Eating Meat and Intelligence: An Evolutionary Connection?

The addition of meat to the menu represents an important link in the chain of human evolution that according to scientists occurred more than two million years ago. Before that, our ancestors’ diet consisted of raw food exclusively: fruit, leaves, nuts and underground tubers, roots and various types of berries. In those unrecorded ancient times, a big gut was a prerequisite to survival as eating a lot was the only way to energize and digest it all.

According to Leslie Aiello, anthropologist and director of the Wenner-Gren Foundation in New York City, which funds research on evolution:

“You can’t have a large brain and big guts at the same time. Digestion was the energy-hog of our primate ancestor’s body. The brain was the poor stepsister who got the leftovers.”

Over time, in proportion to the amount of food ingested, the human gut shrank, thereby permitting the human body to expend more energy on developing a bigger brain. Despite the many benefits of a vegetarian diet, it now appears evident now that eating meat had a direct correlation to the increase in human intelligence, which led in turn to the creation of efficient tools and other important alterations.

The period in question, some 2.3 million years ago, marks the first time archaeologists have found incisions on animal bones that could not be attributed to the tooth marks of other animal predators and could only have been made by a sharp tool of some kind.

Our teeth, jaws and mouth changed as well as our gut but adding raw meat to our diet isn’t exactly the whole food story. According to anthropologist, Richard Wrangham, raw food all by itself was not sufficient to provide the energy required to construct the modern big-brained, small-toothed human. Food that was cooked had some benefits, as it killed some of the pathogens in the food, although the process did change the meat by breaking up the long protein chains, which makes it easier for the stomach to digest.

In Wrangham’s own words:

“…The muscle, which is made of protein, is wrapped like a sausage in a skin and the skin is collagen, connective tissue. That collagen is very difficult to digest, but if you heat it, it turns to jelly.”

Wrangman will not argue that cooked food can affect the potency of vitamins and nutrients, but he feels strongly that the benefits of cooked meat over raw foods far outweigh the negative aspects. He is convinced that the process of cooking the protein really brought about major changes in the human body. Cooked food brought about social changes; people began to share labor, join together for meals and conversation.

If eating meat is the answer then one can only wonder why lions and tigers aren’t running for office.

Leave a Comment