Are Humans Natural Carnivores?
By: Harry Mather
Several times recently I have heard on the media people saying "I know we
are designed to eat meat but ..." or "I know we are natural carnivores but ..."
and perhaps make a plea for a more compassionate treatment of animals.
What shocks me is that these people are educated, well read and must be
reflecting what our intellectual leaders accept as fact.
But looking at the facts, we can find no reason to suppose that the human
digestive system was designed for the eating of flesh and we can point to
the many facts that point to the human digestive system being designed for
the assimilation of plant foods.
So the statement "we are naturally carnivores" merely means "I and the
majority of people I know regularly eat meat and think that this is the basis of
a good meal".
Certainly most humans are able to digest flesh foods and gain nourishment
from them, but carnivorous dogs are able to adapt and thrive on a plant
based diet, so this only proves that digestive systems can adapt to different
The 19th Century scientist, T.H. Huxley, who was a staunch defender of
Darwin's theories against the denunciations of Church leaders, made a
special study of the physiology of carnivores compared to creatures with
other diets and prepared a list showing that carnivores have completely
different systems from humans.
I well remember being in a fishing village where I saw a fisherman throw a
fish to an eagerly waiting cat. The cat caught it deftly although the fish was
comparatively large, swallowed it, apparently whole and walked away,
contented and happy.
It reminded me of an occasion long before, when I had eaten a part of a
small fish with the bones still in it and suffered pain for quite a while
afterwards. I am told that carnivores have in their stomach hydrochloric
acid 10 times the concentration that humans have.
This means they break down flesh (and even fish bones) much more quickly
than we can. Another important difference is that they have comparatively
shorter intestines than humans have. As a result carnivores will assimilate
flesh more quickly and efficiently, and also eliminate it more quickly.
I have been told that pork is the hardest flesh food to digest and can lie in
the stomach for up to 4 hours before it is completely digested. Yet many
cultures eat pork although Moses, in his wisdom, banned it for his followers.
What an ordeal eating meat must be for the human digestion! Other flesh
foods also take longer for our stomachs to break down than plant foods do.
Dead flesh begins to putrefy in a matter of hours after the death of the
animal, which is why such care has to be taken to keep meat refrigerated.
The long time that it takes for flesh to be digested by humans can only lead
to a danger of putrefaction occurring in our digestive systems, especially
during the long time spent in the large intestine.
It is no coincidence that vegetarians are 10 times less likely to suffer from
cancer of the bowel than meat eaters.
Carnivores kill their prey and usually eat it whilst still warm. Human hunters
carry their prey home and cook it with tasty herbs before they will eat it.
The 19th Century author, Charles Lamb wrote a famous essay in which he
suggested that roast pork had first been discovered when a pig had
accidentally been burnt in a fire. There may be a germ of truth in the notion.
Humans probably used fire at the entrance of caves to keep out wild
Maybe one day they discovered an animal burnt on the fire and tasted it.
Maybe this happened at a time when plant foods were scarce. We can only
What is commonly accepted is that pre-historic humans were
'hunter-gatherers'. Whilst the women of the tribe gathered fruits, plants and
herbs, the men are supposed to have gathered together to track and slay an
animal for an occasional feast.
This viewpoint has been put forward by male, meat-eating anthropologists
who suggested that the cunning needed to hunt the animal helped develop
intelligence and social skills.
The view of Barbara Nolke, a female vegetarian anthropologist, is that the
women of the tribe, who had to identify and know where to find the various
plants and herbs and study their use in nutrition and healing, were the ones
with the more developed intelligence.
She also suggests that humans were more likely to have taken to meat by
scavenging the corpses left by the carnivores who would be more efficient
Even so, there seems to be no evidence of animals being eaten uncooked,
not even among cannibals and we cannot be classed as 'natural carnivores'
if we had to wait for the discovery of fire before we could eat meat.
Turning to our digestive system, this starts in the mouth. Remember that
the cat swallowed the fish without chewing it. It caught the fish with its
jagged, interlocking teeth that hold the prey firm.
Human teeth in the same back position are flat molars (that means grinders)
used for the grinding of grains. Our jaws can move in a backward and
forward motion and also from side to side, ideal for grinding.
At the same time, our saliva produces enzymes to break down starches.
"But surely we have canine teeth?" someone invariably asks. Look at a cat
or a dog's canine teeth and you will see that they project down further than
the others, like those of an imaginary blood-sucking vampire.
So our canines cannot have any use for attacking prey and our jaws do not
project forward from the face as they do with cats and dogs. Our front teeth
are well adapted for biting fruit and cutting up vegetables.
As previously mentioned our gastric juices contain less hydrochloric acid
than that of carnivores, but are well adapted for the digestion of starches.
Our longer colon is suited for a slow process of digestion, extracting a great
variety of essential nutrients.
The study of human nutrition has advanced greatly in recent years and
continues to discover the importance of minute quantities of certain
minerals and vitamins, their interconnectedness and the role of various
enzymes in the digestive process.
Plant foods show themselves to be well adapted for providing the wide
range of minerals and vitamins that our bodies require, unless perhaps
when they are over refined or overcooked. We should be more conscious
of the importance of sound nutrition rather than the crude notion of filling
the hunger gap with a steak or sausage.
By the comparative study of populations having different diets, modern
nutritionists have pointed out the benefits of the 'Mediterranean diet' which
is very low in animal fats, but high in vegetable oils, relying on pulses and
grains (such as pasta) and consuming many fruits and vegetables.
A comparison of people in the South of Italy where plant foods abound, with
the unfortunate Finns who have to depend more on animal products and
fats, show that Finns are massively prone to heart disease.
Those living in the frozen Arctic wastes, such as the Inuit or Eskimos, have
to rely exclusively on animals for their food, die in their 40s and suffer from
osteoporosis (weak bones due to a shortage of calcium).
Vegans, contrary to popular expectation, have a plentiful source of calcium
in plant foods, providing they eat a varied diet, and are less prone to
Vegans do not have to depend on cooking. Some foods, which vegans eat,
may be digested after being cooked, but a surprising quantity and diversity
of foods can be eaten raw and are probably more nutritious in their raw and
Fruits and nuts can obviously be eaten raw; as too can the vegetables we
eat in salads, including grated carrots and beetroot, and also other
vegetables not normally included in salads.
Onions and garlic can be eaten raw, but maybe you should experiment with
the latter only when you will be alone for a while afterwards. Grains can be
flaked and eaten raw as in muesli.
Pulses in their raw state would appear to be a problem but many of them
may become easily digestible if you first allow them to sprout (as in Chinese
mung bean sprouts).
They will sprout after being soaked and kept moist and warm for a few days.
Peas and lentils sprout readily and are surprisingly sweet.
Our imagining ourselves to be carnivores may spring from our idea that
carnivores are the most successful animal group; that the lion is the 'King of
This is far from the case. Deer with their antlers and swift movements can
fend off an attacking lion or tiger. I have seen a cat flee from a solitary
Herbivores are by far more numerous and can therefore arguably be
considered as far more successful, which is just as well for the carnivores
who could not exist without the herbivores they feed on.
Carnivores attack a herd of grazing herbivores and only catch the slowest
and weakest. This action results in culling the weaker members of the herd,
leaving the fitter ones to breed and maintain a higher level of fitness in the
The role of carnivores, far from being some dominant species, is that of one
dependent on and subservient to other animals - playing a useful role but
Neither, of course, can humans be classed as 'natural herbivores' for again
these have quite different digestive systems, which include multiple
stomachs, as with cattle and sheep, that can efficiently digest coarse
Donkeys even eat thistles with great delight, but I would not recommend
them as a suitable diet for humans. Ruminants first swallow their food into
one stomach, then later sit calmly and chew it again for a second digestive
process. I am sure that some humans would like to eat their food twice over
but unfortunately we are not adapted for that.
Some people claim that we should be classed as omnivores, because we
can subsist on a wide variety of foods. This suggestion could lead us into
the false notion that we could live by eating just the stems of grasses as
herbivores can, I doubt whether anyone would agree with that, although we
can of course digest the grains of grasses, such as oats, wheat, etc.
Since certain herbs and berries are highly poisonous to humans, the
classification of omnivore would appear to have a limit somewhere.
However, there is a group of animals that we closely resemble and that is
the primates or apes. It is said that we share 99% of our genes with
chimpanzees, and it would be difficult to get closer than that.
Chimpanzees, like many apes, rely mainly on fruit and green shoots for their
nutrition. Most apes have been classified as frugivorous, which means
eaters of fruits and nuts, and they also eat some vegetation.
Japanese soldiers, who had to survive in the jungle, watched what the apes
ate and did the same, and they survived because of that.
Those who watch nature films may point out that they have seen apes
scooping out ants and eating them (would you fancy that?) and even
hunting other apes in order to eat them.
Perhaps these are on the way to developing the bad habits we can find in
some humans, but, as hopefully with humans, we can assume that this is
not connected with nutritional needs.
Many of the great apes, such as gorillas, are also frugivorous. They are very
strong and powerful but have a gentle and caring disposition. With their
superior intelligence and great strength, these great apes can surely claim
the title of 'King of the Jungle' and be worthy of our admiration and
The scavenging lions and tigers can be relegated to their roles of refuse
One thing is clear in my mind: we are not 'natural carnivores' and until we
understand this, our bodies and our minds will not find true health. Nor will
we attain the civilized standard that we require to merit our position at the
top of the primates league, and our planet will not attain the order and
harmony necessary for it to thrive and remain functional.
For what we eat not only affects our bodies and minds, but, owing to the
vast proliferation of humans on the globe, it has a great impact on the whole
of the earth - but that would lead to a whole new chapter to explain.
By: Harry Mather http://www.veganviews.org.uk/harrymather.html
Article: Are Humans Natural Carnivores?