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Why don't we eat carnivores?

by (11478)
Updated about 6 hours ago
Created May 27, 2012 at 8:28 PM

Or at least why doesn't the meat from other meat-eaters (carnivores or omnivores) feature very heavily in modern day diets? Is eating carnivores Paleo?

Off the top of my head I think of dogs (Koreans) and snakes (in parts of the mid-west and Asia), but even when they do appear, I think they tend to be speciality dishes rather than staples (although that might just be my ignorance).

Is it because we evolved to eat things that didn't bite back? I can believe that is partially true, but there must have been opportunities to wing the occaisional carnivore and take it home for supper.

Is it a neolithic remnant? It must be easier to farm herbivores than livestock that were liable to eat each other or require a constant supply of live food.

Or is it a biomagnification thing? But then aren't things like mercury pollution modern concerns? Would they have been such a big problem for our ancestors?

I'm not sure if it's apocryphal, but won't eating the livers of carnivores (such as polar bears or alligators) give you Vitamin A poisining? That seems to be a clear indication that we haven't evolved to eat them.

What would happen if I completely replaced the ruminants in my diet with the meat from carnivores? Would it have a deleterious affect on my health?

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1232 · September 07, 2013 at 1:28 AM

Fish eat other wee little fish

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11478 · July 03, 2013 at 6:32 AM

I like this a lot. Simple but elegant answer. I wonder if ALL carnivores survive on a diet of largely non-carnivores for exactly this reason...

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10214 · January 19, 2013 at 9:02 PM

A guy on my street had bucks jousting in his yard. Knowing the way deer operate, they would have fled if he had gone out in the yard. I'm not sure that would have been the case if they were cougars or bears. Over the long run we can win the race but in the short run we are dead. Alaska hikers wear bells so that the bears are not surprised.

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11478 · January 19, 2013 at 8:46 PM

True 'dat. But Elks and Buffalo are also fast. Nothing is faster than us over 20 miles+, if you believe the persistance hunting theory.

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10214 · January 19, 2013 at 8:38 PM

Lean meat is hard to eat. Even the large animals were killed for their tender parts. A cougar or wolf has less of what people wanted.

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10214 · January 19, 2013 at 8:34 PM

Lean meat is hard to eat.

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10214 · January 19, 2013 at 8:32 PM

Think about your catfish...your carp...they can live on mud...

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10214 · January 19, 2013 at 8:25 PM

At Catalhoyuk there are lots of auroch, sheep and goat bones but no leopard bones. Yet the leopard was depicted, and people are depicted wearing leopard skins. At this early Neolithic time leopards were around but not eaten for some reason. We can only speculate.

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348 · January 19, 2013 at 7:35 PM

I was going to say, "Because those things are freakin' hard to catch!" You are much more thoughtful.

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12702 · December 01, 2012 at 7:32 AM

Good points, though the fact that we have cats and dogs seems to suggest herbivores might not be that much easier to domesticate.

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2187 · September 21, 2012 at 4:59 PM

The simplest explanation is usually right one. +1 For clarity of thought.

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1485 · September 21, 2012 at 4:39 PM

I can't think of any non-carnivorous fish that are typically eaten.

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410 · September 21, 2012 at 2:45 PM

Well grain is grown to feed to the animals. Wait a minute...

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90 · September 21, 2012 at 8:06 AM

We technically eat animals to obtain the nutrients they get from plants.. but I suppose it's a different argument because they process the nutrients into a compact package (muscle & organs) and into a form the is absorbable by the human body.

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2153 · August 27, 2012 at 4:47 PM

Also tuna, mahi, swordfish, bass all carnivorous fish...

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17412 · August 27, 2012 at 10:18 AM

I read that in a Homer Simpson voice "mmmm... bbq dog next door... ymmmm" :)

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868 · August 27, 2012 at 6:07 AM

@bachcole Why can't you love a pig or a chicken or a cow?

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19479 · May 28, 2012 at 11:24 PM

We didn't eat cats because cats ate us... http://www.prehistoric-wildlife.com/species/d/dinofelis.html

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19479 · May 28, 2012 at 11:21 PM

I tend to think that food preferences follow from evolutionary pressures not the other way around.

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19479 · May 28, 2012 at 11:20 PM

What poses more of a threat, a chicken or a wolf/tiger/bear/shark? I think it boils down to the fact that we are not a particularly fearsome animals and until recently we were just as likely to be prey as predator.

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19479 · May 28, 2012 at 11:18 PM

This is not only a prehistoric event, large animal predation on humans continues to occur in some parts of the world... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiger_attacks_in_the_Sundarbans

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19479 · May 28, 2012 at 11:16 PM

Why don't we regularly eat large predatory animals? Paleontological evidence shows that this was due to the fact that they ate us first... http://news.discovery.com/animals/crocodile-ate-our-human-ancestors.html

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78422 · May 28, 2012 at 5:53 PM

The original question was "Why don’t we eat carnivores?"

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5775 · May 28, 2012 at 4:15 PM

I understand. However, the context of the original question was about why we don't eat animals that also eat other animals...whether they also eat plants or not wasn't really the point.

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867 · May 28, 2012 at 3:30 PM

@bachcole but I'm sure bear livers were not in abundant supply...And primitive man probably used every part of an animal they were able to kill or scavenge.

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5949 · May 28, 2012 at 11:36 AM

That's a good point... kinda silly to use food as food's food.

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11478 · May 28, 2012 at 8:36 AM

But if carnivore livers were an important part of our ancestral food supply then I guess we would have evolved to tolerate greater concentrations of Vitamin A.

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11478 · May 28, 2012 at 8:33 AM

@bachcole I'm relieved that the hatred=bad taste thing is true, because that makes paticularly unattractive as a meal to other carnivores.

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11478 · May 28, 2012 at 8:32 AM

I wonder if the metallic taste is a sign of Biomagnification (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biomagnification) the tendancy for the concentration of substances (such as metals) to increase as you move up the food chain.

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1439 · May 28, 2012 at 8:19 AM

This hypervitaminosis A thingie would certainly stop some clan from continuing to eat bear liver. People 25,000 years ago went for the organs. An entire clan could cease to exist if they went for the liver of bears as a habit.

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1439 · May 28, 2012 at 8:16 AM

And there must be a reason for the bad taste. Predatory animals are very much into hatred. Have you ever stood in front of a caged leopard and had it snarl at you; that is what I call hatred? I wonder if this is why the meat tastes bad.

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1439 · May 28, 2012 at 8:13 AM

I cannot and will not eat something that I could love, like a dog or a lamb. I will not worship the paleo principle to good health at the expense of my spirit/heart/conscience. Prioritizing health above spirit is akin to or similar to violating the First Commandment from the Old Testament. Believe it or not, there are somethings more important than one's own personal health, more important to you, whether you realize it or not.

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4458 · May 28, 2012 at 4:50 AM

re hypervitaminosis A, wiki says this "Pathological changes consistent with hypervitaminosis A have been seen in bones of Homo erectus, and have also been attributed to consumption of carnivore liver" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypervitaminosis_A#Toxicity_from_eating_liver . But the link to the Ref seems to be broken?

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4458 · May 28, 2012 at 4:49 AM

re hypervitaminosis A, wiki says this "Pathological changes consistent with hypervitaminosis A have been seen in bones of Homo erectus, and have also been attributed to consumption of carnivore liver" . But the link to the Ref seems to be broken?

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2387 · May 28, 2012 at 4:25 AM

Thats not the definition of carnivore, however. Carnivorous indicates exclusivity with respect to fats/proteins in the diet. Hence, chickens are omnivorous.

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1031 · May 28, 2012 at 3:18 AM

Humans seem to have a history of Cannibalism -- does that count? SADies are probably quite easy to catch given their bulk and lack of fitness, but they probably also contain too many toxins now! :)

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5775 · May 28, 2012 at 12:12 AM

Fed their natural diets chickens definitely consume animal fats and proteins.

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5949 · May 27, 2012 at 11:14 PM

Chickens are omnivorous.

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1023 · May 27, 2012 at 11:09 PM

Chickens are carnivorous?

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11478 · May 27, 2012 at 9:48 PM

..........Fact!

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11478 · May 27, 2012 at 9:41 PM

I also have no moral objection to eating dog meat.

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11478 · May 27, 2012 at 9:34 PM

The hypervitaminosis A is an interesting one, presumably we don't get it from eating the livers of carnivorous fish. If carnivorous meat were a big part of our ancesteral diet, I guess we would have evolved to tolerate the Vitamin A.

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11478 · May 27, 2012 at 8:54 PM

I agree with all of this, but from an evolutionary point of view we weren't growing grass but killing what we could get our hands on. I think that you're suggesting that it's more of a neolithic practicality thing.

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11478 · May 27, 2012 at 8:37 PM

I did think about that, but that doesn't explain why we don't eat (much) carnivorous (non-fish) meat.

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11478 · May 27, 2012 at 8:29 PM

And no, I'm not intending to eat next doors dog, before anyone asks...

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22 Answers

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8392f832d42d3d4c6669e992c94b829c
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320 · May 27, 2012 at 9:06 PM

I would assume a big reason for this is work vs return. Carnivores tend to be reclusive, travel large distances in smaller packs, and weigh much less. It is much easier to track and selectively kill animals from a herd of buffalo for instance where there would be several hundred animals weighing a ton or more than to track a pack of 15 or so wolves each weighing around 150 pounds.

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2187 · September 21, 2012 at 4:59 PM

The simplest explanation is usually right one. +1 For clarity of thought.

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348 · January 19, 2013 at 7:35 PM

I was going to say, "Because those things are freakin' hard to catch!" You are much more thoughtful.

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10214 · January 19, 2013 at 8:34 PM

Lean meat is hard to eat.

Medium avatar
10214 · January 19, 2013 at 8:38 PM

Lean meat is hard to eat. Even the large animals were killed for their tender parts. A cougar or wolf has less of what people wanted.

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11557 · May 28, 2012 at 12:42 AM

Carnivore "meat" has a very distinctly metallic gamey taste, in a way that is different than the gamey taste of venison, for example. I have had bear and cougar, both were not something I would seek out to eat again. So, food preferances on the palate could be one explanation. Not a lot of demand for the taste.

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1439 · May 28, 2012 at 8:16 AM

And there must be a reason for the bad taste. Predatory animals are very much into hatred. Have you ever stood in front of a caged leopard and had it snarl at you; that is what I call hatred? I wonder if this is why the meat tastes bad.

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11478 · May 28, 2012 at 8:32 AM

I wonder if the metallic taste is a sign of Biomagnification (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biomagnification) the tendancy for the concentration of substances (such as metals) to increase as you move up the food chain.

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11478 · May 28, 2012 at 8:33 AM

@bachcole I'm relieved that the hatred=bad taste thing is true, because that makes paticularly unattractive as a meal to other carnivores.

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19479 · May 28, 2012 at 11:21 PM

I tend to think that food preferences follow from evolutionary pressures not the other way around.

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721 · May 28, 2012 at 3:40 AM

I honestly think it's an accessability thing. Why raise animals just to be eaten by other animals so you can eat that animal? Cut out the middle man. (Raise pigs to be eaten by wolves to be eaten by people or just raise pigs and feed them to people??) Just seems like you get a better bargan by cutting out the middle step.

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5949 · May 28, 2012 at 11:36 AM

That's a good point... kinda silly to use food as food's food.

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410 · September 21, 2012 at 2:45 PM

Well grain is grown to feed to the animals. Wait a minute...

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90 · September 21, 2012 at 8:06 AM

We technically eat animals to obtain the nutrients they get from plants.. but I suppose it's a different argument because they process the nutrients into a compact package (muscle & organs) and into a form the is absorbable by the human body.

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19120 · May 27, 2012 at 8:34 PM

Your premise is flawed. We eat many carnivorous fish.

Cod, for example, is a carnivore. Also, its liver is a prized food.

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11478 · May 27, 2012 at 8:37 PM

I did think about that, but that doesn't explain why we don't eat (much) carnivorous (non-fish) meat.

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2153 · August 27, 2012 at 4:47 PM

Also tuna, mahi, swordfish, bass all carnivorous fish...

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1485 · September 21, 2012 at 4:39 PM

I can't think of any non-carnivorous fish that are typically eaten.

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10214 · January 19, 2013 at 8:32 PM

Think about your catfish...your carp...they can live on mud...

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5356 · May 27, 2012 at 9:39 PM

I find them to be to gamey as well as elitist and grass fed or not...a terrible sense of humor...but then, I've never wrapped one in bacon, so I could be converted. Truth.

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11478 · May 27, 2012 at 9:48 PM

..........Fact!

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5775 · May 27, 2012 at 8:39 PM

There is some validity to eating things that don't pose a threat. However, humans eat a lot of food sources that are carnivores. Heck, the biggest source of protein in the human diet, around the world, is likely chicken and fish. Carnivores.

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2387 · May 28, 2012 at 4:25 AM

Thats not the definition of carnivore, however. Carnivorous indicates exclusivity with respect to fats/proteins in the diet. Hence, chickens are omnivorous.

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5775 · May 28, 2012 at 12:12 AM

Fed their natural diets chickens definitely consume animal fats and proteins.

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78422 · May 28, 2012 at 5:53 PM

The original question was "Why don’t we eat carnivores?"

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1023 · May 27, 2012 at 11:09 PM

Chickens are carnivorous?

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5775 · May 28, 2012 at 4:15 PM

I understand. However, the context of the original question was about why we don't eat animals that also eat other animals...whether they also eat plants or not wasn't really the point.

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5949 · May 27, 2012 at 11:14 PM

Chickens are omnivorous.

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19479 · May 28, 2012 at 11:20 PM

What poses more of a threat, a chicken or a wolf/tiger/bear/shark? I think it boils down to the fact that we are not a particularly fearsome animals and until recently we were just as likely to be prey as predator.

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6229 · May 28, 2012 at 2:58 AM

This is an informative read for those curious.

Wikipedia - taboo food and drink http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taboo_food_and_drink

While poultry may be omnivorous, birds of prey (entirely carnivorous) like hawks, eagles, vultures, owls are forbidden food for Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Hindus (about 3 billion people - or around half the world population), and other cultures. Notice birds of prey are often attributed in sacred contexts - the hawk as the symbol of Zeus, or in shamanic contexts (tribal and traditional religions), Horus - falcon-headed god in ancient Egypt, owl associated with Hindu goddess Laksmi, etc. Since many spiritual beliefs systems share this idea of a human soul taking flight like a bird - particularly a bird of prey this taboo might make sense.

If you're not interested in a spiritual explanation -from a practical point of view - hunting birds of prey is much more difficult then other birds.

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867 · May 27, 2012 at 9:16 PM

Squid, fish (tuna, swordfish, shark), crocodiles, alligators, snakes, frogs are a few. Maybe the main reason we don't eat this stuff in America is because it is uncommon to hunt for it in the local supermarket :D

Also, regular predators who eat meat are likely solitary individuals or in small packs, as noted above. Things like cattle, sheep, and bison are easier to raise in a domestic setting because they can graze on grass. And as I've seen on other websites now while researching this, yes it can lead to a problem with "hypervitaminosis A" if you eat carnivore livers long term.

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11478 · May 27, 2012 at 9:34 PM

The hypervitaminosis A is an interesting one, presumably we don't get it from eating the livers of carnivorous fish. If carnivorous meat were a big part of our ancesteral diet, I guess we would have evolved to tolerate the Vitamin A.

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1439 · May 28, 2012 at 8:19 AM

This hypervitaminosis A thingie would certainly stop some clan from continuing to eat bear liver. People 25,000 years ago went for the organs. An entire clan could cease to exist if they went for the liver of bears as a habit.

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867 · May 28, 2012 at 3:30 PM

@bachcole but I'm sure bear livers were not in abundant supply...And primitive man probably used every part of an animal they were able to kill or scavenge.

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11478 · May 28, 2012 at 8:36 AM

But if carnivore livers were an important part of our ancestral food supply then I guess we would have evolved to tolerate greater concentrations of Vitamin A.

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160 · May 27, 2012 at 8:47 PM

I think aside from, say a bear or mountain lion potentially killing you during the hunt, it's not deleterious to eat them. It's cheaper and easier to, say, grow grass for ruminants than to feed meat to meat eaters then eat them. As to eating dogs, I see nothing wrong with it. For cultures other than some Asian ones, dogs have become more of a working or companion animal so we tend not to eat them. And, again, I think for what you would feed them vs the amount of meat you would get, you'd be better off eating lamb or fish.

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11478 · May 27, 2012 at 8:54 PM

I agree with all of this, but from an evolutionary point of view we weren't growing grass but killing what we could get our hands on. I think that you're suggesting that it's more of a neolithic practicality thing.

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11478 · May 27, 2012 at 9:41 PM

I also have no moral objection to eating dog meat.

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1439 · May 28, 2012 at 8:13 AM

I cannot and will not eat something that I could love, like a dog or a lamb. I will not worship the paleo principle to good health at the expense of my spirit/heart/conscience. Prioritizing health above spirit is akin to or similar to violating the First Commandment from the Old Testament. Believe it or not, there are somethings more important than one's own personal health, more important to you, whether you realize it or not.

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868 · August 27, 2012 at 6:07 AM

@bachcole Why can't you love a pig or a chicken or a cow?

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221 · July 02, 2013 at 10:25 PM

Consistent with the fact that cats and other carnivores in nature don't eat eachother... I think it has something to do with the fact that we need the nutrients in grass and other plant life... and when you eat a ruminant, that has those nutrients in its fat and organs because it has done the work of digesting them from the plants which a pure carnivore cannot do. This is the advantage of being a carnivore, is eating something that is 'pre-formed' for you.

Ie, a cow is made of meat and fat, but he has this huge digestive system that takes up alot of space in his body and energy dedicated to converting the nutrients in plant life into something he can use, meat and fat. A carnivore is made of meat and fat and he eats meat and fat. He still needs the nutrients in the grass, but the work has already been done by the ruminant.

This is probably why other carnivores do not taste good and why they are not as nutritious.

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11478 · July 03, 2013 at 6:32 AM

I like this a lot. Simple but elegant answer. I wonder if ALL carnivores survive on a diet of largely non-carnivores for exactly this reason...

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20 · August 27, 2012 at 5:18 AM

we don't eat carnivore mammals. i limit my intake of mammals in general because of the ease with which viruses and bacteria can pass directly or mutate to survive in a similar mammalian host.

i would bet that we haven't hunted them in most cultures because we have admired and even deified many aggressive and predatory animals.

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11478 · May 28, 2012 at 8:46 AM

On the fact that carnivores taste bad, one of my uncles was captive in a German PoW camp during WWII.

In order to supplement their rations, they used to catch local domestic cats (or maybe strays) and eat them. They quickly learned that cat meat is so sweet that they were not able to stomach it. Through trial and error they worked out that you have to boil the cat twice, completely changing the water before boiling it the second time.

Does it taste bad because we haven't evolved to eat it, or is it that we have just become accustomed to eating herbivores and anything else tastes weird by comparison?

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19479 · May 28, 2012 at 11:24 PM

We didn't eat cats because cats ate us... http://www.prehistoric-wildlife.com/species/d/dinofelis.html

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1187 · January 20, 2013 at 2:35 AM

Alligator is delicious! Seriously. Also, expensive. Snake is just ok.

I knew a fish monger that would sell alligator meat, raw. Otherwise I order from here: http://www.cajungrocer.com/fresh-foods-alligator-c-1_15_16.html?limit=all

And not very paleo but alligator boudin is the bomb.

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10214 · January 19, 2013 at 8:43 PM

Predators are fast. We are slow. If the predator decides to turn us into game we don't stand a chance. Bear vs Hiker With Rock never ends well in Alaska.

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11478 · January 19, 2013 at 8:46 PM

True 'dat. But Elks and Buffalo are also fast. Nothing is faster than us over 20 miles+, if you believe the persistance hunting theory.

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10214 · January 19, 2013 at 9:02 PM

A guy on my street had bucks jousting in his yard. Knowing the way deer operate, they would have fled if he had gone out in the yard. I'm not sure that would have been the case if they were cougars or bears. Over the long run we can win the race but in the short run we are dead. Alaska hikers wear bells so that the bears are not surprised.

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1005 · December 01, 2012 at 5:42 AM

I imagine Grop didn't care whether or not he ate carnivores or herbivores, but herbivores are easier to tame and domestocate, and very often carnivores are scavengers that eat carrion or other rotting things that may cause disease, and duringt the Neolithic period, avoiding carnivore meat became a stay-well measure. If you think about it, there are no exclusively carnivorous land animals that are kosher.

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12702 · December 01, 2012 at 7:32 AM

Good points, though the fact that we have cats and dogs seems to suggest herbivores might not be that much easier to domesticate.

Medium avatar
10214 · January 19, 2013 at 8:25 PM

At Catalhoyuk there are lots of auroch, sheep and goat bones but no leopard bones. Yet the leopard was depicted, and people are depicted wearing leopard skins. At this early Neolithic time leopards were around but not eaten for some reason. We can only speculate.

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10 · November 14, 2012 at 1:54 AM

This is not only about humans. Other animals don't eat meat-eaters either. Lions never eat dogs and dogs never eat cats. I'm not sure for fishes, reptiles and insects, but in general, at least mammals don't. The only exceptions are domesticated animals ... fed by ... humans; and as stated above; that's probably why most religions forbid pork meat. Some years ago, in the UK, they were so stupid to feed cows and sheep with molded bones. After only one or two "cycles", terrible diseases as Creutzfeldt???Jakob were the result. They had to eliminate many thousands of "mad cows".

Also, it is not about carnivores ?? it is about animals eating meat. That's why Chinese and Korean people do eat dogs. Those dogs are fed with rice, not with meat. And that's why cats were eaten at the end of the war. Those cats didn't at any meat at all for over a year.

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2029 · September 21, 2012 at 7:22 PM

Personally, it may be more of a food chain/sustainability/availability thing. As far as fish goes, it's more sustainable to eat the smaller fish lower on the food chain. Making predatory fish like salmon, shark, a tuna a big part of all humankind's diet would be unsustainable and irresponsible. It makes more sense to go after the herbivores and omnivores. There's a lot more of them to go around.

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1485 · September 21, 2012 at 4:40 PM

I think in the wild, chickens are to the carnivorous end of the omnivore spectrum. They eat mostly insects and small animals.

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11111 · May 28, 2012 at 2:54 PM

I have eaten most things that run, fly, swim or crawl - everything from crickets & caterpillars to giraffe, alligator, lion, dog, snakes, shark, bears. Carnivore meat tends to have a unique flavor overall and I just prefer cow, bison, pork, etc.

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203 · July 06, 2014 at 7:37 PM

For some interesting reason carnivores are unpalatable and herbivores taste the best.

Carnivores and other meat eating animals also contain the parasite that leads to trichnosis when consumed undercooked. It's a disease that can show symptoms after 2-7 days including nausea, heartburn and diarhea, which may be another reason why it's not so popular today.

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78422 · January 19, 2013 at 6:36 PM

I figure it's to allow more nutritious meet, as those nutrients pass up through the food chain less and less.

When we only eat omnivores and heribivores on the otherhand, this allows the meat to maintain more nutrient value for us.

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941 · September 22, 2012 at 2:46 AM

In America we don't eat anything we consider a pet, cute, or gross. So dogs, cats, snakes, insects and many birds are out. In many cultures carnivorous creatures are more common than in America and Europe, though some are scavengers, like dogs. A friend of mine was stationed in Korea. He said snake, rat, cat and dog were common. Most of the fish we eat are carnivorous, salmon, tuna, cod. In Louisiana gator is becoming more common. In many countries you can get scorpions and other carnivorous insects.

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