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Friday, November 7, 2014

Misconceptions about Food and Eating

I saw a stunning picture  yesterday on Frans de Waal's public Facebook page. ( As it is not my photo, I will not show it here, but you have only to follow the link.) It was a golden eagle in mid-flight, with a knife in its left claw. A photographer had been cutting up meat to lure the eagle, but the eagle ignored the meat and took the knife instead. Smart eagle!

You can download the entire article here: On the Origins of Language: Humans, Non-humans and the Transmission of Information
This reminded me of a review article I wrote once about a book on the evolution of language out of pre-language. One of the articles in that book had made the claim that as soon as food was placed before an animal, the animal could not help eating it. It was supposed to some kind of unthinking reflex!

Tell that to a squirrel!


That is demonstrably not true. I gave a long list of counterexamples in my article, from many different families in the animal world.


And now we have the additional example of the golden eagle who preferred a knife over meat. And no, I don't think that particular eagle was a vegetarian! He just preferred the tool to the product of its use.

Bow enjoys the finer things in life on Thanksgiving
Why are there so many bizarre claims about food and eating when it comes to attempts to delimit humans from other animals as some kind of special case? And why are there so many other misconceptions about food? I can't tell you, for instance, how many animal rights advocates try to convert people to vegetarianism. "You like chimpanzees," they will say, "so you should become a vegetarian." Why? Chimpanzees are not vegetarian. Why should I be? What is wrong with these people and their reasoning faculty?

Humans are no better than other animals in our need for food, our willingness to kill to get it, or our preying on others. But are we also no worse. We are, after all, just another species. We all like to eat. It is a universal that we share. But we won't eat just anything. We are choosy, unless our choices are severely curtailed. We like fine foods and presentations matters.  And when we get a chance to use utensils manufactured by others, we often do.

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