A Cook's Diary

I am not a vegan; and I never will be

There was a time when I was in my teens when my mother, encouraged by a friend who turned vegetarian, entertained thoughts of turning all of us into vegetarians. She “diluted” meat dishes with vege-meat which we hated. Then, her vegetarian friend started having dental problems. Apparently, the vegetarian regimen was not supplying his body with the right balance of nutrients and his teeth started to weaken. And that marked the end of my mother’s attempt to raise vegetarian children. Thank goodness.

Going vegan or vegetarian, eating only organic food, and eating only raw food are all very much in fashion these days. Some follow their chosen dietary regimen for health reasons; others do it for political or religious reasons. I don’t agree nor disagree with their reasons — every reason has two sides and choosing one is every person’s prerogative — but, for me, food is food. I love food, I love eating, I love meat. I love being at the top of the food chain. And I like it that man developed a brain big enough to allow him to discover and use fire because aside from the occasional sashimi and salad, I prefer to eat cooked food.

Many say that eating is like having sex — it is a sensory experience but there is something emotional and mental about it too. Think about it — some food we remember; others, we forget. Some food we inexplicably long for over and over; others, we’re sorry we ever tried. Personally, I choose food that satisfies me — gastronomically, emotionally, mentally and, yes, financially. And, irrespective of affordability, the thought of having any sex-like experience exclusively with a vegetable, especially raw vegetable, makes me cringe. I like my food to be spiced up and seasoned. I like flavors and I like to experience discernible textures with my eyes and inside my mouth.

Obviously, I will never be a vegan. Nor a vegetarian. Even if that makes me unfashionable. And even if that makes me politically incorrect. For those of you who feel a little strange and, perhaps, a bit guilty in a world that is fast becoming a planet inhabited by raw plant eaters, here’s something interesting. Meat is good for your brain. And I’m not talking about brain food cliches.

Our earliest ancestors ate their food raw — fruit, leaves, maybe some nuts. When they ventured down onto land, they added things like underground tubers, roots and berries.

It wasn’t a very high-calorie diet, so to get the energy you needed, you had to eat a lot and have a big gut to digest it all. But having a big gut has its drawbacks.

“You can’t have a large brain and big guts at the same time,” explains Leslie Aiello, an anthropologist and director of the Wenner-Gren Foundation in New York City, which funds research on evolution. Digestion, she says, was the energy-hog of our primate ancestor’s body. The brain was the poor stepsister who got the leftovers.

Until, that is, we discovered meat.

And that was when the human brain started to grow. You can read the rest of the story at NPR. Very interesting, indeed.

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