Omnivore? Herbivore? Frugivore!

Most of us have experienced a bit of antagonism about our food choices. One of our cousins always has something combative to say. He and I went out for a beer last night, and he decided to play the "humans are omnivores" card. I discussed with him some of the things we covered in our August 5th post, Yet Another Reason Not To Eat Meat, specifically that we produce a slightly different version of a molecule found in other animals and when we consume that molecule there is some evidence that it can cause a host of chronic diseases. I also mentioned that more research still needs to be done.

But he had his mind made up, and it felt like nothing I said made it past his ears. So we changed the topic and talked about the Olympics and who he's currently seeing. But I knew I couldn't let it drop. So today, I scoured the internet for a few short pieces of info that might make an impression before he got bored and moved away from the topic. A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a series of "Answers About The Vegan Lifestyle In New York." The series was written by Rynn Berry, the author of The Vegan Guide to New York City 2008. You may want to take a look at it yourself. Anyway, this is the third question/answer down the page. (The fourth also deals with the human evolution.)

Q -- Yet another sanctimonious tree-hugger with no understanding of human physiology or evolution. Look in your mouth — there are teeth that have evolved for crushing plant matter and teeth evolved for the ripping and tearing of flesh. Additionally, humans have the digestive tract of an omnivore, not a vegetarian. Say you are vegan (isn’t that someone from Las Vegas?) because of moral issues, but don’t try to defend your lifestyle choice with bad science and dubious anthropology.

— Posted by Meateater

A -- To say that humans have the anatomical structure of an omnivore is an egregiously inaccurate statement. The great taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus, (1707-1778), a Swedish naturalist and botanist who established the modern scientific method of classifying plants and animals, classified humans not as carnivores, not as omnivores, nor even as herbivores, but as frugivores. Linnaeus writes: “Man’s structure, internal and external compared with that of the other animals, shows that fruit and succulent vegetables are his natural food.”

It's sitting in his inbox. I haven't had a response. If my cousin will be true to form, he won't respond.

If you're interested in reading more of Berry's Answers About the Vegan Lifestyle, here are links to each of the three parts:

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  1. The whole “what are humans designed to eat” argument is a losing proposition no matter how you spin it. Sure, humans can survive off meat, but that isn’t the point anyway.

    In any case, this Rynn Berry guy is too much for me to handle. He acts like such an arrogant jerk and it is a huge turn off to most people. People like him only strengthen the stereotype that many people have of vegans.

  2. FYI, I’m a Las Vegas vegan.
    The word “vegan” can mean someone from Vegas, but it’s pronounced vay-gun, whereas a strict vegetarian vegan is pronounced vee-gun.

    The response I like to use to the “humans are omnivores” line is two part:

    a) My dog is very obviously a natural omnivore. He gets excited and salivates when he sees squirrels. Do you salivate when you see squirrels? Do you crave crow? Do you get excited about killing animals? The majority of humans don’t actually get excited about killing animals. In fact, it’s so distasteful to them that they pay others to do it for them.

    b) History has shown that humans can choose to be herbivores and not only do they not have health problems, they have improved health as a result. Thus, the point of whether or not humans are “naturally” omnivores or herbivores is moot.

  3. As a diabetic for years I was told to eat lots of meat, little carbs (even the good kind) and NO fruit. But that method was failing, over, and over, and I wasn’t losing weight. I read a couple of books, that helped me to decide on going vegan, and have had astonishing results (like not having to take insulin anymore). Dr’s now say that the body can not really process meat, which causes a lot of problems, especially with diabetes.
    My question though, is not for myself – it’s for my husband. He is ridden with A LOT of food allergies – which mainly include all fruits, vegetables (except potato), all nuts, some seeds and soy. I am worried that he will have to because of lack of any other option, eat meat and dairy for the rest of his life. I’m not really sure what to do about it, and if there is ever a time where eating meat/dairy can be healthy, for someone with an extreme case? He would like nothing more than to be able to go vegan, but I’m not really sure what there is left for him to eat. Is there such thing as safe omnivore eating? If anyone knows of any resources/books that might help us out, that would also be greatly appreciated.

  4. Hi Natala,

    Sorry to hear of your husband’s allergies. You and/or he may want to contact the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine ( and/or the Vegetarian Resource Group ( You may also want to seek out a vegan-friendly dietician. The aforementioned two groups may be of help in that regard.

    Many health food stores and even the Whole Foods near me carry oat milk and hemp milk. I like the former very much, but some people prefer hemp milk.

    One other idea, if you haven’t pursued this already…trying new types of potato-like vegetables, such as yucca, and grain products such as quinoa, which is a complete protein.

    To the extent that your husband, because of dietary restrictions, has to eat animal products, eating beef kills fewer animals than eating chicken, although I realize that one needs variety in their diet.

    Best of luck.

  5. Thanks Gary! I wrote to PCRM, I hope they can help us out. Also, thanks for the suggestions on milk, I hadn’t thought about hemp and oat milk, and I know that he could try Rice or Potato milk as well.

  6. Hi Elaine,
    I like “a.” I must say, I’ve never felt like killing any animal, except perhaps one of the cats when they’ve done something bad.

    Hi Natala,
    Gary provided you with excellent suggestions. However, as much as we LOVE quinoa, I’d be careful as the grain is actually an edible seed. So check first to see if he’s allergic.

    We really like oat milk, it’s nice and creamy, so I second that as a soy replacement. It is more expensive, however. If your husband isn’t allergic to a particular nut, you can make your own nut milks. Jane makes almond milk all the time.

    As for nutritional information…. there’s lots of it out there. We found allergy information at VegFamily. Because of your husbands extreme allergies, I would strongly suggest that you seek professional advice (a vegan nutritionist / dietician).

    Also, I quickly googled vegan allergies, and found this link. It sounds like this person, Kent, has the same issues as your husband. He offers his email address. Perhaps you can contact him. He likely has much more to knowledge than we do regarding the allergies.

    And finally, if your husband has to eat meat to live… people have been eating meat for millenia. You do what you have to do.

    Best of luck!

    Hi Gary,
    Thank you for pointing Natala in the right direction! As always, we’re grateful for your input. :)

  7. You’re basing your answer of a scientist who lived in 1700’s? wow.

  8. Hi Anonymous
    So I guess you don’t believe in gravity? Newton born 1642.

  9. cliffbrowning says:

    ok so as far as using a 1700’s scientific reference, people still quote way older reference like food is your medicine and people today have gotten where they are from scientist of the past. Also that is the elightened period. science today is mostly about playing god and understanding specific chemicals when it comes to biology. chemicals dont work just by themselves. they work with other chemicals or molecules and knowing exactly how they react in a living person is nearly impossible. simplicity is usually the best answer. quinoa also is not a true grain. it is more of a fruit of the plant. that is why it is fattier and tastes nutty. people are so quick to be sceptic of everything especially if you didnt go to school for 6 to 8 extra years. all that means is the regergitate the same teachings that everyone else learns. true science sees outside the box.

  10. FRUGIVORES ? : :

    ?Bien amicalement Jean Vladimir

  11. I for one am not afraid to kill an animal to eat and yes when I see a deer my mouth waters when I see fish my mouth waters. I am an omnivore by choice and I live as healthy a life as anyone who assumes that we are supposed to be just vegetarians. There are places in this world you would have long perished if you didn’t eat something more substantial. Yes you can survive as a vegan and a person can survive as a carnivore. But as they say variety is the spice of life and how could something that smells as good as bacon frying on a Sunday morning be bad for you like anything else moderation is the key.

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