There is some debate about herbivores. Are vegans herbivores? Certainly, some vegans willingly identify as one, but is that correct or just a misunderstanding on their part? Let’s explore.
What Is A Herbivore?
Herbivores are animals that only eat plants for sustenance. That is to say, and this part is critical, they are only able to eat plant life.
Biologically speaking, their internal stomach(s), digestive tract, and other physical makeup are designed only for plants.
As such, they cannot consume animal meat because it cannot be broken down to access its nutritional value.
Herbivores don’t have a choice whether to consume plants to survive or not. It’s not an ethical decision relating to animal cruelty or even one relating to animals being inaccessible near their natural habitat.
For them, animals are not prey. Therefore, other than their physical size, they’re not a threat to them.
What Do Herbivores Eat?
Not all herbivores feed on the same edibles.
If you’ve been to a safari, or a large wildlife sanctuary or zoo, you may have seen giraffes wandering around.
These majestic giants with their tall legs and long neck are perfectly designed to reach the trees to pull off the leaves from them. Twigs from plants with a woody aspect to them and even flowers are part of their diet.
On the other hand, cows mostly eat only grass. Buffalo too. Call them fussy!
Some herbivores have a varied plant-based diet depending on what’s growing nearby.
However, the key fact here is that they never consume animal meat (or other parts of them either). It’s essentially inedible to them, so they look right past them to some tasty plant life that suits them better.
Physical Traits of Herbivores
Herbivores often have either several stomachs or a single one with different areas to it. The idea here is that they can consume food, store it in one stomach, and then move some food to the second stomach as they get hungry.
Because of this, many herbivores are opportunistic eaters, picking around or grazing to restock food supplies.
Many animals that are herbivores have large, blunt teeth rather than sharp teeth.
Squirrels are a little different because their front teeth need to chop through nuts to consume them.
However, sheep and cows have teeth designed to grip and pull at plants to tear them away, rather than cut through them.
If you compare this to carnivores who solely consume animal flesh, they typically have sharp front teeth, scary back teeth, and larger single stomachs to better consume a substantial kill.
The saliva of herbivores is usually highly acidic too.
Some of them digest food from the second it’s reached their mouths and before they’ve swallowed it. Others like camels can regurgitate food to chew it more to better access all the nutrients. Then re-swallow it.
As you can tell, we humans cannot do many of the things outlined above. Nor do we have multiple stomachs or different compartments.
Examples Of Herbivores
Many of the animals that humans eat as part of their diet are herbivores. So, cows, goats, and sheep fall under this category. They wouldn’t eat us, but many humans eat them.
Some herbivores with multiple stomachs browse around for food, rather than hunting down prey and consuming it in a single large meal.
They’re in no rush.
The plants will probably still be there tomorrow. Elephants are like this. Rhinos are too.
Elk is different. They will consume plant-based food that’s seasonally available. Sheep also can behave this way. Both will consume more regularly too.
Fruit bats are like a subset of herbivores. They’re called frugivores. They eat only raw fruit. The orangutan is also this way too.
So, Are Vegans Herbivores? The Philosophical Debate
While vegans may like to announce that they’re herbivores, they’re mistaken. For some, it has risen to the level of a philosophical debate with vegans coming down on either side.
However, there’s only one correct answer.
Herbivores physically have completely different aspects from human beings.
They’re designed in nature and through evolution to support the eating of plant life, right down to the formation (and sharpness) of their teeth. Humans aren’t this way.
An animal that is an herbivore has no choice whether to eat meat as a protein source or stick to plants instead. They can only extract the necessary nutrients from plant life.
Consuming an animal is only going to give them an upset stomach and won’t provide energy. It’s similar to a form of food poisoning to them.
Humans CAN Eat Meat
As humans, we need protein in our diets. It helps to build and strengthen muscles and gives us fuel. While it’s not a primary source of energy, it’s very necessary.
With limited amounts of protein or of a lower quality, our early development and long-term health both suffer.
We can choose where we get our protein from.
Human beings have evolved to the point of being less hunter-gatherer, and now we have a multitude of protein sources including ones only from plants.
Go back a century or more, this wasn’t always the case.
Humans are omnivores.
Vegans are omnivores. No amount of wishful thinking or reframing one’s identity changes that. Some animals are carnivores where they only consume meat and are hunters in the animal kingdom.
Then other animals only consume plant life, the herbivores, because they have no other choice.
Herbivore As A Dietary Choice
Vegans make a conscious choice to not be the predator of animal life. Instead, they choose to eat plant-based protein sources (tofu, seitan, soy, etc.) and additional plants and vegetables to meet their dietary requirements.
Because humans are all omnivores, we usually consume meat, fish, dairy, and plants too.
Some of us are vegan and stick to plants alone. And that’s perfectly fine. But it doesn’t suddenly make us herbivores any more than we have multiple stomachs or highly acidic saliva!
It’s not about right and wrong.
Being vegan is a personal choice. We may tie it to animal rights and other ethical stances to back it up. In so doing, it may no longer feel like a choice of whether to consume meat or not.
Nevertheless, it is a personal preference. Because humans are all omnivores to our core.
What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.