But... but... but our ancestors ate animals

Let me start with something completely unrelated and see if I can tie it into the title in a meaningful way. A couple of years ago I went skydiving. I always kept telling my wife how much I would love to go skydiving except I never did anything about it since I am scared, I mean, crazy scared of heights. Being the wonderful wife she is, she decides to get me a skydiving gift certificate... one with an expiration date. One thing I dislike more than heights is wasting money. I am, after all, Indian. So, a few weeks before the gift certificate expired, I had her call the company and make me an appointment. I guess I was too scared to even do that. 

That's me, skydiving!

The day finally came. I knew that photos and video weren't included in the gift certificate so I splurged and got the whole package. I figured I would not EVER AGAIN do something like this so what the heck. I had a BLAST!! It was SO MUCH FUN that I was twitching recounting the event at least a week later.

How does this tie into what our ancestors ate? As a vegan and an animal rights activist, I often encounter people who have pointed to cave paintings of ancient hunters as evidence of an animal-foods based diet as something inherent to our daily existence. Being of the scientific persuasion, I took that argument into serious consideration. I wasn't quite able to resolve the discrepancy between the self-evident images of ancient people acquiring animal foods and our anatomy, which is more similar to a herbivore; not until I had this adventure. 

Then it hit me. Why would cavemen draw images of something they did all the time? After all, we don't have images of them gathering berries and such, at least none that I could find. Even searching for images online with the terms "cave paintings gathering food" shows hunting images, images of animals or other activities not related to gathering of food. Go ahead, look for yourself and let me know if you find something different.

Cave painting. Copyright Kevin Mallard.

If hunting was so uncommon, why would people do it in the first place? It is much easier and efficient to gather berries and pick fruit than to chase after animals. Even today, most people prefer to be just gatherers. We go to stores to gather vegetables and fruits, and the flesh of animals killed by other people.  

It is very likely that people started hunting animals for food because they couldn't find plant-based foods. Maybe it was winter time, or a drought was in effect that limited the supply of vegetables and fruits. Living as they did, among nature, people would have seen the hunting of one animal species by another. They figured, if one animal can eat the other, they could also eat that animal. (This is also the likely reason that people do not eat true carnivores like lions and wolves, they were never observed as being the prey.) Therefore, in order to survive, they had no choice but to hunt other animals.

As we learn more about people who lived long time ago, we are finding that they ate mostly a plant-based diet. Even the mighty gladiators of the Roman Empire were vegans. The researchers who discovered this were perplexed and in order to justify it against their own biases said that this was so because a plant-based diet would make one more fat and this "fat cushion" would protect the gladiator from cut wounds and shield nerves and blood vessels in fights. Dr John McDougall points out, however, that in all historical records pertaining to gladiators, there are very few images of fat gladiators

An interesting side note comes from Dr. Will Tuttle's The World Peace Diet in which he hypothesizes about the origin of the idea of hell. Our ancestors who hunted and killed animals for food could empathize with the suffering of the animals they killed. When cooking their prey over campfires they may have imagined their own ends where they are tormented in flames for eternity. Perhaps this is why they also had elaborate rituals surrounding the hunting and consumption of animals.

So what if our ancestor's weren't big on meat? Doesn't mean we cannot do things differently than people did long ago. Well, considering that animal agriculture has transformed how we eat animals compared to our ancestors and that animal agriculture is responsible for some of the world's worst environmental and social justice problems, and that we do not need animal foods to survive, giving up animal products is the single best way to help save the planet, help other people and bring our own values of compassion into alignment with our actions.




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