Thursday, March 29, 2007

Are Humans vegetarians or meat-eaters?

I saw this comment at one of the blogs, which prompted me to write this article. According to this commenter:

Humans are originally 100% vegetarian (mainly fruit & leaf eating) being Primates. They are not carnivorous being unable to kill without weapons and eat raw meat, as natural carnivores such as lions, tigers, crocodiles etc do. Only after humans developed a large brain did they invent weapons to kill and fire to cook meat. No natural carnivore need weapons to hunt nor fire to cook meat as they have claws, large canines, speed and strength to kill their own food (without aid of weapons) as well as the digestive system to eat raw meat (without cooking it).

It’s interesting because the author puts forth a hypothesis which is highly debatable. Are humans herbivorous, carnivorous or omnivorous?

First, to say humans are ‘originally 100% vegetarian’ is patently wrong, because there is no valid case to suggest this. Also, to say humans are completely meat eaters is also wrong, because there is no strong case for this either. Most studies suggest we are omnivorous. We tend to eat what is available. Higher order animals such as mammals may or may not be exclusive meat-eaters. Carnivores are those who meat only. Herbivores are those who eat plants only. However, we have different kinds, like mostly fruit eaters (frugivores), and those who eat seeds (gramnivores), and those who eat insects (insectivores), etc. We are not strictly herbivores nor are we strictly carnivores. And interestingly, we tend to be all the above making us omnivores. 

Are we strictly vegetarian? 

We can eat fruits, and only certain leaves, but cannot eat grass (like herbivores do). Our intestine is not designed to eat grass and digest it. Try doing that and you will be dead. Any human, who is left alone in a jungle, desert, snow-capped mountains, or grasslands, will survive through meat-eating, but not through vegetarian food. Look at any herbivore’s teeth and look at human’s teeth. We have remnants of canines which none of the herbivore’s have.

Almost all plant-eating animals have fermenting vats where the food is stored for a while where bacteria works on it. Animals like cows and buffaloes ruminate. Humans have no such mechanism to suggest we are strictly vegetarian.

What are we?

Are we meat-eaters then? Most vegetarians tend to dismiss this because they try to find similarities between a hard-core game hunting carnivore like a lion or a cheetah to show how we don’t have the same capabilities. It’s a wrong comparison. There are many carnivores in nature who do not necessarily hunt the way lions or cheetahs hunt. Killing rats, squirrels, rabbits, hares, and other small animals does not require the same skill as that of a lion hunting a gazelle. A man, even now, can kill a squirrel, dry the meat and digest it.

Most of the settlements (prior to agriculture) are also near water sources- and tend to suggest that man was eating fish, toads, and other water borne animals, and they were also a major source of our protein. All settlements in cold climates relied heavily on eating meat.

Our closest relatives are apes from who we departed six to seven million years ago. That’s when we moved from the tree tops to the grasslands. What was human eating after he moved to the grasslands? Most evolutionists tend to agree that humans were omnivorous, that while being fruit and leaf eaters, humans relied heavily on small game hunting. 

Our food patterns changed heavily once agriculture and domestication started (around 12,000 years ago). That’s when we started to grow grain and also rear animals for consumption (goat, sheep, hen, etc). Fishing was always another source of food. Some populations were primarily based on fish. If we look at the present human population, it is heavily meat eating (and it is not based on our ability to cook, but our ability to grow animals as an industry). Except for few cultures or nations such as India, the world is primarily meat eating.

[In the above discussion, I have not resorted to ethical dilemmas, religion or human morality].

Links: Jared Diamond [Added in 2013], 

Monday, March 26, 2007

Why I am happy that India lost

I have no interest in cricket, but is subsumes you because you are surrounded by everyone who does. It’s on the news, on TV and on newspapers. So you can’t fail to notice that there is a cricket match going on. And sometimes you get t watch it because those around you want to watch it. India lost out to Bangladesh and then to Sri Lanka and are out of the World Cup. Thank goodness. I am relieved. Here’s why.

So that they stop the annoying ads on TV

Pepsi has released a new ad in which thousands chant something like ‘Hu Ha India’. And then they end up with ‘World Cup Ko La’. Where Ko La stands for ‘get it’, and also for Cola. The guys who made the ad thought they were brilliant. In fact, it is the most annoying ad I have seen, especially when they kept relaying it even after the debacle against Bangladesh. There’s another ad where the team members turn into tigers. May be these are just donkeys which donned Tiger uniforms (as an old story goes). Even when Sachin performed really bad and was out, he reappeared in the ads right after. It’s like saying, ‘So what if I failed in the game, I am always a winner on the TV ads’. And to top it all, these team members are paid millions- and I cannot reason why.

So as to stop the over-obsession with one game and one team

There is nothing wrong with Cricket as a sport. It is just another sport. But a really boring one though- it’s too long and ends up wasting lot of time! There are two things Indians are completely obsessed about- one is Cricket and the other is Indian Movie industry. Nothing else comes close in enrapturing their complete attention, their body and whole soul. This over-obsession with just one or two things is a big disease- according to me (and it needs to be cured). We almost never bother about any other sports. Any village you go to in India, even a remote one, kids are playing this silly game. Nothing good came out of it.

Since we are obsessed with this game, I should naturally presume that we sponsor and encourage this game wherever it is played. That does not happen at all. All the minor league, college league, or state league games are completely unwatched. Compare this to few other countries and their sports. Brazilians or Germans watch soccer wherever it is played, even when one club or a city plays another. Americans watch their sports wherever it is played, even when a college team plays another. That’s not exactly what happens in India. Almost nobody watches when Mysore plays Bangalore (I don’t even think such a game actually takes place). So, are we genuinely interested in this sport or just in one team (which happens to be Indian National team)?

Come to think of it, we don’t know how this Indian team is made up. Who selects them? On what criteria? What are the other lower level games who put up these contenders? Ranji is such a low-key affair, its not even telecasted on TV. If Indians are genuinely passionate about this game, you would see companies sponsoring sports at all levels- at district, city, state, college. If they are genuinely interested, you would see people watching their college team play. But that does not happen. We are completely and entirely over-obsessed with the Indian national team and nothing beyond. The team which gets constituted (miraculously) are pampered like anything. Without having done anything spectacular, these sportsmen become millionaires, are considered heroes, appear in almost every ad, and woo Indian movie stars. What they do on the cricket ground is much less spectacular than what they do outside. Indians getting less obsessive about cricket, and concentrating on other things, including other sports, is a healthy sign.

So as to help India have a healthy youth

Losing the only sport on which the entire nation is over-obsessed is not good for the morale of its youth. Except cricket, there’s no other game and no other sport to rely on. Add to that, the Indian cricket team has this amazing proclivity to disappoint most of the times. The supposed heroes fail to perform almost consistently whenever India is in dire need of heroism. Watching your country go down in the only sports it plays is such a morale buster. Other countries with good populations have many sports to be proud of. Chinese or Russians do well in Olympics in many games. They don’t have one single sport and one single team to put all their bets on. Germans can look forward to soccer, hockey, athletics, F1, etc. US has many sports of its own to concentrate on. Every culture and region has some good number of sports to rely on, and each sport has many games at different levels to satisfy everyone. Some teams lose, some teams win, one can always root for some team and be happy. Indians have only one sport and only one game (at national level). And what great achievements we have in this only sport India is obsessed about? It won only one world cup in more than 25 years; that too in a tournament which is played at the most by 10 other countries of which 8 or so are regular playing teams. Losing in such tiny competition must be doing some good damage to the morale of this nation’s youth. It tells us that we are good at nothing. I would rather escape the game saying it is against our religion. It’s a better excuse than getting beaten up by every little nation.