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(Humanity's Evolutionary Prehistoric Diet and Ape Diets--continued, Part D)

Subjectively based vegetarian
naturalism vs. what evolution tells us

So have Hygienists really overlooked all the [evolutionary] evidence you've compiled in the above timeline about the omnivorous diet of humans throughout prehistory? Are you serious?

It was a puzzle to me when I first stumbled onto it myself. Why hadn't I been told about all this? I had thought in my readings in the Hygienic literature that when the writers referred to our "original diet" or our "natural diet," that must mean what I assumed they meant: that not only was it based on comparative anatomy, but also on what we actually ate during the time the species evolved. And further, that they were at least familiar with the scientific evidence even if they chose to keep things simple and not talk about it themselves. But when I did run across and chase down a scientific reference or two that prominent Hygienists had at long last bothered to mention, I found to my dismay they had distorted the actual evidence or left out crucial pieces.

Could you name a name or two here and give an example so people will know the kind of thing you are talking about?

Sure, as long as we do it with the understanding I am not attempting to vilify anybody, and we all make mistakes. The most recent one I'm familiar with is Victoria Bidwell's citation (in her Health Seeker's Yearbook[69]) of a 1979 science report from the New York Times,[70] where she summarizes anthropologist Alan Walker's microwear studies of fossil teeth in an attempt to show that humans were originally exclusively, only, fruit-eaters.

Bidwell paraphrases the report she cited as saying that "humans were once exclusively fruit eaters... eaters of nothing but fruit." And also that, "Dr. Walker and other researchers are absolutely certain that our ancestors, up to a point in relatively recent history, were fruitarians/vegetarians."[71] But a perusal of the actual article being cited reveals that:

There is more that I could nitpick, but that's probably enough. I imagine Victoria was simply very excited to see scientific mention of frugivorism in the past, and just got carried away in her enthusiasm. There's at least one or two similar distortions by others in the vegetarian community that one could cite (Viktoras Kulvinskas' 1975 book Survival into the 21st Century,[72] for instance, contains inaccuracies about ape diet and "fruitarianism") so I don't want to pick on her too much because I would imagine we've all done that at times. It may be understandable when you are unfamiliar with the research, but it points out the need to be careful.

Subjective naturalism vs. the functional
definition provided by evolution/genetics

Overall, then, what I have been left with--in the absence of any serious research into the evolutionary past by Hygienists--is the unavoidable conclusion that Hygienists simply assume it ought to be intuitively obvious that the original diet of humans was totally vegetarian and totally raw. (Hygienists often seem impatient with scientists who can't "see" this, and may creatively embellish their research to make a point. Research that is discovered by Hygienists sometimes seems to be used in highly selective fashion only as a convenient afterthought to justify conclusions that have already been assumed beforehand.) I too for years thought it was obvious in the absence of realizing science had already found otherwise.

The subjective "animal model" for raw-food naturalism. The argument made is very similar to the "comparative anatomy" argument: Look at the rest of the animals, and especially look at the ones we are most similar to, the apes.* They are vegetarians [this is now known to be false for chimps and gorillas and almost all the other great apes--which is something we'll get to shortly], and none of them cook their food. Animals who eat meat have large canines, rough rasping tongues, sharp claws, and short digestive tracts to eliminate the poisons in the meat before it putrefies, etc.

The trap of reactionary "reverse anthropomorphism." In other words, it is a view based on a philosophy of "naturalism," but without really defining too closely what that naturalism is. The Hygienic view of naturalism, then, simplistically looks to the rest of the animal kingdom as its model for that naturalism by way of analogy. This is good as a device to get us to look at ourselves more objectively from "outside" ourselves, but when you take it too far, it completely ignores that we are unique in some ways, and you cannot simply assume it or figure it all out by way of analogy only. It can become reverse anthropomorphism. (Anthropomorphism is the psychological tendency to unconsciously make human behavior the standard for comparison, or to project human characteristics and motivations onto the things we observe. Reverse anthropomorphism in this case would be saying humans should take specific behaviors of other animals as our own model where food is concerned.)

Subjective views of dietary naturalism are prone to considerable differences of opinion; don't offer meaningful scientific evidence. When you really get down to nuts and bolts about defining what you subjectively think is "natural," however, you find people don't so easily agree about all the particulars. The problem with the Hygienic definition of naturalism--what we could call "the animal model for humans"--is that it is mostly a subjective comparison. (And quite obviously so after you have had a chance to digest the evolutionary picture, like what I presented above. Those who maintain that the only "natural" food for us is that which we can catch or process with our bare hands are by any realistic evolutionary definition for what is natural grossly in error, since stone tools for obtaining animals and cutting the flesh have been with us almost 2 million years now.)

Not that there isn't value in doing this, and not that there may not be large grains of truth to it, but since it is in large part subjectively behavioral, there is no real way to test it fairly (which is required for a theory to be scientific), which means you can never be sure elements of it may not be false. You either agree to it, or you don't--you either agree to the "animal analogy" for raw-food eating and vegetarianism, or you have reservations about it--but you are not offering scientific evidence.

Evolutionary adaptation/genetics as the functional scientific test of what's natural. So my view became, why don't we just look into the evolutionary picture as the best way to go straight to the source and find out what humans "originally" ate? Why fool around philosophizing and theorizing about it when thanks to paleoanthropologists we can now just go back and look? If we really want to resolve the dispute of what is natural for human beings, what better way than to actually go back and look at what we actually did in prehistory before we supposedly became corrupted by reason to go against our instincts? Why aren't we even looking? Are we afraid of what we might see? These questions have driven much of my research into all this.

If we are going to be true dietary naturalists--eat "food of our biological adaptation" as the phrase goes--then it is paramount that we have a functional or testable way of defining what we are biologically adapted to. This is something that evolutionary science easily and straightforwardly defines: what is "natural" is simply what we are adapted to by evolution, and a central axiom of evolution is that what we are adapted to is the behavior our species engaged in over a long enough period of evolutionary time for it to have become selected for in the species' collective gene pool. This puts the question of natural behavior on a more squarely concrete basis. I wanted a better way to determine what natural behavior in terms of diet was for human beings that could be backed by science. This eliminates the dilemma of trying to determine what natural behavior is by resorting solely to subjective comparisons with other animals as Hygienists often do.


(Correcting the Vegetarian Myths about Ape Diets)

Return to beginning of interviews



GO TO PART 1 - Setting the Record Straight on Humanity's Prehistoric Diet and Ape Diets

GO TO PART 2 - Fire and Cooking in Human Evolution

GO TO PART 3 - The Psychology of Idealistic Diets / Successes & Failures of Vegetarian Diets

Back to Frank Talk by Long-Time Insiders

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