Meat, Cooking, and Brain Development

August 3, 2010

In animal advocacy, it’s important to not get into arguments you can lose, especially ones regarding irrelevant side-issues. Once you lose an argument, or are seen clinging to tenuous positions, your authority diminishes on topics of greater significance.

That’s why I’m more than happy to accept the possibility that meat provided some great benefits during the evolution of humans. There’s no question it allowed some people to survive during times of scarce availability of plant foods. And it may also be the case that early hunting and the accompanied roasting of meat sped man’s intellectual development. I’ve no problems accepting the possibility of any of these arguments because they’re entirely irrelevant to the dietary choices we make today.

This week NPR published an article asserting that cooked meat consumption fueled man’s intellectual development by supplying concentrated, easily-digested nutrients. It’s a shoddily written piece, but again it’s not making an argument that matters to today’s diet, so I’m not going to argue hard against it. Unfortunately, the piece could easily be misconstrued by unsophisticated readers, who might come to believe that meat offers special properties that fuel the intellect. So it’s likely that this piece will cause some damage, in the hard-to-assess way that sloppily written major media pieces often do.

After reading the article, I emailed the person it profiles, Harvard Professor Richard Wrangham, and he emphasized to me that his book’s position is that “the key advance was cooking more than meat-eating.”

In developed countries, it’s dead simple to construct a vegan diet that is as nutrient-rich as a a meat-based diet. And what’s more, plant-based foods are richer sources of antioxidants and other substances believed to protect brain cells. It’s a shame the NPR piece never got around to saying as much. (Thanks, Lindsey.) Link.

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