starvation, led to the adaptation of dairy to the human diet. This is why to this day, we see lactose intolerance more prevalent in some cultures and geographical areas.
Biologist Clark Larsen describes the dawn of agriculture as grim. The earliest farmers naturally became dependent on their crops, farmer's diets became far less nutritionally diverse than our original hunter-gatherer diet. The introduction of periodontal disease, iron deficiency, developmental delays and the stunting of physical stature were our emerging medical issues.
So where does this leave us today? It sounds like so far, I believe the aversion of meat is what caused a decline in human health and development. My belief, however, lies on the opposite end of the spectrum. Humans seemingly thrived as hunter-gatherers. Pulling nutritional resources from their immediate environment, fostering a sense of permaculture and travelling to areas of more dense resource as they depleted those around them. We have hard evidence that suggests nomadic humans indulged in meat, but the information that always seems to get overlooked, is the female role of foraging. 70-90% of the nomadic human diet was actually plant material. The hunt was occasional, a treat of dense nutrients that required an incredible expulsion of energy to obtain. Essentially, humans output more energy than they could ever intake with their spoils of the hunt. Our bodies were never designed to consume the amount of meat we do today, in our contradictory North American diet.
Our thriving state was rooted in movement and exercise, in a varied diet containing fibre which allowed our longer digestive tract to absorb the varied nutrients and create energy to run from our predators. We were built with this system of adrenaline, dopamine and other neurotransmitters to keep us safe. Dopamine's main initial function was for survival, it provided the brain with an understanding of light viewing, when the sun was up and we were safer as a species from those who were gifted by nature with night vision. Our circadian rhythm, rising and resting with the sun allowed for optimal immune function and sharp wit necessary for survival.
So fast forward to today. We've evolved many years ago to be able to digest flesh. It allows this quick-access of energy and our complete profile of amino acids. But how readily absorbed is it actually? Our shorter digestive tracts resulting from the introduction of meat to our diets, absorb faster but what are they actually absorbing now? The industrialization of animal agriculture, the selective breeding, but let's call it what it is, genetic modification. The medicinal advances in antibiotics, the rampant increased rates of cancers in food animals, and lack of funding to control and develop strategies other than removing tumors from the end product that sits on your grocery shelf... We are absorbing literal toxins, parasites and residual antibiotics, rather than whole food nutrients.
We have needs in our modern world, that nomadic humans could have never predicted. Our industrial structure burning the earth's atmosphere and resulting in the necessary UV protection to avoid damage to our skin and eyes. The pharmaceutical industry required on a massive scale to provide drugs for metabolic disease, obesity, cancer and lactose intolerance caused by animal products. The health care system which is so strained in Canada due to these aforementioned conditions, and more complications like autoimmune disease caused by genetic mutation by consumption of infected tissues over time. These modern problems were created by traditional introduction of meat and other animal products.
Now factor in that by 2050, we will be feeding and caring for an estimated additional two billion human beings, creates such a sense of urgency in how we use and abuse our planet today. It's simply no longer sustainable. We know animal agriculture is responsible for more carbon emissions than all the vehicles around the globe.
We know the immense amount of water it takes to produce cow's milk on an industrial scale, and the sheer amount of water used to produce crops to support these animals, the cleansing of barns and slaughterhouses. It's astronomical. You can save more water by avoiding one steak, than avoiding showering for an entire month. Not to mention the economical impact of government bailouts and subsidizing meat and dairy products so they are affordable. As vegans, our tax dollars are directly providing animal products to the masses. It's not a sustainable model for success - and it's no wonder to us that plant based diets are on the rise for a myriad of reasons. I'm here for it, this return to respecting the earth and those individuals around us for what they are, not what they can provide for us. It's been a strategy so we can think less about our nutrient profile, and focus more on modern problems than just providing for our daily needs.
It's time to take responsibility for our diet, our actions and undo the work of industrialization as it truly serves no one.