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August 10, 2022

Would Charles Darwin be Vegan Had He Lived Today?


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  • A reflection on the imaginary dietary choices of Charles R. Darwin had he lived in current times brought to life in collaboration with Darwin’s great great grandson Chris Darwin.

We live many species together on the same planet. And it seems inevitable that someone has to die every now and then for others to live because we are intertwined by food chains that make it natural for us to feast upon one another. In everyday language, and with reference to the work of Charles R. Darwin, this process is many times referred to as “survival of the fittest”.

Darwin wrote: “All species of an organism arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce.” (*1) Our ability to hold power over other species indicates that the human animal excels at competing and surviving.

But – just because some animals kill and eat other animals, does that mean that it is natural for the human animal to do the same? Are we part of a food chain that would justify this behavior?

An argument stubbornly floats around pro humans eating meat from other species:

Natural selection has sided with the human race. Making other species our property and including them in our diets is a predictable and acceptable consequence of this – and our right.

The idea that human rights go above and beyond the rights of other animals inhabiting Earth is intertwined with our knowledge of Charles Darwin and Darwin’s apparent interpretation of natural selection. And implied in this idea is that the human animal is the fittest species for survival on Earth.

When taking a proper look around, however, and finding that:

  • Our CO2-, methane, and other toxic gas emissions weaken the ozone layers that are protecting all life on Earth (and we know it!)
  • Forests and entire cities are on fire (because of our actions!)
  • We produce more plastic yearly than we are able to handle, resulting in the total mass of plastic on Earth right now surpassing the total mass of mammals (and we keep on going!)

… what we see does not necessarily support the idea that humans are the fittest species for our blue planet.

Contrarily, we seem more unfit than anyone else here.

If we are ‘the fittest’ we should naturally eat others as inscribed in the prophecy of ‘survival of the fittest’, right?

By referring to Darwin’s theory as justification for eating meat, I believe we are dishonoring him massively. My hypothesis, in essence, is that Darwin, had he lived today, would not be so keen on eating meat himself. And further, that he would in the best case feel unintentionally misunderstood and in the worst case deliberately exploited by many current interpretations of his life’s work.

I’ve elaborated on this in my semi-fictional piece of writing from two years ago: “The Echo from Darwin’s Grave: An unsentimentalised piece of vegan propaganda“.

Once and for all, let’s take a proper look into the imaginary dietary choices of Charles Darwin had he lived in current times – and let’s look into whether or not his work gives us our forever Green Card to the land of animal eating.

Enter: Chris Darwin, great great grandson of Charles Darwin

Who better to reflect together with on the topic at hand than a currently-living descendant of Charles Darwin himself, namely his great great grandson Chris Darwin who knows Charles Darwin’s writings in more depth than most other now-living beings? Chris Darwin, who happens to work with nature preservation and who is vegan himself (like I am too) and who has reflected on similar questions as mine for long?

I greatly appreciate Chris taking his time to do this! Thank you.


What diet do you think Charles would personally adhere to (and why) had he lived in the 21st century?


At first glance it seems to be an impossible challenge to predict what a person who lived 200 years ago would eat today.

However, we are fortunate that Charles Darwin was a prolific writer, a consistent thinker and he outlined his thinking system in his autobiography. His system was to let the evidence lead the way. (*2) Secondly, he was careful of internal biases, something that I need to heed for this article, since I am a vegan. (*3)

And the final thing Charles did before starting to think about a new topic was to decide on which thinking system to use. His favourite system was inductive thinking. Inductive thinking is when you collect data first and then develop a theory. The scientific system is deductive, develop a theory and then see if the evidence supports it. (*4)

He used inductive thinking widely, he even used it to help him decide if he should marry. It does not sound very romantic but he had a wonderful relationship with his wife and children, so maybe Charles’ thinking system could help us all.

What data would Charles seek to determine his diet? I think he would first have to conclude on the purpose of a diet. This would be particularly important to him because he was a sickly man with an ailment that was undiagnosed in his life but may have been the digestive disease, Crohn’s Disease.

I am confident that he would decide that health is the primary function of his diet. This is significant because in the Western World for many people sensory pleasures are a stronger driver of their diet.

Charles also loved the natural world. He did not like it, he loved it.

150 years ago, the world’s rainforests, woodlands and oceans seemed almost infinite and impregnable. His son, Francis, wrote that Charles’ only known regret was: ‘I feel no remorse for having committed any great sin but I have often and often regretted that I have not done more direct good for my fellow creatures.’ (*5)

If we fast forwarded Charles to the modern day, he would survey the damage humanity has done to Mother Nature with a combination of surprise and sadness. Taking this into consideration, I think a secondary purpose of his diet would be to tread lightly on the planet.

So with health and a small footprint as our guide, where does that take us?

There have been some impressive global studies to find out which diets create the healthiest people. If Charles were to follow those, he would quickly cut out dairy. Not only is it clearly unnatural, adults are not designed to eat baby food, especially other species’ baby food. Most of the healthier societies eat little or no dairy.

I think that modern evidence would also strike out sugar and alcohol. Again the modern data is overwhelming that they are bad for health.

I think he would see that vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans and many nuts are both good for you and pleasurable, while saturated fats are pleasurable, but they are not good for you.

Charles’ diet is starting to take shape. Lots of veggies and fruit, no sugar, dairy or alcohol and low in saturated fats.

What would he do about meat? At Cambridge he was in an eccentric eating club that ate bizarre animals. On one occasion they dined on owl. Charles was not averse to killing animals, indeed shooting animals was both his past time and a normal procedure for naturalists. On one occasion a companion shot a platypus so Charles could examine it. (*6)

On one side, he would conclude that the human digestive tract is an omnivore’s system, so meat is designed to be part of our diet. On the other hand, he would quickly discover that processed red meats (sausages, bacon, burgers, etc) cause cancer and the oceans’ top predators (tuna & shark) contain high levels of poisonous mercury, so they would both be out.

Once Charles had been introduced to YouTube and the film Earthlings, I think the products of factory farming would not appeal to him, but what about organic free-range animals? This is where Charles might depart from his great great grandson’s opinions. While he would recognise that three quarters of the world’s habitat destruction is caused by the meat industry, I think human biology would win him over. He was a biologist after all. I suspect that he would have one or two meat meals per week. They would be free range and organic or some fish from low down on the food chain.

What about eggs? Assuming that the modern Charles had chickens, I suggest he would see no harm in his boiled egg.

I am sure of all this? No.

In any new venture Charles started a fresh notebook to track his thoughts. I would love to read the one about his thoughts on the best diet for him and the 21st Century.

So, we have high veggies, beans, grain, nuts, fruit and eggs, low fats and very low meat levels and only free range and organic. We have no sugar, alcohol, factory farmed meat, tuna or shark.


Thank you for these very detailed descriptions. It is fascinating to meet your great great grandfather through your eyes.

Let’s talk about my hypothesis that Charles would have felt misunderstood, did he know how many people refer to his works and theories in current times. (My starting point for writing “The Echo from Darwin’s Grave: An unsentimentalised piece of vegan propaganda“ two years ago.)

In essence: So many times that I can no longer keep track, I have heard the argument that Darwin has taught us that *‘survival of the fittest’ (*7) is the natural process through which some animals end on top of an inter-relational hierarchy whereas others end at the bottom, and that it is only natural that humans exploit non-human animals because we have a competitive edge in terms of having the knowledge and technology to do so. How do you think Charles would feel about this interpretation of his writings?


You are on the right track. Charles had a concept of animals adapting to their environments. He did not have the concept of carnivores being superior to herbivores. I do not think that he would believe a tiger eating other animals is right or wrong, it just is. I think he would have a concept of what is the best diet for the 21st Century. I believe it is the vegan one, but I doubt Charles would agree. He was a biologist and biology indicates that we have a digestive system of an omnivore. But he was also a gentle person and would hate to see suffering if it could be avoided, so most factory farming practices would be unacceptable.

Charles was a prolific writer of books. Depending how you count them he wrote 17. (*8) It was his system of communication and gave him a structure for his studies so I think he would have written a book on his thinking about his diet.


I get it. I don’t personally read Charles’ writings as if he thinks of carnivores as superior to herbivores. The reason why it has been on my mind for a while is that numerous people bring up Charles and his theories as a seeming justification for eating meat – that this is the natural thing for us to do as defined by theories of natural selection. It is something that is actually talked about in many places – see for example this online discussion.

I personally see references to Charles’ writings as a justification for eating meat as a (maybe even deliberate) mis-reading of Charles’ words.

He has played such a big role in natural science, and I assume that people use his name in an attempt to build authority behind their words and actions. For most people, “I consume meat, eggs and dairy, because lobbyism from the meat, egg and dairy industry has convinced me to do so” would probably be more correct – but less catchy.

Well, before we end our chat, Chris, could you tell us a bit about how/if the thoughts and writings of your great great grandfather have shaped you and your interest in nature preservation and your work with The Darwin Challenge?


Charles has had a profound impact on my thinking. He has provided me a structure to understand the world around me. No doubt my interest in nature conservation has been influenced by Charles’ passion for it. The Darwin Challenge is an organisation that is encouraging a ‘little evolution for the benefit of all’. We are determined to help humanity evolve to the realities of the 21st Century. That way, we, and all life on our small lump of rock, can thrive as we spin through the quiet desert of space.

Related article: The Human Diet: Does Evolution Tell Us What To Eat?

Love to all,

Chris Darwin (G.G. Grandson of Charles Darwin)

And thank you so much for tuning in,

Mynte Bahora

  1. Darwin, Charles (1859), On the origin of species.
  2. Darwin, C (2010), The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, Edited by Charles’ son Francis Darwin, Pacific Publishing Studio. His passion for observation and data: p29, p31
  3. Darwin, C (2010), The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, Edited by Charles’ son Francis Darwin, Pacific Publishing Studio. Charles’ golden rule: 67
  4. Darwin, C (2010), The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, Edited by Charles’ son Francis Darwin, Pacific Publishing Studio. Deductive thinking: 49
  5. LibQuotes,
  6. Nicholas, FW & JM (1989), Charles Darwin in Australia, Cambridge University Press. 2008 Edition: P72-74
  7. I’m aware that “survival of the fittest” are Herbert Spencer’s summarizing words for Charles’ theory. I choose to summarize it in this same way.
  8. Berra, T.M (2009), Charles Darwin, The Concise Story of an Extraordinary Man, John Hopkins University Press. List of book: p87-92
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