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I have done some very serious considering over the course of my (admittedly few) years in terms of the human diet and how our relative sentience might cause us to alter it. I've called myself vegan, vegetarian, and omnivore in such succession that if you didn't know me you'd feel I was somehow insincere. I promise you, anything but!
Food is one of those things in life that creatures great and small must take in to perpetuate themselves, both in terms of longevity and overall health and reproductive success. At times, however, we find our diets failing us as we turn to processed products laden with fat and sugar-- tastes that tiltilate our still-primitive tongues but which wreak havoc on our unsuspecting bodies since our guilty pleasures are just a jaunt-to-the-fridge away. The diet of our ancestors has slowly faded from our modern memories, and to our detriment. Our bodies were MADE of this earth and the bounty it provides. It is debatable, however, just how prominently any sort of strict vegetarian or vegan lifestyle truly fits into our evolutionary chemistry.
When our human digestive tracts are compared to other animals, the lengths of our intestines and the size of our pancreas are comparable to those animals whose diet is omnivorous. Our teeth are not purely for grinding grass and cud like ruminants, but rather we have incisors and canines -- teeth designed for purposes other than strict vegetarian diets.
When we were in our hunter-gatherer infancy, we could not be picky to survive. We hoarded berries and nuts, discovered by process of elimination what plants and fungi were palatable, stole eggs out of birds' nests, speared fishes from the river and, at certain times in our history, hunted nothing less than the giant woolly mammoths for their meat and hide. When the growing season ended and the last of the stored grains had been exhausted, we turned to game. We haven't inherited our meat-eating tendencies shamefully; we, like other creatures subject to the evolutionary pressures of the ever-changing environment, adapted our culinary niche as nobly as any other earthly animal.
I can hardly imagine a rational person denying a lion his afternoon gazelle, a grizzly his fresh salmon dinner, or even a housecat her can of Fancy Feast (although some try, I know). In the scientific community there is little doubt that humans are omnivorous, au naturale. Therefore, the prime argument for true and total vegetarianism or veganism would be rarely an issue of biological debate but rather a moral one. Not that a moral debate is of any less importance. We are in a unique position as humans, as to our knowledge we alone have the capacity to contemplate the future and the ethics of the choices we make.
When our ancestors killed an animal for food, it had roamed freely through the woods and plains until the moment it died. The hunt was often ritualistic, invoking the spirit of the animal and asking for forgiveness for the taking of its earthly life -- a far cry from landing a Big Mac at the drive-thru. Now, our animal-derived food is just that -- FOOD -- from start to finish. Factory farms hardly treat cows and chickens like anything but.
Our American diet is laden with animal protein -- which takes an almost perverse amount of fresh water and energy to produce and get to the table -- when whole countries are starving. The same amount of nutritionally-packed protein derived from a plant source takes exponentially less energy, water, and space to produce, allowing a greater amount of net food to be produced globally when a reduction is made to meat production and consumption.
There is no simple answer to the question of what a human diet should include from a bio-ethical standpoint, but it is something that begs introspection. The web of life on this planet is much more fragile -- and at the same time resilient -- than we give it credit for. It is threatened every day by the choices our species makes, and yet we humans are undeniably at the mercy of that same web of life for our very existance. Finding the sustainable balance is key.
I have several friends who either are vegan or frequently term themselves thus. But when I was in the eighth grade, one of my friends decided that she loved animals and vegetables and would stop eating animials to save them. I smiled and nodded and said, "Have fun...." Then, she decided she was vegan. I, again, knowing her habits, simply smiled and nodded. A few weeks later, she was sitting at lunch, hamburger in hand. I walked up to her, 'Hello.....whatcha got there?" She looked at me as though I was rather unintelligent. "A Hamburger...." I nodded and went about my day.
My sister works at Applebees. The other day she told me about a customer who came in. "i'm a vegan," the young female customer said. "Oh, well, I hope you can find something on the menu," the waiter told her. After studying the menu, the girl made her order: