If you think that eating meat is the reason for humankind’s evolutionary success, then you may consider recent reports that humans once ate pandas to be one more piece of evidence for human carnivory.
Or, if you’re a long-time vegetarian like myself, you may feel your stomach churning.
Claims that humans once ate the now-endangered, adored animals are based on excavated panda fossils found in part of what is now the city of Chongqing in southwest China. Scientist Wei Guangbiao, the head of the Institute of Three Gorges Paleoanthropology, told the Chongqing Morning Post that examining panda fossils revealed that they had been “once slashed to death by man.” Reasoning that prehistoric humans would not have killed animals except to use them, Wei says that pandas must have been used as food. Cut marks were reportedly found on the prehistoric panda bones.
10,000 to 1 million years ago, pandas lived in Chongqing’s high mountains and were much smaller, Wei says. There must have certainly been many, many more of them, too, than the 1,600 who still live in the wild today and the 300 more who live in captivity in breeding programs.
In NPR, Barbara J. King writes, at a time when the panda has “become a symbol of cuteness, an animal we love to love,” most people would be “horrified” to think of cooking and eating a panda. She recounts an experience from years ago when she was in Gabon, West Africa, to study chimpanzees. Monkey was on the menu of a rural restaurant and she declined it, choosing chicken and French fries only to find some black (monkey) hairs on her plate. She removed these and ate her meal.
Now, King says that she no longer eats chicken as “although not in ways as complex as primates, chickens do, science tells us, think and feel.” She still eats fish but finds herself having a “harder and harder time understanding how any of us draw the line about what we will and won’t eat” and all the more in an era when restaurants broadcast that they plan to serve lion and kangaroo and celebrity chefs go into heart palpitations about eating chicken kneecaps in Tokyo. More recent research has found that humans may have been hunting big game about 2 million years ago and that eating raw food alone would not have allowed us to feed and develop big brains.
All very well, but in case we don’t remember: we don’t live in prehistoric times. Many of us do not hunt for our meals, instead hunting down ingredients for recipes in the supermarket aisles. If anything, scientists predict that demand for meat could lead to “catastrophic” food shortages because feeding a global population expected to total 9 billion in 2050 will place massive pressure on available water, land and other natural resources. Producing protein-rich food from animals consumes five to ten times more water than food from a vegetarian diet does; we’re already using one-third of the world’s arable land to grow crops to feed animals as food for people.
For many of us, there are multiple options when it comes to getting our food supply and we don’t have to rely on whatever creatures we come upon to provide us with our next meal. In other words, eating meat may have played a key role in one part of our evolution and the history of our development, but — in a day and age of climate change and when pandas have become extinct so that the thought of eating one seems, besides abhorrent, the height of folly — eating meat is a choice and one that many of us are glad to say no to.
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