Does it Matter Whether Our Ancestors Were Vegetarians or Carnivores?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a piece on an article that said the Paleo Diet only focused on one segment of our anthropological ancestry and that earlier ancestors were actually vegetarians. This was more of a “Hm, this is interesting” kind of post than something I thought was big news. I did think it might be helpful for talking with people who wonder if vegetarianism is all that healthy when our ancestors ate so much meat.

Now there’s a new article out that says (not a direct quote) that yes, we did have some vegetarian ancestors, but they became extinct while the carnivores survived. The article is called “Dig Your Teeth Into This: While Early Carnivorous Ancestors Thrived, Vegetarian Ancestors Went Extinct” and I read it on MedicalDaily.com over the weekend. I have problem with MedicalDaily; I think it’s an excellent site.

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I just wonder if we’re drawing the wrong conclusions from all of this archaeological/anthropological research.

In the article, it’s pointed out that there’s a huge debate between researchers who say our ancestors were mainly vegetarian and those who say that they were mainly carnivorous.

But now, findings suggest that our ancestors were rather omnivorous, with different species of hominids holding different eating  habits. Unfortunately, those eating habits dictated their survival as species, with the herbivores dying out.”

These findings are from Vincent Balter, of the École Normale Supérieure in Lyon, and his colleagues in Toulouse, France and Johannesburg, South Africa. These scientists studied the enamel in fossilized teeth to determine the diets of their owners.

The researchers found that living on the southern horn of Africa was Australopithecus africanus, who lived from about 4 million years ago to 2 million years ago, and is widely seen as one of the precursors to the contemporary Homo sapiens. Australopithecus consumed a wide range of foods, like meat, vegetables and fruits. At the same time, Paranthropus robustus ate primarily plants; that much can be confirmed by analysis of the wear patterns of teeth and their massive jaw structure. But Paranthropus lived from 2.7 million to 1 years ago, dying out more quickly than their meat-eating brethren.”

The researchers hypothesize that Paranthropus survived because they had a more varied diet, while climate changes and a limited habitat seriously affected the food supply of Australopithecus. That makes sense. But does it really matter?

The fact is that vegetarians aren’t generally limited in the foods that are available to them.

Most vegetarians have a varied diet that doesn’t rely on climate at all, though eating seasonally and locally is usually healthier than eating food that’s out of season or shipped from far away.

Our lifestyles aren’t anything like either the carnivores or the herbivores of history. Neither is our food supply. The meats that ancient peoples ate were free range, grass fed and organic. On the flip side of that, eating fruits and veggies that are grown from modified seed, covered in pesticides and picked and shipped under unsafe conditions isn’t exactly healthy.

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3 Responses to Does it Matter Whether Our Ancestors Were Vegetarians or Carnivores?

  1. Jenny Sangler September 14, 2012 at 12:09 am #

    I’d like to hear your opinion on this subject. Does what our ancestors ate thousands of years ago really have all that much bearing on what’s healthiest for us now?

    – Jenny Sangler

  2. Aidan September 19, 2012 at 9:49 am #

    It really doesn’t matter at all. The whole argument of people try to say that our ancestors are omnivores/herbivores so we should be omnivores/vegetarians is really rather irrelevant. They want to talk about what is “natural” and how being “natural” is better for us.

    But is anything that humans really do natural? Driving cars, wearing clothes, building houses, using the computers we have, medicine, education, language, is any of that natural? Yet I doubt any of the people talking about eating a more natural diet would be willing to give these things up.

    Just because something isn’t natural, doesn’t mean it is bad. I am very thankful for medicine. It has helped to remove or lower rates of many diseases that would have killed hundreds of thousands of more people, if not millions without it. Yet it is unnatural… That doesn’t make it bad. Same thing with electricity. Electricity has been able to greatly improve the quality of life of most people in the western world. It has helped to cause globalization, economic booms, and so many other wonderful things. It is unnatural though, does that make it bad for us?

    In my personal opinion, human nature is to change ourselves to fix problems that we have been experiencing. If people going vegetarian will improve overall health (it will) then that is natural. If everyone in the western world going vegetarian would prevent a global food crisis (it would) then that is natural.

    But let’s say that we are to belief that my definition of natural is idiotic and it is natural for us to eat meat. Well by that definition of natural, wouldn’t it make it also unnatural to eat any cooked meat, or to have animals locked up in small cages so that we can slaughter them? What would be “natural” is for us to hunt wild animals and eat them raw, sinew, blood, guts everything. But I don’t see many people who are saying meat eating is natural doing that.

    Well anyways, I don’t think it matters much.

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