Man's Dietetic Character
By: Herbert M. Shelton
Hygienic Review January 1944
The correlation between food habits and the
structure of the digestive system is very apparent
in the vertebrate animals — those having a
For convenience these may be divided, with reference to their dietetic habits,
into frugivorous, herbivorous, omnivorous and carnivorous types.
For our present purposes, we need consider only the higher vertebrates or
mammals for, while man is often referred to as a "poor fish" we can learn little
about his dietetic status by studying fish.
Comparative anatomists tell us that:
"There is an excellent, although not perfect correlation between the food habits
of the animal and the length and shape of the intestine."
It is my opinion that where this correlation is not perfect, it is due to the fact
that the "adaptation" is not completed. I shall refer to this again towards the
end of this article.
The herbivores possess a complex stomach, a long intestine, usually a large
caecum and a large intestine that is not continuous with the small intestine.
In these animals the small intestine enters the large intestine at approximately
right angles some distance from its anterior or blind end. This blind end, or
blind pouch, the caecum, is large in herbivores and is a functional part of the
The digestive tract of the carnivores is much simpler in structure and
decidedly shorter than that of the herbivores. The stomach is simple, the
esophagus is relatively larger and the intestine much shorter.
The order of bats shows the correlation of the digestive tract with the dietary
habits. These run all the way from pure frugivores at one end to parasites at
the other. The fruit eating bats have longer intestines than the carnivorous
ones, while the shortest intestine known among mammals is seen in the blood
eating (parasitic) bats.
Comparing the relative lengths of the digestive tracts of the various dietetic
classes, it is found that in carnivores it is three times the length of the body
(there are a few exceptions); in the herbivores, as in the sheep, it is thirty times
the length of the body; in the omnivores ten times; in the frugivores ten to
Let us pause a minute and view the human digestive tract and compare it with
the above. Comparative anatomists tell us that:
"The human mouth cavity and esophagus are typically mammalian. The
stomach is a simple sac slightly divided into two regions."
"Man possesses a simple pouch-like stomach," hence cannot be classed with
the herbivores, which have a complex stomach, the cud chewing herbivores
having a stomach divided into four distinct regions.
His (man's) digestive tract is twelve times the length of his body, the same as is
found in the frugivores. In man, the higher apes and the herbivores the colon
is sacculated, while in the carnivores the colon is smooth. Man does not
therefore, fall properly into the class carnivora.
It is commonly thought by vegetarians and fruitarians that the diet of an animal
is determined by the internal adaptations of the animal — that an animal eats
what he does because he is what he is.
The lion, for instance, eats flesh because he is constructed and constituted for
such a diet, his claws, his teeth, his digestive tract, his instincts fit him for this
That this is true today seems evident enough; but has this always been so?
Was the lion always a flesh-eater, a killer, and was he always adapted to the
We do not think so. We think that internal and external adaptations are largely
determined by feeding habits. We think that a change of feeding habits results
in a change in adaptations, so that, in the end, feeding habits determine not
only the anatomy and physiology of the organism, but even its status and its
Specializations that are based on bio-immoral conduct tend towards death.
They are negative compensations and belong more properly in the field of
pathology rather than in that of physiology.
We said that man's digestive tract is twelve times the length of his body. This
is not always so for, the same correlation of structure with habit is seen in the
human species as is found in the order of bats.
The Eskimos have a shorter digestive tract, the difference being found chiefly
in a shorter intestine, than the white races.
Are the Eskimos carnivorous because they possess a shorter digestive tract,
or do they possess a shorter digestive tract because they practice
carnivorism? Which comes first, habit or adaptation?
Were the primitive ancestors of the Eskimos carnivorous, or were they
frugivorous or omnivorous? Have the Eskimos acquired a shorter digestive
tract since they were driven into the far North and forced to live largely on flesh
food, or did their ancestors from the South bequeath to them their shorter
It is my view that the shortening of the digestive tract resulted from the
adoption of a flesh diet: that it is a negative compensation for violation of the
fundamental symbiotic requirements of life.
I believe, also, that all carnivores are descended from once noble ancestors
who lived without stealth and murder. They have undergone modifications of
structure and function (chiefly losses) to adapt themselves to their changed
way of life and anti-symbiotic diet.
To return to bats, which have been previously mentioned, I think we can get a
better picture of the correlation of food and food-getting with structure than
the various tribes of man can supply.
There are a great number of kinds of bats in the world and they are of various
sizes. In their dietetic habits they range all the way from strict frugivores to
rank carnivores and cannibals.
One variety of bats has actually become a bloodsucker — a vampire. Some of
them have not completely abandoned their fruit diet, but eat both fruit and
Some are insectivorous; others are known to catch fish. It is interesting to note
that the intestines of the vampire bat is shorter in proportion than that of any
other beast, while its stomach is prolonged into a long tubular pouch. Its teeth
are unlike that of any other bat - in bats generally the incisors are small and the
"canines" are large, but in the blood-sucker the upper incisors and "canines"
are both large and very sharp edged, while its grinders, not being required by
its blood-diet, have degenerated into small and unimportant vestiges.
The fruit eating bats are larger than their meat eating relatives.
It may not be amiss to point out that the repellent features and odor of
insectivorous, carnivorous, cannibalistic and vampire bats are lacking in the
fruit eating bats.
Indeed, one naturalist says of the fruit eating bats that "with their keen,
intelligent-looking, doe-like heads" they "inspire nothing but friendly interest
when seen at close hand, and might quite probably be popular as pets if they
were better known."
The hammerhead bat of the Gabu district of French Equatorial Africa, a fruit
eater with a great partiality for figs, is an exception to the better-looking
qualities of the frugivore.
He is described as hideous, though in his photograph he is not as hideous as
the carnivore. Monstrosity is everywhere the outgrowth of illegitimate food
and food getting.
The bats show us an unbroken descent from strict frugivore to frugo-
carnivorae. to carnivore, to cannibals, to near parasites with a corresponding
degeneration of form and loss of status with each step of their dietary
They suffer negative compensations — losses and modifications of structures
and functions—, which are entailed by their illegitimate food supplies and
methods of food getting. The vampire bat has actually undergone some of the
modifications seen in parasites.
It would be possible to extend our study of comparative anatomy to cover
many other parts of the body, but space limitations do not permit.
It must suffice for the present that we say that among the higher apes there are
several species of them whose alimentary organs in all respects very nearly
resemble those of man and in that species which approaches closest to man
in general organization and appearance, the alimentary organs, in almost
every particular, so closely resemble those of man, that they are easily
mistaken for them.
Sylvester Graham used the alimentary organs of the orangutan as the true
type with which we are to compare those of the human body, in order to
ascertain the natural dietetic character of man.
He pointed out that:
"In all that the organs of the orangutan differ from those of man, they bring the
orang between man and carnivorous animals; and thus, as it were, push man
still further from a carnivorous character."
Graham wrote several years before Darwin derived man from an "ape-like
arboreal ancestor." It has always seemed unaccountable to the present writer
that transformationists (they have stolen the term evolution, and miscall
themselves evolutionists), while insisting that man and the apes are brothers
(or cousins) and are descended from a common ancestor and that man (or his
ancestor) formerly lived in the trees (frugivorous) also at the same time, insist
that primitive man was carnivorous, even cannibalistic.
For, while his organization places him at the apex of creation and shows him
to be the arch-type of the frugivore, they have pictured him as more beastly
than any beast.
In his Outline of History, H. G. Wells, following the "scientific" pattern (or line)
describes our early ancestor, just after he had emerged from the ape-stage,
"When he found dead animals, semi-putrid, he would relish them nonetheless.
He would eat his unworthy children. He would seek larger animals in a weak
and dying state. Failing to find them, dead and half-rotten examples would be
made to suffice."
This is the crowning achievement of our carnivorous biology. This "early
man" who has been created by biological speculation, should have
descended from a jackal or a hyena, not from an ape.
His dietary habits as "described" by Wells, relate him to saprophytes
(scavengers) and carnivore and not to the frugivore from which, according to
the hypothesis, he sprung.
It is our contention that, instead of early man being the degraded beast that
Wells and most Darwinians picture him, the carnivores and saprophytes of the
present and past have "fallen" from their once high estate to their present state
By: Herbert M. Shelton
Article: Man's Dietetic Character