We've always eaten meat
Humans evolved eating meat so we should continue to do so
This is what's known as an appeal to tradition fallacy - using the fact that we've done something for a long time as a justification to continue doing so. Such arguments have no bearing on the morality of what's taking place, indeed these appeals to tradition were commonplace as a reaction to attempts to abolish slavery, gain voting rights for women, or achieve civil rights for people of colour.
The fact that we've been doing something for a long time has zero impact on whether or not we should
continue to do so, and a simple look at past human behaviour shows a staggering number of activities considered normal or traditional at the time that any civilised person would find truly outrageous today.
We can also see the fallacy of the appeal to tradition by looking at certain cultural behaviours still taking place
in the the world today - actions most of us would never dream of supporting.
Some questions to consider:
- Why are dogs tortured to death in their millions in some parts of Asia in the belief that an adrenaline-
fuelled death improves the taste of the meat?
- Why are there countries in some parts of the world routinely mutilating the genitals of young girls in the
name of religion?
- Why do they torture and drug bulls in Spain, before taunting and brutally killing them in front of a
cheering, bloodthirsty crowd?
- Why are women in some parts of the world still considered second class citizens and not afforded the same
rights as men?
- Why are some amongst the upper classes in the UK fighting for the hunting of foxes to be re-legalised, a
so-called 'bloodsport' where a terrified animal is literally torn to pieces by a pack of dogs as people on
horseback look on with pleasure?
The answer to these questions is a simple one - it's tradition. Those committing these acts always address criticism with the same excuses. 'We've always done it, it's a part of our culture' and 'this is the way it's always been'.
You likely find at least some of the practices above to be incredibly cruel and immoral, yet would you accept 'we've always done it' as a valid reason for them to continue? Doing the wrong thing for a long time doesn't somehow make it right, but it can have the power to make it an unquestioned part of a particular culture.
And so it's vital as we try to evolve into a genuinely moral society to look beyond our own cultural blinkers
and consider all those who suffer needlessly through the habits and traditions we blindly follow as 'normal'.
For the argument that we've always eaten meat from an evolutionary point of view, there is indeed a common theory that meat consumption may have been one of the main drivers. This is by no means set in stone however, and there are other equally valid theories - the fact that we began cooking our food being one of the more prominent. After all, if meat eating was linked to intelligence, would the planet's most prolific carnivores not be top of the intellectual tree?
It is important to understand however that even if meat did play a role, that has absolutely no bearing on how we should behave morally today. Animals do not want to be killed, suffer terribly at our hand and as we now have zero biological need to consume animal products to be healthy and thrive, continuing to demand and consume these products makes little logical sense when they directly and needlessly contribute to the suffering of others.
We are no longer cavemen or cavewomen and our evolutionary and biological path has long since changed direction. Human brains are now rapidly shrinking rather than growing (strange when you consider we're eating more meat than ever) and our needs and circumstances have changed dramatically. Perhaps now would be a good time to move forward together in applying our logic and compassion consistently - behaving like the moral and intellectual superiors those who make the 'big brains' argument consider us to be.
It's also important to remember that our ancient ancestors had incredibly short lifespans compared to human beings today. As a result they were able to gain any nutritional benefit of eating meat without suffering the many consequences of ill health that start to affect the body later. Our ancestors simply didn't live long enough to be hit by the long list of 'diseases of affluence' that now plague our modern world. Of the top ten causes of death in western society most are not only dietary related but also totally avoidable, with a plant-based whole foods diet shown repeatedly to be optimal for avoiding chronic disease and increasing longevity.
There's nothing wrong with acknowledging the role meat may have played in shaping us into the successful species we are today. But perhaps it's time to start evolving past behaviours that are now proving detrimental
to our health and literally destroying the planet that supports us, not to mention the unavoidable cruelty and large-scale violence eating animal products will always cause.
A similar perspective on this topic can also be found in my response to the claim we're designed to eat meat.
- Further information -
- Smithsonian.com: Human beings evolved to eat cooked food
causes of death.
"Especially when it comes to animals used for food, humanity’s
reasoning power and concern about fairness plummets."
reasoning power and concern about fairness plummets."