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Sorry Vegetarians, Meat Could Be the Reason We Evolved from Apes

According to a new study from Harvard University, using stone tools and eating raw meat may be what caused human beings to evolve from apes.
Phoebe Hurst
London, GB

With all those slaughterhouse horror stories and scary health warnings swirling around your head each time you make a ham sandwich, vegetarianism seems to have a lot going for it. Evading cancer and maybe even a guilt-free conscience to boot—what's not to like?

But according to a new study from Harvard University, eating meat may be what caused human beings to evolve from apes. Put that in your tofu "brisket" and smoke it, self-righteous veggies!


Published in Nature journal, Harvard researchers state that the use of stone cutting tools to eat raw meat provided essential nutrients that helped early man develop into the high-functioning species we are today. And Donald Trump.

READ MORE: The Original Paleo Diet Was Full of Carbs

While previous research suggests that the invention of cooking allowed humans to ingest the extra nutrients needed for brain development, the new study argues that this may have happened long before our ancestors used fire to heat food.

According to the study, around 3 million years ago, early man added meat to his vegetable-based diet, using stone tools to cut the flesh into bite-sized pieces. This saved him around 2.5 million chews each year because while raw meat may harder to masticate, it "requires less masticatory force to chew per calorie than the sorts of generally tough plant foods available to early hominins."

Instead of spending all their day chewing on vegetables, early man sliced meat into manageable pieces for a quick hit of energy.

Study co-author Daniel Lieberman explained: "Most other animals, like reptiles, barely chew their food—they just swallow it whole. The evolution of the ability to chew food into smaller particles gave mammals a big boost of extra energy because smaller particles have a higher surface area to volume ratio, allowing digestive enzymes to then break food down more efficiently."


To test their theory, Lieberman and fellow researchers fed a group of adults samples of the vegetables that would have been available to early man, as well as raw, sliced goat—the meat most similar to the type of undomesticated game birds our ancestors would have eaten. They chewed each sample and spat out the results for researchers to analyse how well the food had been broken up before swallowing.

The results showed that eating a diet of one-third sliced meat, alongside pounded plant materials meant that early man would have needed to chew 17 percent less often and 26 percent less forcefully.

This led the study to conclude: "We further surmise that meat eating was largely dependent on mechanical processing made possible by the invention of slicing technology."

READ MORE: This Virtual Reality Slaughterhouse Could Turn You Vegetarian

Needing to chew less may be what caused humans' chewing apparatus to evolve, explaining why we have smaller teeth—and bigger brains—than other primates.

Lieberman also said: "We went from having snouts and big teeth and large chewing muscles to having smaller teeth, smaller chewing muscles, and snoutless faces. Those changes, and others, allowed for selection for speech and other shifts in the head, like bigger brains."

Of course, as numerous studies show, eating like a caveman isn't great for our modern-day brains so it's probably best not to dismiss vegetarianism entirely.

Seitan tastes nicer than raw goat, anyway.