What sort of foodivore are you?

I eat a diet of fruit, vegetables and meats of all types. We classify animals as carnivores, herbivores or omnivores but what sort of foodivore are we?

My carnivorous diet has included much of the animal kingdom including gastropods (snails, oysters, mussels, etc), arthropods (prawns, crabs and other shellfish), cephalopods (squid and octopus), fish, birds (chicken, duck, goose, etc) and ungulates (lamb, pork and beef). I have eaten reptile (crocodile), amphibian (frog’s legs) and even chiroptera (bats that was a flying fox).

But what should I be eating?

Do we follow our biological diet?

Humans are technically omnivores (we eat meat and plant products). We have evolved not from herbivores (plants eaters) but from carnivores (meat eaters) and, perhaps, later as carrion eaters.

The word omnivore derives from the Latin words omni (all), and vora, from vorare (to eat or devour); carnivore from carnis (Latin for flesh); and herbivore from herba (Latin for plant). There are sub-groups of these including frugivores that eat fruit; insectivores that eat insects; and granivores that eat grain.

As foodivores we have been successful because we are adaptable—we eat plants, fungus, fruit, grain, insects, fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals—in what is called eclectic omnivory, a diet habit that we share with other primates. Our closest relatives, chimpanzees, are omnivorous frugivores, they have a mixed diet although they mostly eat fruit.

Dr. Jane Goodall, perhaps the world’s most famous primatologist, was the first person to observe chimpanzees eating other animals. She observed them using sticks to extract termites in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania in 1960. She also saw them hunting smaller mammals such as monkeys. Until then, chimpanzees were believed to be herbivores.

Should foodivores eat meat?

As a biologist I learnt that natural selection is important in the genetic adaption of species. It works by animals and plants producing at each generation more individuals than can possibly survive as they are preyed upon or grazed upon by other species.

Domestic animals have evolved alongside human beings so that we can mutually benefit—we feed them and protect them from predators. With cattle, pigs and sheep we exchange our protection for part of their biomass as food.

I was brought up in country NSW and as a student worked on wheat, beef and dairy farms as well as several Christmas holidays in the local abattoir. My father was a vet. I have no qualms about the slaughter of animals for meat if it is done humanely.

Are we carrion eaters or carnivores?

Animals that eat the decaying flesh of a dead animal are carrion-eaters (carrion from Latin caro meaning meat). Carrion-eaters are also known as necrophages (from Greek necro for dead and phage to eat) or scavengers. A scavenger was a London official that collected scauage, a duty on foreign merchants, and later was in charge of inspecting and maintaining the streets. This, we assume, gave them “scavenging rights”.

As humans we tend to cook our meat before we eat it (which is a way of softening the meat as it would as if it was decaying). This is easier than tearing the raw meat from the bones with sharp canine teeth like our carnivorous cousins.

I think we might be more carrion-eater than hunter. We certainly aren’t vegan.