This article was originally published in Positive Health issue 67 – August 2001
When the BSE scandal was first disclosed, many were rightly shocked to hear that cows had been fed on a flesh diet; that, in other words, herbivores have been turned into carnivores. It’s not the first time, however, that a species has been forced to drift away from its normal nutritional behaviour. Man, a frugivorous species (living on fruit, nuts and succulent vegetables), became a flesh eater when his original habitat was destroyed during the Ice Ages. But very few people realize that for a frugivore to eat like an omnivore or a carnivore is as big a departure from the natural order as for a herbivore to eat like a carnivore.
Naturalists and comparative anatomists, such as Linnaeus, Cuvier, Haeckel and TH Huxley, have long agreed that Man should be classed as a frugivore. Their view is well supported by comparative studies based on anatomy, physiology and biochemistry. Humans are closely related to the anthropoid apes. In common with them, they have: a discoidal placenta; two hands and two feet; flat nails; no tail; eyes that look forwards; millions of pores; well-developed incisor teeth; blunt molar teeth; the following dental formula: 184.108.40.206.5 / 220.127.116.11.5; well-developed salivary glands; alkaline reacting saliva and urine; smooth tongue; mammary glands located on chest; stomach with duodenum (a kind of second stomach); intestinal canal 12 times the length of the body (torso); a convoluted colon.
But if you bone up on the anatomical and physiological characteristics of the true carnivore, you will see a totally different picture that cannot possibly go into your family album:
Zonary placenta; four-footed; claws; tails; eyes that look sideways; skin without pores; slightly developed incisor teeth; pointed molar teeth; dental formula: 5 to 18.104.22.168.5 to 8 / 5 to 22.214.171.124.5 to 8; small salivary glands; acid reaction of saliva and urine; rasping tongue; teats on abdomen; stomach simple and roundish; intestinal canal three times the length of the body; smooth colon.
Meat eating originated late in our evolution. It has been estimated that it began around 1.5 million years ago, the days of Homo habilis. And it’s only in the last few thousand years that flesh became a staple ingredient in Man’s diet. But this radical change in our feeding habit didn’t change our anatomy and our physiology. “Nature, red in tooth and claw”, says the poet Tennyson. True for a fraction of Nature, but Man red in tooth and nail? Only superficially, for Man is only a frugivore in carnivore’s ‘clothing’.
To err on a greasy nutritional path inevitably leads to a diseased or dead end. Since the CJD panic and other flesh-eating related diseases, even the most dedicated carnivores hesitate before biting into their rosbif or bifteck. Now that any piece of meat should be stamped with a label reading “meat can cause fatal diseases”, there has never been a better time to go back to our original and Edenic eating habits.
The market never misses an opportunity. Enter meat substitutes. At the end of last year, Mintel market research estimated the value of meat substitute for last year at £143m, “double the figure for 1995…”. All very well for the prosperity of the sacrosanct Market, but do we really need ‘meat substitute’? Meat is the ‘substitute’ says Professor Sherman of Columbia University. In Superior Nutrition, Herbert M Shelton explains why nuts are best: “…everything we get from flesh, except its content of animal waste, its diseased portions and the putrefactive poisons it contains, may be had in better and more usable condition from many other foods, especially nuts.”
Botanically speaking, nuts are fruits, although the portion we eat is the seed, the shell surrounding it being too tough and fibrous to be edible. Nuts are delicious in their raw state. They are packed with minerals, vitamins, fibre, proteins and fats. The fat in nuts is predominantly monounsaturated and includes omega-3 fatty acids – good fat, in other words. Eating three or four ounces of raw, unprocessed nuts daily is sufficient to maintain a healthy nitrogen balance in adults. You don’t even have to worry about essential amino acids, you will be getting all of them if your diet consists of raw nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. Indeed, there is more to proteins than just the unholy trinity of meat, cheese and eggs. And with about 200 different kinds of nuts in nature, there is no risk of a shortage of proteins. With all their plusses, there is no need for meat or pulses. Yet nuts are still the poor relation in our feeding habits.
True, some people suffer from severe, life-threatening nut allergies. These are fortunately rare, but seem to be on the increase. This does not mean that there is something inherently wrong with nuts. For a start, the biggest offender is the peanut, which is not, botanically speaking, a nut but a member of the legume family. Also, because of our highly polluted environment, many babies are born lacking essential enzymes, which could explain some of these allergies. Another theory is that the protective lining of the stomach is not fully developed before a baby reaches its first birthday. If a baby is fed with food containing large protein molecules (as in commercial baby milk) before this lining is formed, the unwelcome molecules can pass into the bloodstream, thereby cultivating an allergic terrain and giving rise to conditions such as eczema and asthma. Many nut-allergy sufferers also have asthma, the symptoms of which are similar to nut-allergy reactions.
If we continue to disregard our frugivore status, we will soon be unable to digest any protein at all. We’ll do well to reflect on the myth of Diomedes who fed his horses on flesh – they went mad and ate their master!
Notes and References
1. Zonary: placenta with villi arranged in a band or girdle.
2. Brockes Emma. Cheat Meat. The Guardian. 1 December 2000.
3. Shelton Herbert M. Superior Nutrition. Willow Publishing. 1987.