Myths, facts and opinions on vegetarianism and eating meat
Below can be found a variety of opinions on this subject. Each article is longer than the one before. So there is a lot of material to read. As this collection calls for a lot of debate, I should make it clear that I feel Westerners can be vegetarians and that human beings are inherently omnivours who have the choice to abstain from eating meat and meat products.
- Idarmis Rodriguez: A vegetarian does not eat meat, poultry or fish.
- William Q. Judge: What is the opinion of the leaders of the T.S. in regard to vegetarianism?
- Humans weren't meant to eat meat
- Humans are Omnivores, Adapted from a talk by John McArdle, Ph.D.
- Cookbooks for Vegans
Quote from the introduction to a booklet with this name published by The Theosophical Society in Europe, p. 1-2
A vegetarian does not eat meat, poultry or fish. This statement might be obvious to some. However, many vegetarians, while ordering a vegetarian meal in a restaurant, will have endured the question "but you eat fish?" People adopt this way of life for various reasons, of which the main ones are usually compassionate, ecological and/or health. Some will avoid not only eating meat, but any product obtained by exploiting animals. Vegans extend this to include all dairy products and eggs, however humanly produced, and may also avoid honey. Concern for ecology leads many to prefer plant protein, which is far more economical to produce than animal protein (and far healthier too).
In The Key to Theosophy, H.P. Blavatsky [HPB] was asked about Theosophy "Is it obligatory for members of the Theosophical Society to adhere to vegetarianism"? Her response was: "The truth is that our rules require nothing of the kind, however, earnest students and active workers in The Theosophical Society, wish to do more than study theoretically. The wish to know the truth by their own direct personal experience. The first thing which the members learn is a true conception of the relation of the body, or physical sheaths, to the inner, the true man. The relation and mutual interaction between these two aspects of human nature are explained and demonstrated to them." HPB goes on to say: "One of the great German scientists has shown that every kind of animal tissue, however you may cook it, still retains certain marked characteristics of the animal which it belonged to, which characteristics can be recognised. And apart from that, everyone knows from the taste what meat he is eating. We go a step further, and prove that when the flesh of animals is assimilated by man as food, it imparts to him, physiologically, some of the characteristics of the animal it came from. Moreover, occult science teaches and proves this to its students by ocular demonstration, showing also that this 'coarsening' or 'animalising' effect on man is greatest from the flesh of larger animals, less from birds, still less from fish and other cold-blooded animals, and least of all when he eats vegetables only. As the matter stands, he (man) must eat to live, and so we advise really earnest students to eat such food as will least clog and weigh their brains and bodies, and will have the smallest effect in hampering and retarding the development of their intuition, their inner faculties and powers."[ Key to Theosophy ]
"Forum" answers, p. 129-30, The Theosophy Co. 1982
William Q. Judge
What is the opinion of the leaders of the T.S. in regard to vegetarianism?
W.Q.J. - Physicians and those who have tried vegetarianism are those who should speak on this. The opinions of "leaders," as such, are of no consequence. I tried it for nine years, and found it injurious. This is because the western man has no heredity of vegetarianism behind him, and also because his dishes as a vegetarian are poor. They should be confined to rice, barley, wheat, oats, some nuts and a little fruit; but westerners don't like such a meager variety. The stomach does not digest vegetables, it is for meat; the teeth are for tearing and grinding meat. Most of those vegetarians I know eat a whole lot of things injurious to them and are not benefitted. Had we an ancestry going back thousands of years, vegetarians always, the case might be different. I know that most of the experienced physicians we have in the Society - and I know a great many - agree with my view, and some of them insist that vegetarianism is wrong under any conditions. With the latter view I do not agree. There ought to come a time in our evolution when new methods of food production will be known, and when the necessity for killing any highly organized creature will have disappeared.
The other branch of the subject is that regarding spiritual development and vegetarianism. It has been so often dealt with it is sufficient to say that such development has nothing to do with either meat-eating or the diet of vegetables. He who gives up meat-eating but does not alter his nature and thoughts, thinking to gain in spirituality, may flatter himself and perhaps make a fetish of his denial, but will certainly thereby make no spiritual progress.
Note: This article was written in the 19th century. It is not representative of current medical knowledge.
When you look at the comparison between herbivores and humans, we compare much more closely to herbivores than meat eating animals. Humans are clearly not designed to digest and ingest meat.
- Meat-eaters: have claws
- Herbivores: no claws
- Humans: no claws
- Meat-eaters: have no skin pores and perspire through the tongue
- Herbivores: perspire through skin pores
- Humans: perspire through skin pores
- Meat-eaters: have sharp front teeth for tearing, with no flat molar teeth for grinding
- Herbivores: no sharp front teeth, but flat rear molars for grinding
- Humans: no sharp front teeth, but flat rear molars for grinding
- Meat-eaters: have intestinal tract that is only 3 times their body length so that rapidly decaying meat can pass through quickly
- Herbivores: have intestinal tract 10-12 times their body length.
- Humans: have intestinal tract 10-12 times their body length.
- Meat-eaters: have strong hydrochloric acid in stomach to digest meat
- Herbivores: have stomach acid that is 20 times weaker than that of a meat-eater
- Humans: have stomach acid that is 20 times weaker than that of a meat-eater
- Meat-eaters: salivary glands in mouth not needed to pre-digest grains and fruits.
- Herbivores: well-developed salivary glands which are necessary to pre-digest grains and fruits
- Humans: well-developed salivary glands, which are necessary to pre-digest, grains and fruits
- Meat-eaters: have acid saliva with no enzyme ptyalin to pre-digest grains
- Herbivores: have alkaline saliva with ptyalin to pre-digest grains
- Humans: have alkaline saliva with ptyalin to pre-digest grains
Based on a chart by A.D. Andrews, Fit Food for Men, (Chicago: American Hygiene Society, 1970)
Clearly if humans were meant to eat meat we wouldn't have so many crucial ingestive/digestive similarities with animals that are herbivores.
Meat and seafood putrefies within 4 hours after consumption and the remnants cling to the walls of the stomach and intestines for 3-4 days or longer than if a person is constipated. Furthermore, the reaction of saliva in humans is more alkaline, whereas in the case of flesh-eating or preying animals, it is clearly acidic. The alkaline saliva does not act properly on meat.
Adapted from a talk by John McArdle, Ph.D.
- Confusion between Taxonomy and Diet
- The Great Apes
- Evidence of Humans as Omnivores
- APPENDIX: Other Thoughts
- For Questions or Comments
There are a number of popular myths about vegetarianism that have no scientific basis in fact. One of these myths is that man is naturally a vegetarian because our bodies resemble plant eaters, not carnivores. In fact we are omnivores, capable of either eating meat or plant foods. The following addresses the unscientific theory of man being only a plant eater.
Much of the misinformation on the issue of man's being a natural vegetarian arises from confusion between taxonomic (in biology, the procedure of classifying organisms in established categories) and dietary characteristics.
Members of the mammalian Order Carnivora may or may not be exclusive meat eaters. Those which eat only meat are carnivores. Dietary adaptations are not limited by a simple dichotomy between herbivores (strict vegetarians) and carnivores (strict meat-eaters), but include frugivores (predominantly fruit), gramnivores (nuts, seeds, etc.), folivores (leaves), insectivores (carnivore-insects and small vertebrates), etc. Is is also important to remember that the relation between the form (anatomy/physiology) and function (behavior) is not always one to one. Individual anatomical structures can serve one or more functions and similar functions can be served by several forms.
The key category in the discussion of human diet is omnivores, which are defined as generalized feeders, with neither carnivore nor herbivore specializations for acquiring or processing food, and who are capable of consuming and do consume both animal protein and vegetation. They are basically *opportunistic* feeders (survive by eating what is available) with more generalized anatomical and physiological traits, especially the dentition (teeth). All the available evidence indicates that the natural human diet is omnivorous and would include meat. We are not, however, required to consume animal protein. We have a choice.
There are very few frugivores amongst the mammals in general, and primates in particular. The only apes that are predominantly fruit eaters (gibbons and siamangs) are atypical for apes in many behavioral and ecological respects and eat substantial amounts of vegetation. Orangutans are similar, with no observations in the wild of eating meat.
Gorillas are more typically vegetarian, with less emphasis on fruit. Several years ago a very elegant study was done on the relationship between body size and diet in primates (and some other mammal groups). The only primates on the list with pure diets were the very small species (which are entirely insectivorous) and the largest (which specialize in vegetarian diet). However, the spectrum of dietary preferences reflect the daily food intake needs of each body size and the relative availability of food resources in a tropical forest. Our closest relatives among the apes are the chimpanzees (i.e., anatomically, behaviorally, genetically, and evolutionarily), who frequently kill and eat other mammals (including other primates).
As far back as it can be traced, clearly the archeological record indicates an omnivorous diet for humans that included meat. Our ancestry is among the hunter/gatherers from the beginning. Once domestication of food sources began, it included both animals and plants.
Relative number and distribution of cell types, as well as structural specializations, are more important than overall length of the intestine to determining a typical diet. Dogs are typical carnivores, but their intestinal characteristics have more in common with omnivores. Wolves eat quite a lot of plant material.
Nearly all plant eaters have fermenting vats (enlarged chambers where foods sits and microbes attack it). Ruminants like cattle and deer have forward sacs derived from remodeled esophagus and stomach. Horses, rhinos, and colobine monkeys have posterior, hindgut sacs. Humans have no such specializations.
Although evidence on the structure and function of human hands and jaws, behavior, and evolutionary history also either support an omnivorous diet or fail to support strict vegetarianism, the best evidence comes from our teeth.
The short canines in humans are a functional consequence of the enlarged cranium and associated reduction of the size of the jaws. In primates, canines function as both defense weapons and visual threat devices. Interestingly, the primates with the largest canines (gorillas and gelada baboons) both have basically vegetarian diets. In archeological sites, broken human molars are most often confused with broken premolars and molars of pigs, a classic omnivore. On the other hand, some herbivores have well-developed incisors that are often mistaken for those of human teeth when found in archeological excavations.
These indicate we could be omnivores. Saliva and urine data vary, depending on diet, not taxonomic group.
Intestinal absorption is a surface area, not linear problem. Dogs (which are carnivores) have intestinal specializations more characteristic of omnivores than carnivores such as cats. The relative number of crypts and cell types is a better indication of diet than simple length. We are intermediate between the two groups.
Humans are classic examples of omnivores in all relevant anatomical traits. There is no basis in anatomy or physiology for the assumption that humans are pre-adapted to the vegetarian diet. For that reason, the best arguments in support of a meat-free diet remain ecological, ethical, and health concerns.
[Dr. McArdle is a vegetarian and currently Scientific Advisor to The American Anti-Vivisection Society. He is an anatomist and a primatologist.]
The following information is taken from The New York Times, May 15, 1979. According to Dr. Alan Walker, a Johns Hopkins University anthropologist, Homo Erectus, the species immediately ancestorial to our own Homo Sapiens, had evidence of an omnivorous diet. Every Homo-Erectus tooth found was that of an omnivore. However, a small sample of teeth from the human-like species during a 12 million year period leading up to the Homo-Erectus period, indicates the earlier species may have been a fruit eater. Even if this species, way before our own, lived on a fruit diet, they probably would not have consumed what we consider typical fruits. Hundreds of plants produce fruits that are tougher, more substantial foods than what we eat today.
Quoted from an editorial by William Clifford Roberts, M.d., Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Cardiology :
"When we kill animals to eat them, they end up killing us because their flesh, which contains cholesterol and saturated fat, was never intended for human beings, who are natural herbivores."
Quoted from "WHAT DID OUR ANCESTORS EAT?" in Nutrition Reviews, by Stanley Garn, Professor of Nutrition and Anthropology, and William Leonard, Assistant Professor of Human Biology:
"These people of Upper Pleistocene, and later those of the mesolithic, were our immediate ancestors, no longer hunters exclusively and with whole-grain products and a variable amount of roots, fruits, leafy vegetables and nuts in their diet. We must grant them a mixed diet, with animal fat providing a smaller proportion of their food energy than was probably true for the Neanderthals."
This article was originally published in the May/June 1991 edition of the Vegetarian Journal, published by:
The Vegetarian Resource Group
P.O. Box 1463, Dept. IN
Baltimore, MD 21203