Let’s Use the Brains Our Species Was Born with

Asked how human beings get the Ebola virus, National Institutes of Health infectious-disease director Anthony Fauci described, in a radio interview, the scenario of someone in Africa using a fruit bat “for protein nourishment.” The virus spills over to humans from nonhuman animals, to invoke David Quammen’s informative book Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic.

Most authorities share Dr. Fauci’s obliviousness to the needless and misguided animal abuse that gives humans just about every infectious disease we can name, whether acquired recently or in prehistoric times – AIDS, smallpox, bubonic plague, anthrax, influenza … the list is long and scary. Understanding root causes of diseases and our species’ biological nature, which is not what we are generally told, can help us establish best practices and policies for preventing rather than only reacting to health disasters.

Using nonhuman animals “for protein nourishment” is animal abuse because human beings are plant-foraging herbivorous apes who evolved on the African savanna, with no biological need of any direct contact with nonhuman animals. All that human beings do with and to other animals is abuse in that it injures or kills them or otherwise prevents them from living according to their evolved nature, foreclosing their ability to lead fulfilling lives. The vast scope of animal abuse is not to be confused with cruelty, the small portion of abuse perpetrated for the purpose of causing pain and suffering.

The pre-eminent nutrition scientist T. Colin Campbell says, “There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants.” And links between meat, dairy, fish, and eggs and widespread non-communicable human diseases are well established. Campbell’s research also links protein from animals to the growth of human cancers. Thus, Ebola is just one of many serious hazards of “protein nourishment” from fruit bats and other animals. Such “nourishment” abuses the human animal as well as the nonhuman primary victims.

spillover_DVLike people on the standard American diet (“SAD” to nutrition scientists), our fellow humans in Africa either lack plant foods needed for optimal physical well-being and/or are misled to believe animals are good sources of food for them. This delusion and related ones – that humans are natural predators and hunter-gatherers (a cultural development, not a bio-evolutionary one) – gave our species the 1918 influenza pandemic, believed to have spilled over from a pig in Kansas, and AIDS, whose trail Quammen traces back to the butchering of a chimpanzee in Cameroon a century ago.

manConsistent with humans’ having all of the anatomical and physiological traits of herbivores, none of omnivores or carnivores, Man the Hunted: Primates, Predators, and Human Evolution by Donna Hart and Robert W. Sussman, which received the W.W. Howells Award from the Biological Anthropology Section of the American Anthropological Association, debunks the “man the hunter” myth, which nevertheless persists – as in Dr. Fauci’s framing of Ebola’s spillover to humans. Science keeps pushing back the approximate prehistoric moment when humans started to institutionalize animal abuse – by organizing to kill off our species’ natural predators and hunting other animals for food, clothing, weapons, tools, and other purposes. Whenever it started, the Animal-Abuse Revolution eventually led to the Agricultural Revolution, because predators keep prey animals – such as the original naked and weaponless humans – moving about the landscape.

The Animal-Abuse Revolution and the Agricultural Revolution subverted the natural relationship between our prehistoric ancestors and their natural predators as humans became accustomed to living in one place and depending on a small number of crops – a huge nutritional hit as compared with the estimated 75 varieties of edible leaves, flowers, fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts, and roots typically available to original humans at any given time. Agriculture and animal husbandry involve continually killing animals perceived as dangerous to humans, to enslaved animals made defenseless through breeding and captivity, and to crops which offer nonhuman herbivores and omnivores much easier pickings than the natural landscape.

The “founder”s of the United States strove to apply the emerging understanding of human nature to policy-making and the framing of the Constitution. We have gained far more knowledge since their time, but special interests suppress it for status, profit, career, and other interests – including just plain old clinging to conditioned and reinforced belief. We can prevent disease in ourselves and our descendants by using the brains our species was born with, or we can continue making ourselves sick with brains informed over thousands of years by our wild imagination.

David Cantor is founder and director of Responsible Policies for Animals Read other articles by David.