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By Hook and Claw

By what methods do true predators hunt, trap or gather food?

Occasionally you will encounter someone pointing at his teeth and asking, “Oh yeah? Well what are these for?” It may be tempting to answer, “From the looks of it, sending your dentist to the Caribbean.” If you are engaged in a real conversation , however, you’ll want to share a few facts with your friend.

We’re talking about the evolution of humans, not what we’ve done since learning to read and write and keep animals in cages. Certainly, we had our teeth, guts and hands long before we had tribes and enslaved (“domesticated”) creatures. It follows that our soft, little hands are hardly suited to any sort of dexterous hunting. Ever seen a kung fu movie where the master grabs a fish out of the water with his bare hand? There’s a reason such a scene is meant to impress us: catching a fish with our bodies alone is very, very hard.

The same is true for deer. Ever outrun one? Sneak up on one and tackle it? Of course not. Yet deer are a favorite source of food for real predators. You, though? You’re a slow, smelly, clumsy, upright human. You weren’t built like a wolf, a jaguar, a hawk or any other viscous killing machine.

You are built like a playful, joyous monkey. You should be proud of this.

Images of Mighty Man as the primal hunter are absurd. We simply are not built for (“have not evolved the necessary appendages and abilities for”) hunting and killing. We cannot even cram chunks of corpses into our mouths without knives to cut for us.  The very item, steak knife, is a shining reminder of how pitiful our hands and teeth are at rending flesh.

“Ah-hah!” You might say, if you’re prone to such noises. “But we have Mighty Tools and we have Smart Communication. We build nets and use sticks and organize hunting parties. We use this superiority of mind to deceive and entrap our prey. We do not need talons or beaks or the ability to consume uncooked flesh without puking up the worms and bacteria found in it. Our minds have transcended our bodies, and it is our brilliant and unique intelligence which makes us such great hunters.”

Well, that point of view would make a lot of sense, except for one thing: the order of evolution. Long before we threw rocks and spears, we evolved these delicate little hands with (relatively) soft little fingernails. Before we realized we had to cook our meat in order to digest it, we evolved stomachs that work best on fruits, nuts and leafy greens. We evolved the intelligence to use fire long before we used it cooking corpses which, otherwise, sicken and kill us.

Here’s a word that is sure to make your palms sweat, your heart race and your mouth go dry: dentists. I love dentists, and not just because dental appointments are a good excuse for me to call off work the rest of the afternoon. Dentistry is an in-your-face reminder that our teeth are soft, cavity-prone, misshapen little nubs. Want to see our huge, scary, killer teeth in action? Ask your grandfather to sink his vicious chompers into an uncooked, unskinned cow rump. It won’t be pretty. It might remind you of caramel apple night at the nursing home.

Comparative anatomy is, in fact, one of the better arguments in favor of eating a plant-based diet.

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