Humans, as we were evolving, ate primarily foraged fruits and vegetables with meat thrown in when available. This is why most of our teeth are flat.
We have canines, true, but humans in prehistory weren't eating meat 3x a day every day. Our digestive system isn't able to handle as much meat. We can't even eat raw meat, unlike all natural carnivores. To think that our teeth are able to "efficiently and quickly tear apart meat" is ridiculous. Have you tried eating a raw steak recently?
One of the most common justifications for eating animals that vegans encounter is, “If I wasn’t meant to eat meat, then I wouldn’t have these canine teeth!” It’s a knee-jerk defense that’s often made after a meat-eater has been confronted with information about the routine cruelties of animal farming, or with the fact that humans have no biological need to consume meat, milk or eggs.
But there are several serious problems with the “canine teeth” argument, the most glaring one being the premise that “the presence of canine teeth = meant to eat meat.” In truth, with the exception of rodents, rabbits, and pikas, nearly all mammals have canine teeth. In fact, several herbivores and primary plant-eaters have ferocious canine teeth, and, as you’ll see in the gallery below, the largest canine teeth of any land animal belong to a true herbivore, the hippopotamus. Hippos are extremely territorial and aggressive; their sword-like canines, which can reach a terrifying sixteen inches in length, are used for combat and play no role in feeding. The hippo’s diet consists of grass, on which it grazes at dusk.
Geladas are the only primates who primarily eat grass – grass blades make up to 90% of their diet. The rest consists of flowers, rhizomes, roots, herbs, small plants, fruits, creepers, bushes and thistles. Insects may be eaten, but only rarely. Geladas use their sharp, two-inch canines to attack rivals or potential predators.
Say hello to my little friend: the saber-toothed deer. You read that right — it’s not photoshop, it’s just a tiny deer with giant fangs! Musk deer, as they’re officially known, are herbivores who live in the forested mountains of Southern Asia. They’re around 2 feet tall, weigh between 15 and 37 pounds, and the males’ elongated canine teeth form saber-like tusks which they use in territorial disputes, or when competing for mates. So what kind of food do musk deer tear into with those vicious canines? The menu is a virtual gore fest: leaves, flowers, grasses, mosses and lichens.
Gorillas are almost exclusively herbivorous. Mountain gorillas prefer a diet of foliage — leaves, stems, pith, and shoots — and a small amount of fruit. Lowland gorillas also eat leaves and pith, but they eat more fruits, and, occasionally, tiny ants or termites. Gorillas’ giant canines have nothing to do with eating meat.
In her book, Mind If I Order The Cheeseburger?, Sherry F. Colb discusses the comparative anatomy of carnivores, omnivores, and herbivores. “Mammalian carnivores and omnivores share a number of physical attributes that make them well suited for killing and tearing apart their prey. They have a wide mouth opening, relative to head size; a simple jaw joint that operates as a stable hinge for effective slicing but which is ill-suited to side-to-side motion; and dagger-like teeth spaced apart to avoid trapping stringy debris. They also have sharp claws. (2) The mammalian carnivores and omnivores additionally have huge stomachs that enable gorging, an important capacity in animals who tend to average only about one kill per week. (3) These animals also have a very low gastric pH (which means their stomachs are very acidic), enabling the breakdown of highly concentrated protein as well as the killing of dangerous bacteria that typically colonize decaying flesh. (4)
…Each of these traits enables the lion or bear to use her body to kill prey. Herbivorous animals, by contrast, have fleshy lips, a small mouth opening, a thick and muscular tongue, and a far less stable, mobile jaw joint that facilitates chewing, crushing, and grinding. Herbivores also generally lack sharp claws. (14) These qualities are well-adapted to the eating of plants, which provide nutrients when their cell walls are broken, a process that requires crushing food with side-to-side motion rather than simply swallowing it in large chunks the way that a carnivore or omnivore swallows flesh.
Herbivores have digestive systems in which the stomach is not nearly as spacious as the carnivore’s or omnivore’s, a feature that is suitable for the more regular eating of smaller portions permitted with a diet of plants (which stay in place and are therefore much easier to chase down), rather than the sporadic gorging of a predator on his prey. (15) The herbivore’s stomach also has a higher pH (which means that it is less acidic) than the carnivore’s or omnivore’s, perhaps in part because plants ordinarily do not carry the dangerous bacteria associated with rotting flesh. The small intestines of herbivores are quite long and permit the time-consuming and complex breakdown of the carbohydrates present in plants. In virtually every respect, the human anatomy resembles that of herbivorous animals (such as the gorilla and the elephant) more than that of carnivorous and omnivorous species. (16) Our mouths’ openings are small; our teeth are not extremely sharp (even our “canines”); and our lips and tongues are muscular. Our jaws are not very stable (and would therefore be easy to dislocate in a battle with prey), but they are quite mobile and allow the side-to-side motion that facilitates the crushing and grinding of plants.
Our stomachs are only moderately acidic, a fact that becomes salient around Thanksgiving, when even slightly undercooked dinners of turkey flesh result in many cases of food poisoning from the illness-causing bacteria that easily survive in our stomachs. (17) Like herbivores and unlike carnivores and omnivores as well, we have long small intestines, enabling the digestion of complex carbohydrates, a process that begins in our mouths, where we, like the committed herbivores, have carbohydrate-digesting enzymes as well. (18)
Does any of this mean that people are incapable of eating and digesting animal products? Of course not. With weapons to kill animals, we do not need dagger teeth, and with fire to cook flesh, we can usually avoid the pitfalls of a stomach that is ill-equipped to kill the pathogens that populate raw flesh.
Despite our flexibility in accommodating animal-based foods, however, it nonetheless remains clear that we are anatomically well suited to plant-based eating…[A]nimal-based foods are unnecessary for us, and they carry significant costs and risks. While it is beneficial to have complex plant carbohydrates slowly make their way through our very lengthy small intestines, the same cannot be said for having meat rotting in our intestines for extended periods of time. (19)
However much people may enjoy eating animal products, then, nature does not unambiguously commit us to, or reward us with good health for, consuming them. Our nature is quite different from that of lions, and our choices about what we eat are accordingly far more flexible and correspondingly susceptible to moral scrutiny. Where we have another choice—indeed a more healthful choice—for which our anatomy and physiology amply equip us, we cannot simply invoke nature to justify what we do. It is true that we could not reasonably accuse lions of acting immorally in consuming animals. But simply put, we are not lions.”
See the full excerpt (with citations) from which this text is taken, at Sherry Colb’s Free from Harm article, Two Arguments For Eating Animals: It’s Natural and Animals Do It Too.
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