By The Humane Hominid
Promote a cruelty-free lifestyle long enough, and you’ll eventually bump into the expensive tissue hypothesis. No, it’s not a pet theory about the rising cost of toilet paper, but the claim (usually foisted upon you by paleodieters or some carnist who took an anthropology class once) that meat-eating made humans into the big-brained rocket scientists we are today. How ungrateful and unnatural you are to reject millions of years of evolution. Surely, your brain has shrunk from lack of essential fatty acids, to even entertain such a notion as eating vegan.
To be fair, that last bit isn’t actually the expensive tissue hypothesis (ETH). It’s just the pop culture meme that grew out of an influential idea first put forward by Leslie C. Aiello and Peter Wheeler in 1995. While “meat made us smart” is not, as you’ll see in a moment, actually what Aiello & Wheeler said, it is the message that carnist mainstream society took from the paper and ran with. It’s been the urban caveman’s naturalistic fallacy of choice ever since.
But as with many things in modern science, things look a lot different in the field today than they did 18 years ago. The idea that meat-eating was essential to the evolution of human intelligence isn’t holding up as well as your average broscientist thinks it is. What follows is a slightly edited re-post from my usual blog that explains all the details.