Thursday, September 12, 2019

What is an Omnivore?

Those who want to believe that eating meat is not that bad as the scientific studies make it out to be (that is, that eating meat and meat products—dairy—is the main reason that heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes, etc, are such big problems in the “western world”) will tend to point to the “fact” that we are classified as omnivores: an animal that can eat meat and plant food. The question is: what exactly is an omnivore?

The basic definition of an omnivore is an animal or organism who can digest and live off of either meat or plant foods. It is a broad definition, in that it involves animals who “evolved” from either a carnivore (meat-only eating animal) or a herbivore (plant-only eating animal). So it includes both those kind of animals—those that were carnivores, who added some plants to their diet, as well as those who ate primarily plants, but have added meat to their diet.

Humans are, indeed, omnivores, in that we can eat, digest, and live off of either plants and/or meat. However, that says nothing about which type of omnivore we should be classified—herbivoric or carnivoric—and which mode of eating is the healthier one for humans. It only indicates that one can survive on either type of diet, or any combination of them. But, based on our biology, it is clear that we are meant to eat primarily plants. That’s true whether you believe in evolution or the Biblical account of creation.

First, though we’ve already gone through it on this blog, I’ll summarize the biblical basis that we were created so that our “meat” or food, was to be plants. It says in Genesis 1:28-30:

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

So what this is saying is that in the pre-fallen state that man was created in, as well as all the animals, their “meat” was to be every green herb and fruit, seeds, etc. No mention of ever eating an another animal. Yes, according to Scripture, even carnivorous animals like tigers and lions ate only plants.

So, when did this change? Because we know that later on the Israelites are commanded to eat meat from the altar. Especially for the Paschal lamb that was slain once a year. The first time God allows the eating of meat is post-fall in Genesis 9:1-4:

And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.

Now, once the flood had happened and God promised not to send another, he had them start to eat animals. He then gave them a shorter life-span according to their consumption of meat. The years they lived dropped radically from 900+ years to almost around 200 in the span of about about 6 generations. (Gen 9:29, 11:10-19)

It cannot be disputed by Christians that in our ideal created state, we were designed to eat mainly plants. We can every once in a while eat meat, but like most of the Israelite population, who ate mostly bread and other leafy vegetables, we were designed to eat and thrive on plants, not meat. Only occasionally, for a special occasion, would someone kill the fatted-calf to eat meat, or for certain feast. But most of the world’s populations through most of human history, meals consisted of grains, starches, and vegetables. Very little, if any, meat came with each meal. The concept of having meat at each and every meal was foreign to humans save those rich enough to afford it, usually kings and the like.

These facts are highlighted by the experience of the children of Israel in the wilderness, after being freed from slavery to the Egyptians. Once in the wilderness, they grew hungry and complained that God had freed them only for them to die in the desert. God responded by giving them something to eat.

What did God give them to eat? Manna. A type of bread that appeared from the ground the entire time they made their trek to the Promised Land. In Exodus 16:14-15:

And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat. 

So, God expected them to survive on only the starch found in manna for the next forty years.  He gave them some meat to start out with, but then they only ate manna. Bread. For forty years!  And when they also demanded flesh to eat, mainly because they said they should have never left Egypt where they had plenty of fish and flesh to eat, God grew angry at them for not respecting his desire for them to eat only the manna, which they were not satisfied with. Rather, God responded to their request for flesh like this in Number 11:18-20:

And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone. And say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against to morrow, and ye shall eat flesh: for ye have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, Who shall give us flesh to eat? for it was well with us in Egypt: therefore the Lord will give you flesh, and ye shall eat. Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days; But even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you: because that ye have despised the Lord which is among you, and have wept before him, saying, Why came we forth out of Egypt?

The point of the above quote is not to prove that God doesn’t allow us to eat meat. That would be taking this verse out of context since it is more about their attitude toward God freeing them from slavery in Egypt than it is about eating flesh. Rather, this highlights the fact that they didn’t get any flesh to eat save right before the manna came down. When they asked to have it, practically demanding to have it because they lusted/coveted what they no longer had, God didn’t say, “Oh, you’re right. Bread alone isn’t a balanced diet! What was I thinking? Instead, you need to eat flesh-meats at every meal.” Rather, this shows that God expected them to live on this bread from heaven for 40 years, without eating flesh-meats. Why? Because aside from the Word of God, man can live on bread alone. This forty-year stint of eating a diet of only bread and still having the strength to conduct a war campaign at the end only goes to show that the studies are true: we are omnivoric-starchivores.

Biologically, this is also true. While we do have front incisors which allows us to cut and canine teeth which allows us to tear flesh meat, compared to other omnivores like bears and dogs, our canines are very small and our incisors are not that sharp. Nor are our jaws all that powerful. The adult human has a 150 PSI bite force. Compared to the Mastiff dog breed, at 556 PSI, the Rottweiler at 328 PSI, and the Brown Bear at 850 PSI, our 150 PSI bite force isn’t all that powerful. Based purely upon our teeth and jaw structure, one would have to conclude that while we can eat meat, that isn’t what our mouth was primarily designed to process. The ability to eat and digest meat has been added onto an otherwise plant-based diet, judging purely by our teeth and jaw structure.

Then there is the presence of the digestive enzyme amylase in our saliva. Most omnivores have some of this enzyme in their saliva, as do a small number of herbivores, but is absent in carnivores. Even among omnivores, humans have a larger abundance of this enzyme in our saliva. What does this enzyme digest? Starch. It is the beginning of digestion by breaking down carbohydrates into simpler sugars. As a matter of fact, humans have the highest amount of amylase in our saliva, and the greatest number of genes to produce it in our DNA—humans can have anywhere from 5 to 7 copies of this gene whereas chimpanzees have 2 copies. It is postulated that due to this “evolutionary” change in humans to contain so much of this enzyme in our saliva, way back when, that caused us to grow bigger brains and become the dominate species on this planet. Humans are uniquely able to digest starches, more so than most other animals on this planet. We are designed to eat them.

There are several other characteristics that show we are not a meat-eating based omnivore, but a plant-based one. I’ll focus on one more of these: our small intestines. Our small intestines is the same length, as it relates to our body length, as it is for other herbivores, not omnivores. It is needed for digesting plant food because of the long process to digest plant food. Compared to us, a true carnivore or omnivore will have a much shorter small intestines so that their food won’t rot as it works it way to the exit gate.

To review other differences between humans and other true omnivores, watch this video which goes through the various items on the list, which shows we are not at all like other omnivores, but much closer to herbivores.

The fact is, that both biblically and biologically, we were originally designed not to eat meat, but plants. For several generations after the fall, God’s command to eat only plants still held true. We were not designed by God or evolution to eat meat. This should be obvious in that when we consume a lot of meat, it leads to a drastic increase in heart attacks, cancer, diabetes, among several other chronic diseases. When God did tell us to go ahead and eat meat, our average lifespan plummeted.

Among the many hundreds of clinical studies done since the middle of the last century up until today, a plant-based diet is the only one that is shown to slow and often reverse the big three diseases of the Western world—cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. That alone should convince anyone to move toward a more plant-based diet. Should, but it doesn’t. Sadly, people are too addicted to their meat and dairy to change, frequently, even in the face of near-certain death. Often, through ignorance, but even when presented with the overwhelming evidence, they don’t tend to change.

I pray you will not be one of those unfortunate people.