It’s another argument vegans hear a lot; “Humans were meant to eat meat, we’re top of the food chain.” The logic is simple – we eat animals, they rarely eat us, so we must be at the top. But does this stand up to scrutiny? Are we really on the same level of the food chain as wolves and bears?
It’s debatable, to say the least. For starters, human physiology certainly doesn’t support the idea that we are apex predators – or predators at all, in fact. We’re too slow to catch prey and lack the necessary teeth and claws. Contrary to popular belief, the presence of canine teeth doesn’t indicate that we’re designed to eat meat – most herbivores have canines, including hippopotami, which have the largest of any animal.
Our digestive system too is poorly adapted for meat eating. Predators have short digestive systems so that flesh can pass through as quickly as possible – this prevents too much saturated fat and cholesterol being absorbed, among other things. But humans have long, complex intestines designed for extracting nutrients from plants. Eating meat regularly can therefore lead to the development of chronic illnesses such as heart disease. Our digestive systems aren’t a whole lot different to those of our ape cousins, who get the vast majority of their calories from plant foods (the remainder is mostly insects).
Despite our physical limitations when it comes to predation, it’s undeniable that we do eat a considerable amount of meat (at least in the developed world), and have done so for a long time. We may not have claws, but we’re very good at making tools, and this has allowed us to slaughter virtually any species we like. Add in agriculture, and the way we’re able to rear billions of animals a year who are solely destined to become food, and you could argue that we have artificially raised ourselves to the top of the food chain.
But modern farming practises – especially factory farming – are so far removed from nature that they’re hardly relevant to the food chain. What’s more, the vast majority of us don’t ever even see the animals we eat, let alone kill them. The whole process takes place away from the public eye, carried out by a minority of unlucky workers. It’s difficult to claim that you’re top of the food chain when you get your meat from Tesco.
This brings me to my next point – most people are extremely squeamish about the idea of killing animals. Slaughterhouse workers often end up with PTSD, and few people are prepared to tear into raw meat like predators do – we have to cook and season it until it’s barely recognisable (often with plants!). It’s commonly pointed out that a toddler given a bunny would want to cuddle and play with it, whilst the young of a true predator would likely try to eat it. We just don’t have predatory instincts.
It’s true that in the past we were forced to eat meat to survive when food was scarce. But for those of us in the developed world, this is no longer the case. We have no biological need for meat, and are better off without it.
In reality, the “top of the food chain” argument is just a convenient way to justify meat-eating. The truth is, whether we are top of the food chain or not is irrelevant. We have the moral agency to know when something is wrong, and there’s no moral justification for killing animals when we don’t need to do so. Perhaps we need to let go of our arrogance and realise we don’t have the right to treat animals the way we do.
P.S. Welcome to the new Little Green Seedling site! What do you think? Please do let me know if anything doesn’t seem to be working properly so I can fix it.