Did Vegetarianism Doom Paranthropus?

“Being a vegetarian will make you extinct.”

~ Christine Steininger, paleoanthropologist.

An interesting article today, from the The National, pertaining to the estimated 1.8 million year-old relic of Paranthropus robustus that recently went on display at Maropeng museum, in the “Cradle of Humankind”, a region north of Johannesburg, South Africa, that is home to the richest trove of hominid fossils anywhere on Earth.

Taken in isolation, this story isn’t much more than just an interesting aside.  It’s just another small piece of our historical past (out of many such examples) that conspired, through the forces of evolution, to craft our current genome.  It’s not an ethical issue of “right or wrong” that we evolved to thrive best on a protein and fat laden diet, it just is; the proof is there, written by evolution right into our very genome.

Vegetarians will argue this point, of course.  But evolution does not care about ethics, and ethics cannot alter millions of years of evolution.  We are, ultimately, what we’re evolved to be.  My personal stance on vegetarianism is this: I totally understand it from an ethical standpoint; from a human health standpoint, I believe it to be, quite simply, a substandard diet at best — and that’s being giving. People routinely undertake methods and courses of action that are not necessarily healthy in order to realize a “higher cause”; athletes and sports-enhancing drugs, the shear physical toll extracted from some sports, poor eating, sleeping and a the general disregard for overall health that is sometimes endured and as trade-off to achieving loftiness in regards work, business or academia.  I’m not here to judge the merits or trade-offs of these issues, I would simply prefer these folks to go into such endeavors with eyes wide open, with a full understanding of the costs involved.

I agree with the vegetarian movement in their contention that the ethical treatment of livestock is, with few exceptions, wholly lacking in the current “government-industrial food complex”.   However, I feel that totally eschewing the consumption of animal protein is not the answer — nor do I think it is in any way, shape or form, healthy (ok, vegetarianism is healthier than the standard western diet — but that ain’t sayin’ much).  Instead of sacrificing my own health, though, I’d rather bring about change by helping support local farmers who raise animal protein ethically, and under environmentally sustainable conditions.  It’s expensive at the moment, yes — especially as compared to the government supported, Big Ag version — but the potential pay-off is immense, both in terms of improved human health and animal quality of life.

In Health,


10 responses to “Did Vegetarianism Doom Paranthropus?

  1. Interesting Keith. I’ve had several discussions with hard-core vegans about diet (none of them have been confrontational). One recommended “Eat to Live” with basically recommended a low meat diet and that we can get all our protein from veggies (yeah – pounds and pounds of it!). Another recommended reading “The China Study” that supposedly links a high protein diet with cancer. Don’t know if you’ve ever read that. I can not fully comment on the second book since I did not finish reading it (it was on loan).

    Anyway, my near-sister-in-law is visiting this weekend and she’s vegan while we are hard-core carnivores. Should make for some creative meal making on my part.

    • Andy,
      I haven’t read the China Study, but I am familiar with the premise. One thing that wasn’t accounted for, of course, was the relatively high processed carb intake of the “study group.” More and more I’m convinced that cancer is a sugar/glucose driven problem.

      BTW, vegetarians are a great source for *vegetable* sides ideas. Make the most of their knowledge — before it goes away 🙂

  2. Ha! I personally know several carnivores that won’t look at anything green. I’m not one of ’em, though. I likes me veggies, and you’re right, the vegetarians that actually eat vegetables (as opposed to those I know who just eat french fries and pasta) can be a great source of yummy vegetable dishes.

    Keith, have you ever read any Alvin Toffler, Buckminster Fuller, or John Naisbatt? One theme that I noticed that sort of connects them is the idea of the reduction of “mass produced” anything, and the rise of “custom” or “designer” products and services replacing the economies of scale.

    What we’ve seen since the rise of agriculture, then the “industrial revolution” (which I think of as the same thing, really, just in metal), is the displacement of personal, and craftsmen or cottage industry, with mass production. Of course, everyone’s familiar with that.

    Fuller talked about the “ephemeralization” of stuff–the things you need will get lighter and less massive, smaller, etc. Including communications, for instance, or power generation. So now we have the internet replacing hard mail, and we see power generation go from wood, to coal, to maybe gas, then to wind and sun, etc.

    Toffler and Naisbatt talked about custom everything, from cars to the fact that cultures were starting to not want to be just considered large groups any more. We started as small groups, went to clans, to tribes, to nations, to empires. We’ve seen that dissolve as more and more ethnicities don’t want to just blend into one amorphous mass but be recognized and respected on their own, and you see a lot of “breakaways” and “balkanization.”

    What I’m getting to in my long-winded way is that I think we’ve been seeing this movement in our food choices, too. Instead of just Big Ag, more people are becoming aware again of smaller “cottage industry” styles of food sources, appreciating them and using them.

    So, we look for locally grown beef–or better yet, bison. We go more to the farmer’s market. By doing so more often, more people are aware and do it. But instead of just making that particular farm larger, maybe another one will rise to make up for the demand. And so on.

    I read in Wired that going local is more impactful in a beneficial way (to the “environment,” whatever that actually means) than going vegan, esp if you’re getting oranges that were grown across the country from you, and you wear plastic instead of leather, etc. I tend to agree with that.

    I can see at some point that you might call up your personal “grower” that has a farm just a few miles away and order up your grass fed bison (that wander around in a field that has trees that haven’t been completely stripped off the land), some wild leafies and tomatoes off of your plot that they keep for you (if you don’t have your own at your house), etc.

    At this point, stuff will be personal, custom, if you will, but our cultural attitude won’t be about the quantity, but rather, an appreciation of quality, and like buying a flat screen TV (which still mass produced at this point, buy may be grown to order one of these days), we’ll fork up a couple extra dollars.

    As a final thought, I appreciate what mass industry has done for us in the sense that agriculture allowed us as a species to have a population density where transmission of ideas put us in a wonderful world of science (see Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel”), but I think it’s time we move out of that as a species.

    Apologies for the long post! But I hope you enjoy. 😀

    • amphibiman,
      Yes, I am a fan of Toffler, Bucky Fuller, and John Naisbitt as well. I am a big believer in the inter-connectedness of cross-discipline ideas.

      I think the music and visual-arts mediums are both examples of the “balkanization” you speak of, hyper-intensified.

      We have a privately-run food co-op program here in Greenville, NC, in which once per month we are sent (via email or Facebook) a “menu” of participating farmer’s/rancher’s offerings. The cool thing about this is (aside from the obvious win-win benefit for all involved) is the opportunity for quick feedback to the growers/ranchers vis-a-vis what goods are in demand. This allows the talented to adjust to local tastes, and an opportunity for newcomers to fill a lacking niche.

  3. Hey, that IS really cool. I’ll have to look for one like that in my area.

    Yes–televised media providers in general reflect this. We went from three channels (b&w–yeah, I’m 44 also…) to hundreds, given à la carte, plus a variety of providers.

    But–“57 channels, and nuthin’ on…” 🙂

  4. I respect people who are vegan or vegetarian for ethical reasons. After staying for a week though, I must say I had to go straight to McD’s and get a cheeseburger (that as you know isn’t really even a cheeseburger). Fortunately the next visit was with a foodie who provided plenty of good seafood and other options. I still dream about the salmon with sweet relish.


  5. See this is what I have always thought. Of course your going to see some improvements between vegos and a standard western diet because they are eating more plants. But its still pretty rubbish. Its like what you said before. Its all a matter of what is been compared with what. When its compared with something absolutely rubbish then of course its going to look good.

    • Dr. Dan,
      And in that spirit (and in keeping with my epistemic nature), I can say that I’m not married to the Paleo way, either. I constantly question it’s viability and compare it against other diet/lifestyles. If another way can be proven better, I’ll shift with no reservations or resultant mental distress. Until then, though, Paleo it is.

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