Sex, Time and Power – The Book That Made Me a Vegetarian

January 13th, 2011

This is the book that made me a vegetarian.

As you can see by the cover, it is all about meat.

Okay, okay.  It is not really about meat.  It is actually about female evolutionary biology.  And it reads like the craziest science fiction/fantasy realm/neolithic/ muse of the ancients/primitive odyssey/gothic horror/ fairy tale you ever heard.  It is as if the author wrote it from a trance while channeling Ayla from Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear.  I do not doubt for an instant that Leonard Shlain was an extraordinarily smart man because he was also a surgeon who was also a professor of surgeons, but boy could this man also string together a story regarding how early humans may have functioned.

In his book he’s got women trading sex for meat and having secret meetings to convince the men-folk to marry them, while the men are also having secret meetings to convince the women-folk to marry them, but at the same time they are also secretly planning to trade their women for other women from other tribes but not until they bleed and only if none of the men in the home tribe want the young women for themselves and then after long intense debate they finally agree to not sleep with their daughters.


Turns out that men used to be even more primitive than they are now!

But that is only because they weren’t as smart as women.

I knew it!


Cuz guess what!

Women understood time before men did! Because women have cycles!  And that cycle is controlled by the moon!  And the moon is controlled by… by…. well the book doesn’t explain the moon’s power.  But that’s okay – because Bill O’Reilly doesn’t get the whole moon thing either.  But the moon did give the power of time to women and once women figured out time, they started figuring out all sorts of things!  Like pregnancy and fatherhood and that if they traded sex for meat, they had a better chance of surviving.  Because meat equals iron.  And iron replaces lost blood!  And you can eat dirt to get iron, but meat is much tastier!

I know!

Totally insane!

I can’t even remember all the fascinating tidbits that I learned from this book.  But let me just see if I can list a few.

1.  Prepubescent boys don’t like meat.

2.  During adolescence, the meat switch suddenly flips on for boys and suddenly they crave bloody protein.

3.  Human females are the only creatures on earth that need help delivering their young.

4.  Why?

5.  Because huge headed infants, tiny holed moms.

6.  Women lose an absurd amount of blood over the course of their lives – no other animal even remotely compares.

7.  This blood must be replaced constantly and since there were no iron supplements in cave man times – meat was the easiest way to get it.

8.  Women came to rely heavily on men to supply her with the much needed meat because she usually had a baby or a toddler or was heavy with child and this made running after an animal with a spear very difficult.

According to this book…

9.  8% of men are lefthanded (world wide).

10. 8% of men are colorblind (worldwide)

11. 8% of men are bald in the prime of their life (world wide).

12.  8% of men are gay (world wide).

13.  Why 8%?

14.  Don’t know.  But probably evolution was helping our species to survive.

15.  How did the above factors help the human species to survive?

16.  Left handed men attack from a different direction making a band of hunters more effective.   Colorblind men can detect animals even if they are camouflaged.  Bald men do not alert animals to human presence as quickly because bald men don’t look human to animals.  Don’t believe me?  Hold up a photo of a bald man in front of your cat.  Is the cat frightened?  No?  See!  And finally  – a gay hunter will not have children/wife to distribute his portion of the hunt to, so his ‘meat’ goes further.

Other interesting things from this book…

Oh heck!  It’s all interesting.  It’s so interesting that at times felt like I was reading pure fiction and at other times I felt like I was reading pure horror and then I became a vegetarian.  This book made me a vegetarian because I don’t want to associate myself with those horrible primitive humans from which I came.  It also made me feel very poorly evolved.

Sex., Time and Power by Leonard Shlain is absolutely fascinating, extremely bizarre and so full of information about early humans that you will start wondering if those alien abductees aren’t also telling the truth.  I am going to read his other book, “The Goddess and the Alphabet” as soon as I recover from this one.


  • Kait:

    Mmmmm mmmmeat. Give me meeaat. Seriously that is what my canines are for. :)
    “Prepubescent boys don’t like meat.” What is that about? I have know plenty of boys and watched them grow from babies to adults and I have not know one that didn’t like meat. Even the ones being raised by vegetarians.

    • Rechelle:

      Yeah – I agree that seems a bit odd, but I have to admit that Jack won’t eat meat (especially red meat) unless I insist, and just a few days ago my twelve year old started exclaiming on the virtues on a fast food hamburger in a way that was almost caveman like. Of course I am operating under the influence of this book right now, but it was kind of startling.

      • Kait:

        I know I make it sound like I eat meat every day but I don’t. I often go weeks without. I love my veggies and eat loads of them. But you threaten to take away my meat and I will chew your arm off. :)

  • Meat! Bacon! Prime rib! McRib! Fish! Chicken! Pork chops! I’ve noticed that when it’s time for ‘the monthly visit’, my craving for meat increases. A lot. As a family, we are trying to eat healthier and incorporating more veggies in to our routine, and will be trying ‘meatless Monday’ soon. I don’t know if I could ever go entirely meatless, but a day or two every week should be managable. I hope!

  • I really got to read this book! For myself and my daughter.

    But I’m not going to give up meat or leave my primitive side behind (have you seen The Walking Dead or Book of Eli? scarey )

    • Rechelle:

      I have seen the Book of Eli, but not the Walking Dead. Book of Eli was certainly frightening – especially when one considers that all that effort was expended to preserve the Bible. I think if he had saved Pride and Prejudice it would have been more worth his trouble.

  • RokiB:

    How much of this book is evidence based, and how much is conjecture?

    • Rechelle:

      Well… since none of these early humans had video cameras, I would have to go with almost 100% conjecture, though probably some of that conjecture is based on evidence. It’s not nonsensical conjecture. Lots of it makes sense, it’s just so much conjecture that after a while it gets a bit ‘out there’.

      • RokiB:

        Thats pretty cool stuff, I love imagination and creative conjecture as long as its tempered with “This could be totally fucking wrong” type disclaimers, etc.

        • Rechelle:

          It wasn’t very well tempered. It was sort of presented as fact which is why after a while, the whole thing starts to feel unbelievable.

          • DirtyKSmama - Nikki:

            Just like The Bible!

      • jalf:

        Some of it is just wrong though, like this:

        “Because women have cycles! And that cycle is controlled by the moon!”
        That timing there is almost certainly coincidence (and I’d have thought any woman would realize that), because those cycles aren’t actually synchronized with the moon (it doesn’t follow a specific phase of the moon, a full cycle just takes roughly a month). Also, closely related species have cycles of 3 or 5′ish weeks, so there seems to be no special connection to the moon. And thirdly, because the whole period thing wasn’t really an issue historically. Throughout most of our evolution, women were either pregnant or lactating throughout nearly all of their lives, so there wasn’t really a regular period to speculate about in the first place.

        And of course, there are plenty of factors that could clue males as well as females in to the concept of time. The moon is pretty obvious in the sky whether or not you’re bleeding: the sun goes up and down at pretty regular intervals, seasons change and so on. Animals come and go with the seasons too, so “time” isn’t just about knowing when you’re going to get your period, but also about when you’re going to be able to hunt something to eat.

        The one about prepubescent boys not liking meat just sounds plain absurd. I don’t think I’ve ever met a boy for whom that was the case.

        I’m sorry, but the book sets off a few “skeptic” alarm bells in my head.

        Without having read the book, the pitch presented on its website sounds awfully simplistic. It’s absurd to pretend that changes such as our larger heads happened *before* we were adapted to deal with it. It’s like imagining that the first fish to leave the ocean was unable to breathe or move around on land: if that’d been the case, it’d have died. When it left the ocean, it was *already* adapted sufficiently well for survival on land. And likewise, when our heads got so big it started causing trouble for childbirth, we must have been able to deal with it without having to wait a few hundred thousand years for evolution to “catch up” and allow us to adapt. Otherwise we wouldn’t have survived. (or more likely, we’d just have evolved in a different direction, and our heads just wouldn’t have grown as much)
        This just makes it sound like he needs to read up on his evolution theory. Badly.

        Sounds like an interesting premise for the book, but from what I’ve seen so far, sadly it sounds more like idle speculation than anything remotely plausible or scientifically solid. I’m hardly an expert on the subject, and when even I can poke holes in some of his arguments, I start to wonder how much *else* in the book is wrong.

        About the 8% statistics, Wikipedia (which of course isn’t an authoritative source) says left-handedness has been reported as 8-15%, which makes it seem like the author cherry-picked the 8% number to fit with the other 8%’s. Color blindness is 8% of caucasian males, sure, but only around 4% among Africans. What does that mean?

        • Rechelle:

          I think he strings together some good ideas in his book – some real possibilities, but it is all inherently highly theoretical. As to the percentages on color blindedness etc., he mentions the same disparities and comes up with 8% as an average. He then takes his equation further by saying that in a band of 150 humans (what he considers the typical number for early humans living together) there would have been 10-12 men who would have been in the prime of their lives and probably the best hunters creating a sort of ‘elder type’ hunter group. Of these 12 men, one may have been left handed, one color blind, one bald and one gay. The combination of the various traits would have created an optimal hunting machine. So yes… quite a bit of conjecture, yet still fascinating reading. Someone should use it a s the basis for what could be a very good bit of caveman fiction.

          • jalf:

            Yeah, I think the rough proportions make sense. I wanted to mention that, but my last post was already more than long enough. ;)

            The exact 8% numbers are probably wrong, and in particular, how is the global average of color-blindness useful? Ancient hunting groups went out hunting with *their own* people, they didn’t get a nice mix of caucasian, asian and african men together to hunt the zebra ;)

            But the conclusion might still be valid. Some level of variety is a good thing, and 5-15% seems like a good number for a mild handicap that may also carry side benefits. Big enough to help the group, while small enough to not be a real drawback.

            But yeah, it sounds like there are some interesting ideas in the book, but I’d be careful about taking them as more than speculation. Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s entertaining and fascinating to think about, and most science tends to start as simple thought experiments. It just means we should be careful about assuming that his reasoning is “correct”, or that he necessarily knows what he’s talking about (evolution in particular is a minefield. Plenty of well-meaning writers have gotten it wrong because their expertise lies in a different field.)

          • jalf:

            Oh, and the connection between “women lose a lot of blood”, and “meat is good when you need to replace a lot of blood” is interesting. I’d never really thought of that before.

            I’m still skeptical about the book’s simplistic chain of causality about how it all fits together, and “why” we do X, but it’s a good observation, and it seems likely that there is a connection, even if it’s a lot more subtle and complex than the book seems to imply.

            If we’d been herbivores, that part of our physiology would probably have evolved very differently.

        • CD:

          Wait a second, Jalf, so you’re saying menstrual cycles AREN’T controlled by the moon? I’m going to have to go back and do some checking on that; I think you might be trying to fool me with your fancy scientific jargon. I’m with you, though, on the whole “periods didn’t exist in pre-historic times” thing. I always suspected they were a modern invention.

          • jalf:

            Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. If they were, then they’d *always* follow a specific phase of the moon. What happens is that it drifts a bit over time. A woman’s period *this month* very likely occurs at very nearly the same phase of the moon as it did last month, and the month before, because they *accidentally* both have cycles that last nearly the same amount of time. But if you compare it to the same woman’s period 5 years ago, that will likely have occurred at a completely different phase of the moon. So it’s not really the moon that matters. The moon is just a decent approximation, so if you don’t have a calendar, you can get reasonably close by watching the moon. (which also means that the book *might* still have a point. Even if the cycle isn’t controlled by the moon, watching the moon can still give some useful insights)

            The menstrual cycle is, however, affected by a lot of other things we don’t really understand. There have been some studies showing that groups of women tend to synchronize around the “alpha female”‘s cycle. Why? How? I haven’t the faintest clue.

  • klcrab:

    Interesting theories, I can buy into many of them, they make sense to me. The 8% concept is fascinating. Our son went thru a no meat phase in middle school. I tried to support him by providing alternative proteins. The phase passed and he will eat meat again most of the time now when offered.

  • WVKay:

    I’ve noticed since menopause, I’m really not into meat. 8% of the time I want some meat. The other 92% of the time, I crave vegetables, chocolate and bread.

  • Jae:

    Keep in mind that without the large amount of protein from meat, either hunted or from scavenging, modern humans would not have the large brain that allows us to think about things like vegetarianism, history or evolution. The jump from earlier proto-humans to homo sapiens (literally the “thinking man”) is directly related to consuming more protein.

  • Christine from Canada:

    Yeah. I’m a skeptic on this one, Rechelle. You’re scaring me just a teensy weensy bit, in an evangelical sorta way, you know? Like this might be your replacement for religion now — your new cause.

    Am I the only reader who thinks this?

    • jalf:

      I think that might be an exaggeration, but to a certain extent, you might be right. The thought crossed my mind. :)

      Still, it’s a pretty harmless “cause”, and there’s a lot to be said for vegetarianism.

      I just feel that this particular book should be read with the same skepticism that you apply to the Bible.

      Besides, I think it’s natural that when you encounter/embrace a new idea, you tend to obsess about it for a while. There’s nothing evangelical about it it, I think.

      It’s similar to the burst of posts about evolution when Rechelle first gave up on religion. When you make a chance in your life, that’s going to be on your mind a lot, and when you have a blog, then obviously that change is going to be featured on the blog. :)

  • Lori:

    Yer breakin’ my heart here, Rechelle….

    You do know, don’t you, we make our living raising and selling beef?
    I could not read your post, mostly because I had tears in my eyes; tears of worry, for you. If you don’t eat beef where you gonna get your protein? SOY? (Where is that little puking emoticon when you need him?) And shoes. You gonna wear PLASTIC shoes? Those things make your feet sweat and stink soooooo bad. And a plastic purse falls apart in two weeks….

    I know….buy a beef from ME!
    I will PERSONALLY guarantee it’s origin and that he/she/it has never received antibiotics but only the necessary innoculations cattle, like children, need to be healthy. I’ll throw in the hide.

    I’m off to wrap the wild BLM horses to mail to you tomorrow and no I don’t mind. I got them on Christmas Clearance; originally $9.99 at 80 percent off. Shipping will be cheapest. I even branded them for you…….

    • Rechelle:

      It’s just a year Lori. Just a year… and the funny thing is that the CD’s nurse is married to a cattle rancher from whom we purchase a steady supply of grass finished beef raised by a man who cares deeply about the environment. But my little ‘fast’ from meat keeps all the problems with American agriculture in the front of my mind. It helps me to think about food and to make better decisions as a consumer and as a cook for my kids. I will not be wearing plastic shoes. :)

  • Lori:

    I will not be wearing plastic shoes. :)

    Oh good.
    There are so many things wrong with plastic apparel.

    I cannot imagine living without meat (beef, pork or fish) for any length of time. Neither can my husband. If I did go vegetarian I would have to fix two meals at a time; one for me and one for me. Meals without meat, in his eyes, are grounds for divorce. What’s worse there’s not a judge in two counties or a jury of his or my peers who would not understand meatless and I would lose my half of our assets.


  • Pamela Pletz:

    “The Goddess and the Alphabet” is fantastic, enjoy….!

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