The landscape of food and how we have consumed it has undergone incredible changes for centuries. Throughout history, owning livestock and being able to feed it to your family was a sign of wealth and prosperity. If you had guests over, being able to feed them meat, bread and olive oil indicated that you truly cared about their wellbeing.
Across the ages, these traditions and signs have not changed much. Throughout the U.S.’ most prominent metropolitan areas, one can find five-star steakhouses and meat buffets regarded as top-tier when it comes to dining. Being served a filet mignon or fresh meat cutlet is equivalent to being served as a king or queen.
We all like to make justifications about our food, as this helps us enjoy our food more deeply and understand why we consume it. People from all kinds of backgrounds, including scientists, cooks and students, have posited that human tooth and jaw design is geared towards consuming meat.
One of the most common arguments made for humans to eat meat is that we have canine teeth. While we do have canine teeth, human canines are nothing compared to the canine teeth exhibited by carnivores. Human canines are blunt and wider; carnivorous canines are often inches or more in length.
However, this does not mean that all creatures with canine teeth strictly eat meat. Some of the largest canines in the world belong to herbivorous animals. White-lipped peccaries, gorillas and hippopotamuses all have fearsome canines, and the largest in the world actually belong to hippos. Their canine teeth have been known to grow up to 18 inches, but play no role in how hippos gather food.
The hippopotamus diet consists almost entirely of grass and roots; their sizeable canines are only used for territorial disputes or self-protection. The same goes for gorillas, which feed on leaves, stems, shoots, pith and roots. Depending on the type of gorilla and the region they are in, they may feed on ants.
Hippos and gorillas both have molars to grind up and chew the food they collect, in order for their stomachs to process the food. The human jaw and tooth structure virtually mirrors that of gorillas and other primates. The chart below provides illustration.
Primates and humans both have small mouth openings, blunt canines, flattened incisors and flattened, thick molars. Incisors allow the creature to cut into or peel off part of a fruit or vegetable, and then gradually break it into smaller parts with molars. Molars are teeth that can mash and grind a tough or complex food and, with the help of saliva, form the food into a bolus that is swallowed.
Carnivores have strong hydrochloric acid in their stomachs that facilitates digestion of meat, fur and bones. This is a large part of what allows felines to simply attack their prey and start eating once the kill is made. Human stomachs contain gastric acid to break down food. Gastric acid is composed of potassium chloride, sodium chloride and hydrochloric acid that is 20 times weaker than that of carnivores. This means the natural digestive abilities of humans depends on the foods we select.
In light of the aforementioned facts, human intestines are about nine times one’s body length, and it typically takes 12 to 18 hours for a human to completely digest a meal. In contrast, a carnivore’s (feline’s) intestine is generally 1.5 to three times its body length, and it only takes two to four hours for a full meal to digest in its stomach. This allows meat that is rapidly decaying to pass out of the body as swiftly as possible.
Beyond this, the types of defense mechanisms and food-gathering components of a creature’s body also play into their food type. Carnivores have sharp claws on their paws or hands, and humans do not. We have flattened nails that are most conducive to handling fruits and vegetables and picking foods from trees or stems.
All of these facts taken together point to an unmistakable conclusion: humans are physically built to consume and receive optimal benefit from vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. This fact is reflected in human teeth, jaws, stomachs and nails. The similarities between herbivorous and frugivorous animals and humans are too many to overlook. One easy way to consider it is that the abundance of plant-based eating does not have to be confined to special situations.
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