The natural thing was to eat only meat: why the human being took thousands of years to try vegetables

Emirates Herald informed through an article published by Xataca, where they refer that, during the last decades, the stories that we told ourselves about the first humans were something very similar to a picaresque novel: defenseless primates (without nails, without teeth, without natural defenses) that by dint of ingenuity and teamwork climbed to the top of the animal kingdom. But what if it’s all a blatant lie? What if it is nothing more than a “pink legend” to think that, despite everything, we were the good guys in the movie? What if, as these Tel-Aviv University researchers say, for the last two million years we have been in the same place: at the top of the food chain?

The paleo diet, but for real. The fundamental problem that we have had when it comes to knowing what our ancestors ate is that archaeologists have tended to use the diets of the hunting and gathering societies of the 20th century as a reference. That, clearly, is a mistake. First, because today’s hunter-gatherers live in very specific geographical areas that are nothing like the ones Paleolithic humans lived in; and, second, because we like it or not, contact with agricultural, slave-owning, and industrial societies has changed those societies forever.

The example of ‘barter’ is illuminating. We often tend to think that pre-monetary societies used barter as a form of exchange, but that is not true. Barter, in fact, “is not the natural precedent of the monetary economy but a degenerate system of the same that always develops after a collapsed monetary economy.” The current consensus tells us that what prevailed were “reciprocity systems”; that is, “the moral obligation to give your surplus to another person or group that needs it, who in turn has the same obligation in the opposite case.” If that happened with the economy, we can expect something similar with food.

What is the relationship between food and evolution? Therefore, a team from Tel-Aviv University, coordinated by Miki Ben-Dor, decided to look elsewhere. Specifically in “the memory preserved in the human bodies themselves”. That is, they wondered if they could draw interesting conclusions from the analysis of our metabolism, genetics and physical constitution. Quickly, they realized that it was.

For example, what was the point of the human stomach having such high acidity compared to other omnivorous species? It is true that the higher the acidity, the better defenses against possible bacteria and diseases; but it is also true that a high acidity requires a large energy expenditure. If it weren’t strictly necessary (because of things like high meat consumption), it wouldn’t make evolutionary sense.

What if we were hypercarnivores? From there they were pulling the thread. They found, for example, that the structure of the fat cells in our bodies more closely resembled that of carnivorous predators than that of other omnivorous species. What’s more, according to the researchers, there are clues in the human genome that allow us to state that, unlike chimpanzees “who have a diet rich in sugar”, our genetics are optimized to consume “a diet rich in meat”.

The surprise jumped when they analyzed the stable isotopes of the prehistoric bones. There they concluded, supported by the relatively late appearance of specialized food-processing tools, that humans specialized in hunting large and medium-sized animals with high fat content. I mean, we weren’t carnivores, we were hypercarnivores.

Eat until you finish everything. This draws a very different scenario from the traditional one. Normally, human dietary flexibility has been thought to have been a key element in ensuring their success and survival. And, although “archaeological evidence does not deny that stone age humans also consumed plants”, it does seem key that they did not have a very important role until the end of the Stone Age. According to the researchers, it was precisely the success of humans as great hunters (and their contribution to the extinction of numerous species) that forced them to gradually increase the vegetables in their diet.

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