can humans eat meat naturally?

i agree, i think we’re probably omnivores.
But as i read http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/674/are-humans-meat-eaters-or-vegetarians-by-nature i began to think that maybe we haven’t answered the right questions yet;

can we eat raw meat? And I do not mean- we do it and therefore we can. because we all know that many people have bad habits but do it anyways and survive.
if we cant eat raw meat why do we eat meat?
or could we eat raw meat and theres just a chance of getting sick

the eskimo diet - raw meat- is said to be both healthy and unhealthy. I figure they’re able to live on it because their bodies are used to it/ the anmials live in the cold and the meat is fresh so maybe not much bacteria is living on it, and its the only thing they have to eat. But, inuits die younger and have a higher risk of cancer. so maybe its like smoking- kills you slowly? or they die in quicker- larger- numbers because they live in snow…

can the diseases that meat give you kill you?and are they very common? if so maybe its always been unhealthy to eat meat. Or maybe there is only a chance to get a virus. The other possibility which i see as least likely is that bad bacteria has taken over meat. this isn’t true because we’d all be dead.

i thought we only started properly cooking meat really recently due to bacteria (and not taste preferences)
what about before that? before we knew about bacteria. if we didn’t need to cook meat due to a lack of incentive - would we?/ did we?

I know we are able to process meats - but to what extent? what does it do to our blood? and our organs? I think if it doesn’t cause negative affects we’re all good. And are we actually receiving lots of proteins when we eat them?
Its either we are carnivores naturally and dont because we’re pussies
or we’re not suppose to on a regular basis/ at all
Personally as a believer in omnivore, I preach balance is key

Some good questions there.

I’ll await the answers with interest, as I’ve wondered myself how we managed to eat meat before we began cooking it.

Yes, we can eat raw meat. Aside from delicacies like steak tartare there is also an establishment known as a “sushi bar” that specializes to some extent in raw animal protein - you may have noticed these have become quite popular in recent years.

Yes, we can eat raw meat.

There’s a chance of getting sick from cooked meat, you know. Or salad - a couple years ago there was an outbreak of E. coli from contaminated raw spinach. There are plant origin food that are toxic if NOT cooked/processed as well - tapioca, gingko nuts, almonds (one or three raw ones won’t kill you, but a lot could), pokeweed, guinoa, manioc, taro… but darn if people don’t eat them.

Cooking does kill off bacteria, parasites and can denature some toxins. It can also break down fibrous foods (hence the practice of simmering tough meats for hours, and for cooking some vegetables thoroughly) to make them easier to digest. However, cooking by itself will not make *everything *safe to eat.

It’s healthy if you have to do hard, physical labor in an arctic environment to survive, as opposed to sitting on your ass watching TV all day. The “Eskimo diet” was never entirely raw meat, they did know what fire was, after all, and did eat cooked food as well as raw. Nor was it ever entirely meat, they did gather what wild plant foods were available during short summers. Arctic explorers of European and African descent who lived among them during explorations were able to eat a traditional Inuit diet without problem and suffered no ill effects. These folks were burning 5,000 or more calories a day to keep warm while working outside, under those conditions you need a lot of fat for the energy it has.

Arctic meat still has parasites and bacteria. And the Inuit also had a practice of burying and fermented some of their meat which definitely upped the bacteria count. And sometimes they got sick from a bad batch.

Historically, Inuit had little in the way of contagious disease, as their communities existed in small numbers and had little contact with the larger world. This meant they never developed genetic resistance to crowd diseases so when contact was made easier the Inuit died in droves, like other such isolated groups. These days, alcoholism and drug use kills a lot of them off early, not their diet, and it wouldn’t surprise me if smoking was common in their communities. You have to account for everything in the environment, not just food.

Yes, potentially.

Not these days, at least not in the industrial world, or at least the “classic” ones like trichinosis aren’t. Modern beef in the US does have enormously high levels of E. coli, though, due to modern farming practices. When I was a kid salmonella in eggs was rare - now it’s common, again, due to modern farming practices, so in that respect meat is in some ways less safe now than it used to be.

Bad things you can get from meat: bacteria (E. coli, etc.), prions (Mad Cow Disease), toxins produced by bacteria (botulism), parasites (tapeworms, etc.) Of those, only bacteria and parasites were a real concern historically - botulism wasn’t an issue until we started canning meat, and Mad Cow Disease comes from the stupidity of feeding ground up sick sheep and cows to cows, which ARE herbivores and shouldn’t be fed meat anyhow. And cooking won’t help for Mad Cow or botulism toxins.

Again - plants aren’t perfectly safe, either. Things like oxalic acid, aflatoxins, and cyanide precursors all exist in this or that plant species, some of which we eat routinely. Cooking will render some plant toxins safe but not all. St. Anthony’s Fire or egotism is a disease from sick rye plants that can maim and kill, for example, and cooking the rye won’t help you if the rye is contaminated.

So, saying a food source is potentially illness inducing is no argument for vegetarianism, as plant origin foods are also potentially illness-inducing.

No one ever saw a bacteria until the 1670’s and the invention of the microscope.

The “germ theory” of illness wasn’t proven until the mid-19th Century.

We have ample written records and evidence of people cooking food prior to both those points in time. As no one prior to the 1600’s knew about bacteria obviously we were cooking meat prior to acquiring that knowledge.

Yes, we are able to process meats. I don’t know what you mean by “to what extent?” Meat is generally considered a low residue food meaning after our digestive tract is done with it there’s not a lot left to emerge from our nether regions. Plant fiber, which we don’t digest, is actually less efficiently processed.

The intestines allow the blood stream to absorb nutrients from food, so what it does to our blood is allow it to acquire various nutrients such as fat, amino acids, and minerals. You actually do NOT (normally) absorb proteins from your digestive tract, proteins are broken down into amino acids, absorbed, then reassembled into new proteins by your body. So no, you’re not receiving “lots of proteins”, you’re receiving lots of amino acids.

Keep in mind ALL food is a foreign substance you are introducing into your body, and food of any origin can be a problem if not properly processed. That is why your body has a liver and kidneys, to neutralize and remove toxins from your bloodstream, some of which arrive with the food you eat. That is why you have an immune system, to deal with bacteria, viruses, and parasites that might arrive with your dinner. We didn’t suddenly acquire these when our ancestors started eating meat, we’ve had them all along.

Or we’re omnivores, able to eat meat but not required to do so.

Probably the closest thing to the truth - as omnivores we should be eating a varied diet and over reliance on any one type of food is probably a bad idea.

Knives and teeth, mostly.

Pounding or chopping tough meat appears as a cooking techniques worldwide, I expect that’s how our remote ancestors handled some of the tougher stuff. That, and letting it age for a bit, using bacteria to soften things up a bit (although such hypothetical ancestors wouldn’t know it was bacteria doing the job, they just knew that if you left the meat for awhile it got easier to chew).

Keep in mind, too, that with pre-humans such as H. erectus apparently using fire we might well have started cooking before we became human in the sense of H. sapiens. Neanderthals also had fire and there is evidence they cooked as well. Cooking predates our being fully human in the sense we think of that term today.

(Which, by the way, is why I think raw foodists are full of crap - cooked food, whether animal, plant, or fungus in origin, predates H. sapiens. Saying we aren’t meant to eat cooked food is just ridiculous)

I remember a comment by some wiseacre I saw years ago.

He lived in an area where there were a lot of trendy vegetarians. Like most fanatics, some were not shy about pushing their warped point of view. When one came up to him at a restaurant where he was having a steak, and asked if he liked eating burnt dead animals, his reply was:

“Yes. Humans are omnivores, eating whatever was available; for meat, we evolved as scavengers eating the leftovers from kills by animals like lions, that had been sitting out in the sun; so they were more adapted to an already ‘aged’ meat that was softer than raw flesh. Somewhere in the prehistoric times they discovered that a fire and cooking produced the same softening as mild decay, so we’ve had millenia adapted to that mode of eating meat, rather than developing a taste for raw flesh.”

I suppose they also found that cooking “reset the clock” on the decay process, which made big game a useful target for their cleverness at hunting. I thought I heard somewhere that the appendix wwas the remains of a second stomach, now that we did not need to doubly-digest a lot of plant fibre?

Broomstick, very nice response.

Just a couple of minor things to add since the question has been answered so well.

Paleontologists can tell huge amounts about diet from looking at teeth. The size, shape, type, and number of teeth gives indications about the foods that were eaten and wear patterns on those teeth can tell even more. Teeth show that humans moved away from the heavy fruit and plant diet of, say, chimps, toward a diet that was higher in meat.

Anthropologists have investigated tribal cultures all over the world. They find that few tribes live in ares in which a sufficiently high amount of meat protein is available year-round. Therefore the tribes have learned a large variety of ways to store meats for the off-season. Smoking meat is one way but raw meats are also stored this way.

Jerk means “to cure meat by cutting into long thin slices and drying in the sun.” Sun drying is slower but otherwise the same process as smoking meat. Jerky can be made from almost any local animal. It’s also portable and can be taken along on hunting trips or following animal migrations.

Larger slabs of meat could also be stored, preferably in a dry, cool environment. Yes, bacteria spoiled the meat but mostly in the outer layers. These could be sliced off and the interior was still usable. Even the outsides could be eaten. This is also known as “high meat” and in some places the sliminess is a delicacy.

As Broomstick said, fresh raw meat is simply not a problem in most instances. If you could kill and process the meat very quickly, as was possible almost everywhere since most people lived either among animals or within a few hours hunt of them, eating raw meat was a safe as eating plants. Safer, considering the consequences not just of bacterial contamination in plants, but of the problems that unripe fruits, poisonous berries, and cyanide-laden pits can create.

And, more than you ever wanted to know about the appendix.

Sure we can. As you pointed out the Inuit (their preferred term for themselves. Eskimo is a Cree Indian term) do eat raw meat. (Mainly whale meat). The main problems the Intuit have is the lack of fuel for cooking.

If you look at the difference between apes and man (especially starting with Homo Erectus), the biggest difference is our much smaller gut and teeth. Somewhere down the line, even though we’re omnivores, we lost our meat tearing canines and much of the gut we need in order to help digest it.

Newest theories is that we evolved to cook food. Most people on raw food diets find they lose weight because they simply cannot get enough nutrients. Several raw food enthusiasts have even found themselves hospitalized due to nutritional problems. You can be a vegetarian and remain quite healthy. You can even be a vegan and live a full healthy life. However, we apparently need to cook our food.

The fact that the Inuit live in a very difficult climate and have a very limited diet does cause problems. It’s a tough life and it does take a toll on their lifespan. However, the Intuit don’t live any shorter than many native people who don’t have access to modern medicine.

The main problem with fresh raw meat isn’t bacteria but parasites. Parasites could kill you, but parasites have a good reason not wanting to kill their hosts. If a parasite kills their host, they die. Parasites will make you sick, but they normally don’t kill you.

Again, fresh meat doesn’t really contain bacteria and in the wild, fresh meat doesn’t last too long. Valuable resources are quickly utilized.

It appears that we cooked meat because we could get more nutrients from it than raw meat. It’s easier to digest. Even chimpanzees and gorillas will rummage through a recently burned forest for roasted seeds. Cooking is a great way to get nutrients.

We do a pretty darn good job with meat. However, we eat way more meat than we had in the past. In the past, we had to hunt it. Now, we farm it.

And as a sidelight, recent research indicates that all the great apes naturally prefer cooked food to raw upon first meeting with it. The only thing unusual about humans is that we’re able to cook at will.

Slight aside question: I’ve read often about how the Indians would dry their meat that way, cut into stripes and hung on lines in the sun. When I thought about doing that in my (hpyothetical) backyard, I wondered: wouldn’t thousands of flies immediatly settle on the meat and bring diseases? Or is it somebody’s job to stand there and wave all the flies off? Do you happen to have any personal practical experience with this?

If we were pussies, we would certainly be carnivores.

Don’t be deceived by the fluffy fur and big eyes, they are killers I tell you! :eek:

That’s new to me. When I read the wikipedia article about Vegetarians/ Vegans, they cited a study at a big university where several hundred Vegans, each with several years of experience, and well educated on the importance of the nutrients and where else to get them, yet despite this, a majority of the testees lost weight, periods in the women stopped (indicating stress for the body/ lack of iron or other nutrients), and blood measurements taken showed dangerously low levels for certain nutrients.

I haven’t heard of a similar study regarding raw/ cooked food. Maybe because pure raw-foodists are even smaller group?

Is there a study for this, or your impression?

I know that tomatoes are one of the plants that contain something (lyco… I always forget the name) that benefits the body more if cooked than raw.

I also know, as mentioned upthread, that several plants are unhealthy to poisiounus if eaten raw or without proper preparation (beans, lentils, several south american starchy plants like Yams, which have to be washed, fermented etc to get rid of poisions in the fruit).

But I’ve never heard that meat contains things that are more accessible cooked than raw. Meat is mostly protein, which is denatured in cooking. As said upthread so expertly, proteins are broken down into amino acids. I’m not enough of a nutrionist/ biologist/ doctor to know whether de-natured proteins are broken down easier / worse / equal than raw proteins, and whether the resulting amino acids are better/ worse/ equal than the other ones.

My personal guess is that cooking is done for taste and softness; as mentioned upthread, letting meat “age” by leaving it lying around some days also works, but runs the risk of getting the wrong kind of bacteria, so that particular aspect makes cooking safer than raw, but, as pointed out by the expert above, raw and cooked meat (and plants) can still be dangerous.

In fact vegetables are the # source of e-coli outbreaks. True, hamburger is#2.

constanze- As far as I know, you’d hang the meat over a smoky fire. Just enough to keep the flies off.

A common misconception is that meat contains e-coli and needs to be cooked to kill the bacteria and make the meat safe to eat. There is no E-coli inside a cut of meat, E-coli is in the guts. E-coli contamination usually occurs when fecal or intestinal matter contacts the outside of meat during butchering and processing.

Hamburger is sometimes contaminated with E-coli because it is ground from many small peices of meat that may have contamination on the outside of them. Once ground there is ‘outside’ all through the burger so it needs to be cooked thoroughly.

A thick cut of meat can be seared on the outside to kill exterior contamination and just because the inside is still raw doesn’t mean that there is E-coli inside. There is nothing inherently dangerous about eating raw meat.

A side note: I’m currently reading “Undaunted Courage” by Stephen E. Ambrose, an account of the Lewis and Clark expedition. When the men of the Corps of Discovery were paddling and pulling their boats up stream they would consume up to 10 pounds of meat per day, per man. That is some serious meat eating!

Except the ones who aren’t Inuit, and would as soon be called “Eskimo” as be lumped in with the Inuit majority, or, as the case may be, with the vocal redmen from a completely different part of the Arctic. Cite

/hijack

Yes, mt Dad was adopted by the Eskimo. The Alaskan ones, who had no objection to being called “Eskimo” as a collective term by the White man.

Especially since the only reason “Eskimo” was ever regarded as offensive in the first place turned out to be an urban myth.

:confused: The Wikipedia article on Veganism says most experts think a vegan diet is perfectly healthful.

Only some Eskimo are Inuit. You’re confusing a part for the whole, as if you were saying “German is more correct than European.”

Back to the OP, yes, we are “designed” to eat meat as well as plant foods, and in fact are BETTER “designed” to eat COOKED meat and plant foods.

Design without parentheses suggests an external force. “Design” with parentheses is shorthand for an extended process of successful and unsuccessful attempts to produce a second generation.

sorry, I didn’t note the date of the article when I viewed it last, it has changed now. There have been several studies by different universities on vegan and vegetarian diet, and they have found too-low amounts of B12 and iron especially. E.g. one study notes that the old methods of measuring B12 in certain algae didn’t differentiate the forms of B12, but only two forms can be used by the body, the rest not. Or some foods that were claimed to be high in B12 were tested after processing, as sold in shops, and no longer had any B12.

Even first cellular indications of lack like raised levels of Methylmalonacid and Homocystein were found by researchers of the University clinic of Saarland in more than half of the tested vegans.

From http://www.ugb.de/e_n_1_142566_n_n_n_n_n_n_n.html