Before there was fire what did man eat?

Before cavemen discovered fire was useful for cooking meals did we eat raw meat or were we all vegetarians?
If we ate raw meat for generations and generations back then, how come now we are not suppossed to do so while all other meat eating creatures can do so without any bad side effects?
I mean, really, what is the worse that can happen if I eat uncooked beef, ham, etc.??

Which means our ancestors ate both vegetables (and grains and roots and nuts, etc.) and meat. There was one purely vegetarian hominid specie but it went extinct pretty quickly. Our ancestors must have eaten their meat raw (as well as their grubs and insects) as they had not yet invented the grill. Meat eating probably became more common after the discovery that burning meat made it tastier, along with improved hunting skills. For a reasonable analogy of our ancestors dietary habits, just look to the common chimpanzee.

Carnivores have evolved to eat meat raw and their digestive systems reflect this. They can become ill and die if the animal they eat is carrying something really infectious and fatal to both species but generally they can handle most pathogens endemic in their prey.

The worst that can happen to you from eating raw meat of any kind is that you can get really, really sick and die. You can still eat meat raw if you want; no one will stop you. But your chances of getting a nasty, potentially fatal, infection are far higher with raw meat than cooked.

Oh, and they weren’t cavemen. They were plains dwellers in Africa.

We were scavengers. We are omnivorous so we ate pretty much anything we could stuff into our mouths. Plants, fruits, insects, the remains of animals and so on.

As why we can’t eat raw meat today we do. Ever had steak tartar or sushi? Thiose aside I was talking to my vet yesterday and after she mentioned that nearly all puppies get worms I asked how dogs in the wild managed. Her answer? Not very well. They die much younger, on average, then poochy lying on your living room rug. They are capable of much longer lifespans but given the myriad of things they can get disease or parasite wise most never get the chance to make a full run through life.

As to what you can get from uncooked meat salmonella, botulism (seriously bad stuff) and trichinosis come to mind. I’m sure there’s a bunch of other stuff as well.

In short, you don’t have to cook your meat but you are running a significantly higher risk of getting some nastiness if you don’t.

Totally irrelevant tangent: most ham is already cooked as part of the curing process. Ham is labeled either “fully cooked” or “cook before eating.”

Ask Unca Cecil:
Worms (see also a somewhat related link).

Yeah, early man ate meat raw before fire alright. We can still eat raw meat, but as others have mentioned, it’s riskier. Animals in the wild don’t exactly suffer no bad side effects from eating raw meat. They can get all kinds of parasites and what you could call food poisonings. In general, if they are healthy the immune system can handle most of the bacterial stuff, though they’ll still get sick sometimes. I think it’s rare to find a wild animal of any kind that doesn’t have some sort of parasite/s either on the skin in in the guts at some point in it’s life. It’s not just raw meat that can make you sick… look into parasitology a little and you’ll feel like sterilizing absolutely everything that passes through your lips. There are all kinds of parasites that have herbivorous hosts, and who hang about in grasses and other plants just waiting to be eaten up. Hell, you can even get sick drinking water from the wild (beaver fever anyone?). One deceptive thing about looking at wild animals is that you usually only see the healthy ones, and so assume that such a life-style produces only strong, robust animals. You miss all the ones who get sick and/or die because they end up as snacks for everyone else.
I’m not sure on this point here, but I might assume that through generations of washing and cooking food, our immune systems are not on par with those of wild animals anymore. You see bears and gulls rumaging through garbage dumps and feasting on rancid beef fat all the time, but we can easily end up in the hospital if we keep that fried chicken in the fridge one day too long.
Check out some icky parasites!

The Inuit used to eat raw meat all the time (in fact, I heard that the word “Eskimo” means "raw meat eater). As others have pointed out, you can still eat meat raw (sushi, etc.). I’d wager that meat from factory-farms is much less safe to eat raw than wild game meat is.

Before there was fire, if a man got alittle peckish,
he would swallow swords.

I have an objection to the oft quoted remark that cooked meat tastes better. All things being equal (equal amounts of salt, pepper or dressing) uncooked meat tastes much better. Beef anyway, I don’t know about uncooked pork. Same thing with other things like oysters, tuna, or egg yolk, other things I eat uncooked.

I believe the reason why groups of humans learned to cook meat is because the humans down the valley who ate their meat uncooked always had diarrhea or died of worms or parasites.

And yes, I’ve had a few bouts of diarrhea and such so I’m really cutting down on rare steaks and sushi and stuff.

I’ve wondered about this a lot myself. My theory: Early man being pretty much eat-what-you-can-get-your-hands-on types would come across lots of dead, ‘cooked’ animals after a forest fire. The meat lasted longer this way and they didn’t get sick as often. (Lightbulb!) They grew to appreciate this taste. I don’t believe it would have tasted better right off the bat.

There is only one true authority on this subject. You have to ask someone who was there.

CR: Sir, what was your diet like two thousand years ago?

MB: Two thousand years ago we only ate what God meant, the organic, the natural…

CR: Like what?

MB: Clouds, stars, rocks… we ate big things…

CR: There was no nutrition in that…

MB: You don’t know. Do you know many parts of a pine tree are edible?

CR: Yes, I’ve heard that.

MB: And did you know that pussywillows make a lovely dessert?

CR: No, I didn’t…

It’s also worth pointing out that many of the problems associated with eating undercooked beef are the result of unsanitary handling of the meat by modern slaughterhouses, packing plants, and supermarkets. This is why its safer to eat hamburgers well done, but it’s fine to eat a rare steak. The E. coli and bacteria grow on the surface of the meat during the long time between slaughter and cooking, they don’t start off inside the cow.

As for pork, well, trichnosis does infect the pigs themselves, but I don’t know how common it is in wild pigs (fire obviously predates domestication) or how deadly it is. Maybe we just dealt with it (the ones who survived, anyway) like others have suggested.

Australopithecus is probably what you’re talking about here; they were around from about 5~2.5 mya (IIRC, A. africanus was the last of the Australopithecus family). There is no evidence that they were “purely” vegetarian (Here is a kickass study on using isotopes to determine hominid diet).

Sorry, nitpick. Absolutes in anthropology make me kinda snarky. :wink:

How can you claim that it is a “totally irrelevant tangent” and then go on to state that “most” ham is already cooked. By saying most, you are telling us that a small minority of ham is not cooked, and therefore making you own statement, to quote you, "totally irrelevant.

cooking meat also jump-starts the digestion process, making it easier for the body to break down and utilize. People who cooked their meat derived more calories and essential amino acids from it. (Not necessarily true for seafood, for some odd reason)

FWIW, my militant-vegan friends would have everyone believe that early humans subsisted on tofu and gluten-free rice milk.

Uncooked meat, or dirty water, or whatnot will usually not cause any problems at all. Occasionally, though, they’ll cause major problems, like, oh, say, death. How do animals handle this? Easy: Some of them die. We humans just don’t like to take that chance, if we can help it (which we can).

Hi All,
I would think that cooking meat and boiling grain and vegees would make the food easier to eat. I would think that early man lost their teeth VERY early in life. I would much rather chew on cooked roots and carrots than raw ones if I had no teeth.

There were several species of Australopithecus. Lucy was A. afarensis, and A. africanus was a later, somewhat more advanced type. The likely near-total vegetarian was A. robustus, and he actually persisted for quite some time before going extinct.

xcheopsis, the singular of species is species. The word Specie does exist, but was used to mean money in the form of gold or other precious metals.

Aah, Java Man, the Creationist’s poster child. :wink:

Thanks for filling in my Australopithecus gaps. Been a while since I studied my hominid evolution!