The folks whose job title reads Meat Hating Specialist love to call us normal folks “carnivores.”
They hope such a loaded word will evoke images of bloody slaughter and connect mealtime with the kind of wanton feasting that accompanies a pack of lions devouring the carcass of some ill-fated antelope.
Translation: Anyone who doesn’t live a pure vegan lifestyle is no better than the aggressive predators that we admire from a distance, but certainly shouldn’t dream about emulating.
Of course, the cat family, lions, tigers and even Fluffy, the pampered house cat, are indeed carnivores. They eat meat — lots of it — and they don’t get it from the local grocer’s refrigerated display case.
But beyond the attempted demonization by diction, animal activists always try to turn one’s dietary choices into an all-or-nothing proposition: Either you’re with us peace-loving, plant-eating vegans, or you’re with those blood-on-their-paws hunter-killer-carnivores.
But according to a recent report in National Geographic, there are actually several types of meat-eaters:
- Hypercarnivores: Animals whose diet consists of at least 70% meat. They have heavy skulls with strong facial musculature to aid in holding prey and upper molars and lower molars (carnassial teeth) that close together like scissors to slice their meat.
- Mesocarnivores: Animals that depend on meat for at least 50% of their diet but that also eat fruits, vegetables and fungi, such as raccoons, foxes and coyotes.
- Hypocarnivores: Animals that eat meat, fish, berries, nuts and roots, with meat representing only a third of their diet; these omnivores have small carnassial teeth and large molars.
Which category above appears to describe humans? Pretty simple calculation.
(And for trivia lovers: World’s largest carnivore? The blue whale, 100 feet long and weighing up to 200 tons. World’s smallest carnivore? The weasel, who checks in at a fighting weight of about 7 ounces).
Now on to the interesting part of the discussion — the other characteristics of carnivores.
The power of meat
As an article on LiveScience.com explained, most carnivores have relatively large brains and high levels of intelligence. That’s not to say that herbivores are universally dumb, only that the highest orders of intelligent animals (hello, Homo sapiens) tend to belong to one of the three carnivorous classifications noted above.
That fact alone would seem to confirm that humans are absolutely ordained to be carnivores. And if intelligence is related to meat-eating, that tends to undercut the argument that vegetarians are more enlightened by virtue of their soyfood-and-salad subsistence.
Science has also shown that even the most ruthless of predators, the ones who dominate the top of the food chain, play a critical role in maintaining an ecological balance — not only for all the other, peaceful herbivores but for native flora, as well. For example, when wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, they soon began to reduce the park’s elk population, which in turn allowed tree seedlings and other woody plants to recover from being overgrazed by too many elk, according to a recent study done by researchers from the University of Michigan.
More importantly, humanity’s meat-eating diet is what separates us from the great apes, some timely new research suggests. A meat-heavy diet let early humans wean younger babies and produce more offspring, which contributed to the eventual dominance of people
According to new studies done by Elia Psouni, an associate professor of Developmental Psychology at Lund University in Sweden, a diet that included meat “had a very big impact on the survival and spreading of the [human] species,” she told LiveScience.com.
Apes have diets dominated by fruits, vegetables and other plants, Psouni explained. Chimpanzees, humans’ closest living ancestors, get only about 5% of calories from meat, compared with about 20% for humans.
In her study, Psouni compared 67 different mammals on such developmental characteristics as body size, brain size and diet. The offspring of all mammal species stop suckling when their brains reach a specific developmental stage, and she noted this stage comes earlier in species that get at least 20% of their calories from meat.
“We are much more used to thinking of humans as aligned with other great apes,” Psouni said. “[However[,the pattern is one where humans ought to be put together with tigers and killer whales — all these animals wean their offspring sooner.”
Given the angst that activists express over the treatment of those two predators and other top-of-the-food-chain wildlife, maybe hangin’ with big cats and killer whales would force the veggie community to show the rest of us a little respect.
Or at least keep their distance.
Dan Murphy is food-industry journalist and commentator