Pandas Are Classified As Carnivores - A look at diet, evolution and design - VeggieBoards
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#1 Old 02-14-2012, 10:42 PM
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http://paleovegan.blogspot.com/2010/...der-panda.html

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You know pandas, and probably love them. Cute and cuddly, the objects of affections world-wide, used here in the States to sell us over-priced crappy "Chinese" food.

You probably also know that pandas are famous for eating bamboo. It's their staple diet, in fact, making up 99 percent of their daily caloric intake. You probably think they're herbivores.

And you're wrong. Sort of.

Pandas are Carnivorans. Yes, you read that correctly. Pandas are Carnivorans.

Specifically, they're classed as part of the order Carnivora, along with the rest of their relatives, the bears. All of their adaptations -- skull structure, teeth, digestive anatomy, gestation period -- mark them distinctly as members of this highly-specialized group of mammals. If an alien race randomly collected animal samples from across the Earth without paying any attention to the animals' actual behavior, they'd conclude from all these factors that pandas were a meat-eating, possibly predatory species.

And yet, they eat bamboo.

Now, dear readers, you are smart people. You can probably see where I'm going with this. As vegans, we often hear arguments from friends and family (or belligerent strangers) that humans are "meant" to eat meat because we are "omnivores." Essentially, what's being argued by them is that humans don't simply have the option of eating meat and dairy, but that we have an obligation to eat them. That somehow, we are betraying our nature, if not endangering our health, by refusing to exploit other animals.

Often these arguments appeal to evolution. But they're on shaky ground. Aside from the fact that there is no taxonomic classification for either "Herbivora" or "Omnivora" (a subject about which I will be posting in the near future), such arguments are flawed because they fail to distinguish between biology and behavior.

Pandas, biologically, are Carnivorans. Health-wise, they'd probably thrive on a diet of raw animal flesh. But behaviorally, they are "herbivores." The reasons for this are complex, and might involve a survival strategy developed in response to a negative mutation, but that's all for another time.

The take-home point is that even among Carnivora, there is a distinction between biology and behavior. There is always a choice.

So, what are humans "designed" to eat? I don't much like the question, as I'm skeptical of the notion of "design" in nature. But, there are some things we can say about human evolution and diet that are fairly uncontroversial.

We are members of the order Primates, generalist mammals capable of exploiting a wide variety of resources and ecologies, including food. Our genetic and morphological heritage is arboreal, and while many of our plesiomorphic traits are those of a frugivorous common ancestor, primates can nonetheless eat a wide variety of foods to supplement their basal adaptation to fruits. Hominids, in particular, along with chimpanzees, are known in the fossil record and the modern world alike to hunt and kill other animals for food, in varying degrees.

So given all this, what are the implications for what humans must eat? Not many. Because we are so versatile, we can reliably eat just about anything that's not poisonous.

In other words, we have a choice. Veganism is a moral choice, and so is meat-eating. They are both equally "natural." Neither is dictated to us by evolution.


So, the next time a friend or family member or stranger confronts you with the argument from "evolution," ask them to consider the panda.

I just found this excellent blog post and had to share. I've heard arguments about what we were "designed" to eat so many times and this was a refreshing rebuttal.

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#2 Old 02-14-2012, 11:18 PM
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eh i've heard arguments both ways about what humans were designed to eat, and never paid a second of attention to any of it. bottom line is we have free will. This makes a great one-liner though when someone tries to tell me what i'm supposed to eat and I don't want to get into an ethical debate with someone who probably wouldn't understand most of what I said.

Love the hypothetical about an alien race classifying our animal species lol.

and yes pretty sure everyone loves pandas.
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#3 Old 02-14-2012, 11:21 PM
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Our digestives systems are closest to Chimpanzees so we are technically designed to be frugivores but there is no question that meat eating played an integral role in our evolution to what we are today.

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#4 Old 02-14-2012, 11:37 PM
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Our digestives systems are closest to Chimpanzees so we are technically designed to be frugivores but there is no question that meat eating played an integral role in our evolution to what we are today.

The crux of the article is that design doesn't have to dictate diet though, and that the notion of design in nature is questionable to begin with.

If an animal like the panda can be classified as part of the order Carnivora but live on a specialized diet of bamboo it says a lot about how much freedom we as omnivores have to make moral choices about our diets without worrying about what we were "designed" to eat or what is "natural"

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#5 Old 02-15-2012, 12:39 AM
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The crux of the article is that design doesn't have to dictate diet though, and that the notion of design in nature is questionable to begin with.

If an animal like the panda can be classified as part of the order Carnivora but live on a specialized diet of bamboo it says a lot about how much freedom we as omnivores have to make moral choices about our diets without worrying about what we were "designed" to eat or what is "natural"

I agree! Which is why the whole argument of what we're meant to eat is invalid.

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#6 Old 02-15-2012, 01:36 AM
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In a recent survey of female pandas, as to why they lose interest in sex, the most common answer was "because he just eats shoots and leaves".
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#7 Old 02-15-2012, 01:55 AM
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Our digestives systems are closest to Chimpanzees so we are technically designed to be frugivores but there is no question that meat eating played an integral role in our evolution to what we are today.

Is this the old 'our brains evolved to be big because we ate meat .." chestnut?

That one, in as far as it meant to argue that we are carnivores, is a pile of old cobblers on the following 'horse and cart' grounds:

As small toothed clawless bipeds without an already big brain humanoids would not be able to catch'n'kill anything of any significance at all.

The brain must therefore have been big before humans could hunt.

That does not mean that pre-big brained humans could not have eaten meat though. It simply means that any significant quantity of meat they would have eaten must have been carrion.

To this very day the human system has not evolved to be able to cope with anything, in all but the smallest quantities, of carrion meat.

From that the following can be logicaly deduced:

The type of meat eating that humans are capable of always did, and still does to this day, require only a very small and NOT a very large brain.
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#8 Old 02-15-2012, 02:56 AM
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A significant contribution to the evolution our species' big brain was the discovery of fire and cooking of tubers (root vegetables like potatoes). (Take that, raw fooders! ) Fire also allowed our ancestors to eat more carrion and other easily accessible meat.

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#9 Old 02-15-2012, 06:30 AM
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Originally Posted by Clueless Git View Post

In a recent survey of female pandas, as to why they lose interest in sex, the most common answer was "because he just eats shoots and leaves".

I have a book on grammar that has this written on the back of it
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#10 Old 02-15-2012, 07:30 AM
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I have a book on grammar that has this written on the back of it

The old jokes are best ones?
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#11 Old 02-15-2012, 07:35 AM
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A significant contribution to the evolution our species' big brain was the discovery of fire and cooking of tubers (root vegetables like potatoes). (Take that, raw fooders! ) Fire also allowed our ancestors to eat more carrion and other easily accessible meat.

Aye, which adds to the weight of argument that the human big brain precedes significant meat in the human diet.
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#12 Old 02-15-2012, 07:49 AM
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But two of my teeth are pointier than the others, therefore I have to eat meat!

(good article)
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#13 Old 02-15-2012, 07:49 AM
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A significant contribution to the evolution our species' big brain was the discovery of fire and cooking of tubers (root vegetables like potatoes). (Take that, raw fooders! ) Fire also allowed our ancestors to eat more carrion and other easily accessible meat.

Fire made our brains bigger?
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#14 Old 02-15-2012, 07:50 AM
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Many Carnivora are truly omnivores, which is the case with Pandas. Giant Pandas eat what is available which is rarely meat, but will eat bugs and fish and carrion when given the chance. Red Pandas are even bigger meat-eaters, even stalking for birds and eggs, though they still eat primarily veg.
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#15 Old 02-15-2012, 07:50 AM
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Fire made our brains bigger?

There's some chanting and herbs involved.
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#16 Old 02-15-2012, 09:44 AM
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Somehow I read that as "bears share space ships with the Chinese"
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#17 Old 02-15-2012, 09:49 AM
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Somehow I read that as "bears share space ships with the Chinese"

Well they do, but that's a subject best discussed in the X-Files thread.
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#18 Old 02-15-2012, 08:58 PM
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Early hominids were most likely scavengers which would allow for meat consumption without hunting. Homo erectus hunted animals though.

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#19 Old 02-15-2012, 09:00 PM
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Early hominids were most likely scavengers which would allow for meat consumption without hunting. Homo erectus hunted animals though.

with the Chinese, of course.
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#20 Old 02-15-2012, 09:01 PM
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Also it's not meat per se but nutrients in meat which can be found in other places. However, at the time of Homo erectus the climate was changing and the homo followed the migratory megafauna.

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#21 Old 02-15-2012, 09:09 PM
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Also it's not meat per se but nutrients in meat which can be found in other places. However, at the time of Homo erectus the climate was changing and the homo followed the migratory megafauna.

Another excellent point!
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#22 Old 02-17-2012, 07:54 PM
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Fire made our brains bigger?

The basic idea runs like this: cooking foods makes it energetically cheaper to extract nutrients from them. Some of this extra energy was then available for 'brain building'. It's a pretty convincing argument but I'm not very good at describing it, so check out this from the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/27/bo...pagewanted=all

--------------

The blog post posted at this beginning of this makes a very common error - confusing two separate words that happen to be spelled and pronounced the same. Carnivore (1) is a taxonomic category. Carnivore (2) is a meat-eating critter. The words are spelled the same, but defined completely differently. A carnivore (1) is not necessarily a carnivore (2), and there is absolutely no reason to expect one would be. Many carnivores (1) are obligate carnivores (2), but many are omnivores as has been mentioned, and some (here's your giant pandas!) are obligate herbivores.

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#23 Old 02-17-2012, 08:11 PM
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at the time of Homo erectus the climate was changing and the homo followed the migratory megafauna.

I'm not so sure they were following the large critters. The climate changes and fluctuations would have affected plant distributions and other important local features (such as water availability) which would have driven human migration. The same factors which drove critter migration. I see no reason to assume that hominins were following big critters rather than both groups moving for more or less the same reasons.

(Before anyone accuses me of some sort of vegan fantasy - I'm not saying the hominins of that time didn't hunt and eat large mammals. They did.)

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#24 Old 02-17-2012, 08:24 PM
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I'm not so sure they were following the large critters. The climate changes and fluctuations would have affected plant distributions and other important local features (such as water availability) which would have driven human migration. The same factors which drove critter migration. I see no reason to assume that hominins were following big critters rather than both groups moving for more or less the same reasons.

(Before anyone accuses me of some sort of vegan fantasy - I'm not saying the hominins of that time didn't hunt and eat large mammals. They did.)

Most archaeologists would agree with you here. Not everybody would move simply to chase a wooly mammoth when there were other fine foods to be had. Retreated ice means more opportunity and hopefully less competition. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that a large number of hominids just stayed put while the going was good, wherever they were.
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#25 Old 03-02-2012, 06:55 PM
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Well, it makes me wonder -- if Pandas were extinct and all we could learn about them was based on their dentition, we would be way off the mark!
This has pretty big implications for our understanding of dinosaurs and other prehistoric life.
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#26 Old 03-02-2012, 07:19 PM
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Conclusion: The t-rex ate bamboo
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#27 Old 03-02-2012, 10:18 PM
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Conclusion: The t-rex ate bamboo

I think that's how the toothpick was invented.
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#28 Old 03-02-2012, 10:40 PM
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Well, it makes me wonder -- if Pandas were extinct and all we could learn about them was based on their dentition, we would be way off the mark!
This has pretty big implications for our understanding of dinosaurs and other prehistoric life.

Analysis of food particles/isotopes can help identify diet, or at least part of it.

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#29 Old 03-02-2012, 10:43 PM
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Analysis of food particles/isotopes can help identify diet, or at least part of it.

Food particles and isotopes are entirely different things in determining diets. What, specifically are you talking about?
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#30 Old 03-02-2012, 10:54 PM
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Well, the shape of the teeth aren't usually the whole story - there's the wear marks on the teeth, 'muscle scarring' on the jawbones, etc. as well. Pretty involved process, but probably even when we think we're 100% sure, we're likely to be dead wrong about some prehistoric critters at the moment. [Pardon the pun!]
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