Are humans and apes descendants of a common ancestor? Are humans still apes? Or are we all created, and humans have a unique role in this world? This fundamental question also arises in discussions surrounding the human diet.
So far, theories about our ancestors’ diets have – unfortunately – painted a wrong picture of the natural, evolutionary human diet and gave rise to the concept of a “paleo diet,” which justifies heavy meat eating. On the other hand of the spectrum, growing spirituality has inspired plant-based, raw diets, and even fruit-based diets. Fortunately, now that we are learning more about humans coming from a frugivorous (fruit-eating) evolutionary lineage, the two approaches to diet – biology and spirituality – lead to a very similar conclusion: the natural human diet is fruit-based.
From a biological perspective, humans, and all apes, are frugivores. In nature, all species eat raw foods relying on their instincts. The cooked, meat-heavy diet we associate with early humans, is nothing more than a survival diet when our ancestors migrated out of Africa, out of tropical forests – or tropical paradise.
Read here more about the paleo diet vs. frugivore diet.
Nature and spirituality go hand in hand
Natural sciences and spirituality have generally been perceived as entirely separate, or even as conflicting. But nature and spirit are actually inseparable. This is especially true for food: For example, a raw vegan diet can be described as high-vibrational and cleansing from a spiritual view, and analogously, this is true from a biological perspective, as this diet provides the body with nutrient-dense foods that help produce energy efficiently and puts only minimal stress on elimination organs.
I personally prefer to take an evolutionary approach to explaining the human diet because it is how I can get natural science into this controversial topic. Not only is this my preferred way of expressing my perspective, it also gives me a tool to back up intuitive knowledge with objective knowledge. It basically is a way to bring this topic closer to many people who just can’t wrap their heads around the idea that cooked foods are not our natural foods and that we also share our diet with chimpanzees, not only the genes!
On the other hand, it’s a long-overdue and desirable trend that ethical and spiritual factors are becoming more important in our diet, with the growing awareness, the re-awakened awareness, of humankind. As all indigenous people knew, nature and spirit are not to be separated; after all, nature only lives because it is spirited; it is alive! Most humans have just become too disconnected from nature, so much so that they do not even recognize the life force within them as a miracle. This is why many atheists and science lovers are surprised to discover that the greatest natural scientists believe in a higher power:
“The first sip of a glass of natural science will make you an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass, God awaits you.”Werner Heisenberg
“Every one who is seriously engaged in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that the laws of nature manifest the existence of a spirit vastly superior to that of men, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.”Albert Einstein
“Anybody who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: Ye must have faith. It is a quality which the scientist cannot dispense with.” Max PlanckMax Planck
It is also not a coincidence that CERN is looking for the “God particle” or has a Shiva statue in front of its headquarters in Geneva – after all, we cannot answer the most fundamental questions of the universe with technological advancements: Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? Despite the forefathers of natural sciences’ awareness and appreciation of the divine force within all living things, most modern academic environments do not give this force driving the natural processes that they are studying much attention – or consideration at all.
Nonetheless, nature and life’s spirit are inseparable, which also affects diet, as diet is one of the closest relationships we can have with nature. Ideas like “karma-free” foods and ethical perspectives like cruelty-free foods are not only essential for a more peaceful world, but also affect the energy within our body.
Joining natural and spiritual science is more powerful than each on its own. Let’s see how we can reconcile evolution and creation in the debate around the human diet – or at least agree that both give a similar answer to the question: What’s the true, natural human diet?
Evolution or Creation? The outcome is the same for the natural human diet.
Did we evolve into an ape-like species? Or were we created alongside other creatures? This heavy debate will probably not be solved in an article, but the beauty of it is, that it doesn’t really matter to understand our diet. Not when taking a comparative approach and studying the presence rather than deciphering the past! A comparative approach between humans and apes allows for a new picture that challenges the loosely, shaky reconstructed paleoanthropological past of humans. The human body is designed for a frugivorous diet, like all apes, rather than the “paleo diet,” which has had us confused about our evolutionary foods, our species-specific diet:
The paleo diet is misleading the natural human diet: We are frugivores!
Because of the popularity of the paleo diet, an evolutionary approach to diet has been associated with a diet high in meat. The pitfall here is that the theory, on which this diet is built, has a biased view, does not consider human anatomy, and stands on very uncertain grounds of controversial and slim paleoanthropological evidence. Comparative anatomy on the other hand, presents strong evidence that humans are frugivores, with a diet high in tropical fruits, nuts and greens, like all other apes (see below). But back to the issues of the “paleo diet”:
The concept of a meaty diet as our species-specific diet has opponents and proponents alike. This article published in the Scientific American called “Human Ancestors Were Nearly All Vegetarians” points out why the paleo diet is not biologically matching to the human body:
“Although “Paleolithic” diets in diet books tend to be very meaty, reasonable minds disagree as to whether ancient, Paleolithic diets actually were. But if we want to return to the diet our guts and bodies “evolved to deal with” (a concept that wrongly assumes our bodies are fine tuned by engineers rather than cobbled together by natural selection), perhaps we should also be looking our earlier ancestors. … So what do other living primates eat, the ones with guts mostly like ours, eat? The diets of nearly all monkeys and apes (except the leaf-eaters) are composed of fruits, nuts, leaves, insects, and sometimes the odd snack of a bird or a lizard…”Rob Dunn, 2012
Further, the human hunter-gatherer diet has been hit hard lately by the human forest origin theory: evidence that humans have originated in tropical forests (producing an abundance of tropical fruits) severely challenges the long-standing savanna origin theory. The savanna theory is responsible for the hunting, meat-eating caveman picture we all have deeply ingrained into our brains. The forest origin theory falls in line with the evidence we see in our body, in the present, not the past: the comparative approach in evolution shows that our body (our avatar or meat-suit) is highly similar to that of frugivorous apes:
Our actual evolutionary diet is a fruit-heavy diet, not a hunter-gatherer type. The hunter-gatherer diet was a survival diet when humans left tropical forests (or the Garden, Eden or Paradise, Agartha, Shamballa etc.). Thus, whether you follow the evolutionary approach or spiritual approach, the natural human diet is fruit-based.
Are humans animals? Are humans apes?
Many religious – or even spiritual – people get offended when being called an ape. There certainly is a point that we are different from our animal brothers and sisters in the sense that we have free will and another potential to gain awareness. The school of life, so to speak.
Are humans apes? This question is relatively easy to answer, but it has two answers: yes and no! Recognizing that there are two different levels – biology and spirituality – helps to answer whether humans are apes:
In terms of spirituality, humans are not like animals, which seem to have a different role in this life. They do not have to choose between doing good or evil, they do not hold moral responsibility. While animals can identify a human’s intent, they themselves have never been proven doing anything with malice or out of bad intentions. Free will to do evil, is a burden that only humans carry.
Whatever we want to call it “spirituality,” “soul mission,” or “awareness,” humans are different from animals in this regard! In terms of biology, however, humans are clearly animals. Our body, our biologically functioning organism, is that of an ape!
The undeniable truth about the human body: The body, our vehicle, is that of an ape. It is genetically, anatomically and physiologically highly similar to that of other apes, which is why we have highly similar nutritional needs, and share our natural diet and environment! This is the key point in discovering the natural human diet! Knowing that apes have a fruit-based diet and many individuals do not eat meat at all indicates that the human diet is indeed fruit-based and raw, which corresponds to many spiritually-inspired diets.
This is actually a good thing: Acknowledging that the human body is that of an ape helps us understand and analyze our nutritional needs by studying our ape family in the wild. Humans have been disconnected from nature, which makes it hard to really know our natural diet other than instincts. But we do not live in our natural habitat, which is why comparing humans and chimpanzees can be helpful to better understand the human biology and diet:
Learning from chimpanzees: Studying the here and now!
What really happened in the human past is hard to know. But we can learn from what is right in front of our eyes in nature, which is a more informative and reliable approach, and it aligns with spirituality, too – learning from nature.
Comparing the human body to the species that is most similar to our own – chimpanzees – is an approach often used in science. After all, our bodies and biochemistry operate highly similarly in nature. For example, by studying lions, you can learn a lot about felines in general. By studying primates, we can learn about humans, too, which is why chimpanzees and primates are the most reliable “model organisms” (I will not go into the cruelty of this here).
Luckily, we can use our similarities cruelty-free to better understand the natural human diet, by simply observing and studying the chimpanzee diet. Human nutritional requirements are used for chimpanzees in zoos, which is a huge indicator that we have a similar natural diet, too.
Chimpanzees and humans have distinct frugivore adaptations (read the full article here): a few examples are the loss of vitamin C genes, complex hands for fruit handling, dental structure, digestive system, and our positive sensory experience with ripe fruits (attractive look, smell, and taste). So, what do chimpanzees actually eat? An average chimpanzee’s diet is composed of around 95% plant matter, which is mostly fruits, some nuts and leaves, and other plant parts. Of the remaining few percent animals matter, only 1-2 % is meat, if at all. Read more here. This is an entirely different diet than the heavily cooked, meaty diet of the paleo idea, and comes much closer to a “paradise diet.”
It’s important to mention that chimps in the wild eat and behave differently than chimps and other primates in captivity (i.e., or kept in zoos or as pets), which are often traumatized and exploited.
Thus, instead of studying and hypothesizing what has happened in the human past – or how all life came to existence – to understand the human diet, we can take the more reliable approach and turn to nature, here and now. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck… Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
But let’s also explore the two worldviews, evolution or a divine creation (not necessarily the religious “creationism” but the involvement of a divine creative force in our existence):
Evolution and Creation have more in common than we think!
Besides having the same outcome, evolutionary theory and divine creation can actually be matched in many aspects if we ignore the dividing factor of time. Let’s look at the two apparently incompatible origins of species:
Evolution: In evolution, we align sequences of the genetic code of different species and portray the results in phylogenetic trees, or Tree of Life. Most trees are based on DNA sequence similarities, but before modern techniques, they were based on visible differences (morphology) and thus on the observable in nature. The similarities and differences between species serve to determine how closely related species are – and draw the branches of the phylogenetic trees. Genetic analysis can determine the amount and places of mutations (differences) that separate two or more species.
However, the genetic differences per se do not prove that species evolved from an ancestor species in a timeline. The emergence of a new species from a preexisting species is called macroevolution, which has actually never been observed in nature. However, despite the absence of observability, there is much compelling evidence that speaks in favor of macroevolution. Microevolution is a process that describes changes within a species or population and is often observed in nature as local adaptations to new environmental conditions and creates populations that are slightly different from the original population. Prominent examples of local adaptations in humans are often related to humans migrating into colder environments, like the evolution of lighter skin color in colder climates, which allows for effective vitamin D3 production despite weak sunlight. Another example, that we all can relate to, is selective breeding in plants and domestic animals, like dog breeds. However, the processes in evolution (natural selection) are not proof of the absence of a divine creation force, as these processes only affect our biology, not the life force within it, or why life exists in the first place.
How can evolution be reconciled with creation? Evolution or creation, the outcome we observed in biology is the same for either scenario: We see the Tree of Life, which contains all living species that share more or less similarities and biological traits and can be compared! Its existence could be rooted in creation or evolution, but the two theories are basically the same if we take out the factor of time and the stigma that science operates entirely without a higher power: Evolution describes species evolving as a response to natural selection during a very large timeline, while creation describes an event of “coding” all of the different species into existence at once or within a short time frame. The codes vary, but there is still a hierarchy that describes how similar species are or how closely related their codes are. This would be like having a blueprint modified slightly from species to species rather than being coded from scratch. And if this is not something we can seriously consider (as left-brained naturalists), we might dig deeper into quantum physics, the electric nature of all atoms, and the universe being a simulation. Or, we might try to dive into the miracle of life force: what’s the mysterious force that makes all living beings strive towards living? You might read again the quotes above, on how natural science does not automatically implies atheism.
The concept of a Tree of Life is found in biology as well as in ancient texts and spiritual worldviews. All disciplines agree that all life is connected; all species and creatures are one big family of life! It’s interesting that the entirety of phylogenetic trees in evolutionary biology is called the “Tree of Life.”
Thus, we find a lot of unifying concepts in the different descriptions of the origin of life, with different descriptions of timing and the underlying driving force, which brings us back to the fact that even in evolution, the great scientists did not exclude a divine force – a spirit that is manifest in everything that thrives and is alive. Evolutionary theory has helped many people question their classical religious worldview, but not necessarily a divine creation and the miracle of life itself:
The impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God.Charles Darwin
Evolution or Creation – it does not matter for the human diet. It is what it is right now – humans have the biological features of apes. Chimpanzees are the animal species that looks most similar to our own species. Their code is similar to ours – which is why it is highly likely our diets are highly similar. Not surprisingly, we share all these fascinating adaptations related to a frugivore diet.
- Dunn, R. (2012) Human ancestors were nearly all vegetarians, Scientific American Blog Network. Available at: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/human-ancestors-were-nearly-all-vegetarians/ (Accessed: 14 November 2023).
- Drummond-Clarke, R.C. (2023) ‘Bringing trees back into the human evolutionary story: Recent evidence from extant Great apes’, Communicative & Integrative Biology, 16(1). doi:10.1080/19420889.2023.2193001.
- Monsó, S., Benz-Schwarzburg, J. and Bremhorst, A. (2018) ‘Animal morality: What it means and why it matters’, The Journal of Ethics, 22(3–4), pp. 283–310. doi:10.1007/s10892-018-9275-3.
- Chimpanzees understand the difference between malice and inability (2022) Big Think. Available at: https://bigthink.com/life/chimpanzees-understand-intent-malice-inability/ (Accessed: 14 November 2023).
- Cutlik, K. Did ripening fruit help hominids develop complex hands? (2016) Smithsonian Insider (available at https://insider.si.edu/2016/05/did-ripening-fruit-help-hominids-develop-complex-hands/).
- Turner, D. and Havstad, J.C. (2019) Philosophy of macroevolution, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Available at: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/macroevolution/ (Accessed: 14 November 2023).
- Evolution at different scales: Micro to macro – understanding evolution (2021) Understanding Evolution – Your one-stop source for information on evolution. Available at: https://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolution-at-different-scales-micro-to-macro/ (Accessed: 14 November 2023).
- A selection of letters on god’s existence and the theory of evolution (no date) A selection of Letters on God’s Existence and the Theory of Evolution | Inters.org. Available at: https://inters.org/Darwin-God-Evolution (Accessed: 14 November 2023).