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Sustaining a Carnivorous Civilization

Discussion in 'World Building' started by D. Gray Warrior, Dec 26, 2018.

  1. D. Gray Warrior

    D. Gray Warrior Troubadour

    In this conworld, there is a race that relies solely on eating meat to survive. Could they realistically sustain a civilization? I have been told they could rely on fishing and some cultures supposedly did relied mostly on meat such as the Inuits and the Maasai warriors. If they rely primarily on fish, I could see this race being a seafaring culture.

    This race would likely have to practice farming anyway so the animals that they herd can have a constant and steady supply of food, or else they would be forced into a nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle.

    Some of them do live in large cities, but these cities were founded by other races, and this race simply just moved in and work in exchange for meat to eat.

    Is any of this plausible?
  2. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    Likely, each family would raise some of their own food. Rabbits for example breed exceptionally fast, so having a few around the house would guarantee that they have a handy supply.

    Agriculture would probably be limited to food crops for their livestock and herbs.

    Another thing to consider is that they might be carnivores, but they would still consume small amounts of vegetables or greens, they would have to to provide them the vitamins they need.
    Night Gardener likes this.
  3. ScaryMJDiamcreep

    ScaryMJDiamcreep Troubadour

    While humans can't survive indefinitely on a purely carnivorous diet, there's many other species that you could think of for this civilization to have evolved from which only eat meat.

    I feel like the average intelligence of this civilization would probably be lower than that of omnivorous civilizations, due to the fact that more energy from food would go towards producing chemicals needed for the body to function, but I could be wrong.
  4. Vaporo

    Vaporo Inkling

    No, I don't think so. Brains don't use that much energy, and I believe that the additional energy cost for producing extra chemicals could be easily mitigated by a smaller body size, greater efficiency in certain organs, or by simply eating more food. As was pointed out, some human civilizations such as the Inuits have come pretty close to relying entirely on meat, and they were certainly not stupid. In fact, I'd even argue that a purely carnivorous species may be a bit smarter than an omnivorous one, since they rely entirely on that extra intelligence to catch their prey and survive.

    I don't see why this civilization's farming techniques need to be too drastically different from our own. They would farm hay, corn, etc. to feed to their livestock and then feed the livestock to their people. The energy losses in feeding to your livestock make it less efficient than feeding to your people, but look how efficient humans have become at farming. I believe that less than 3%(?) of Americans are directly engaged in the production of food, so it's far from unbelievable that such a civilization could figure out a way to exist.
  5. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

    Yes, only because a "very carnivorous" humanoid is still likely capable of digesting occassional vegetation, which gives enough flexibility to sustain a population over time. "Obligate carnivores" might be slightly trickier to sustain across a huge population.

    It would also depend on what the 'base' of their food pyramid looks like, and the efforts and resources they're willing to commit to sustaining that food system.

    Someone already mentioned rabbits as a plentiful source of protein. And smaller fish, aquaculture, should be on the list. Birds and reptiles. And, if you want to get technical, insects. You want creatures that mature quickly to reproduce quickly to produce abundantly. So, smaller prey animals fit this description of go-to animal husbandry candidates.
    I do not see anything but industrialized farming practices, regardless of time setting in your WIP, being able to sustain a huge population. Game animals (not including herding animals like deer, bison, elk, etc. that can be reasonably domesticated) would likely be just as 'boutique' as they are now.

    It also will crucially depend on efficient feed to weight ratio, or conversion. American farmed catfish and trout for instance have a very respectable +-1.1 to 1, last time I read up on it. This means that for every 1.1 pound of feed you give the fishstock, it puts on 1 lbs of weight. Some livestocks, when factoring in watering and forage/feed, have abyssmal feed to weight ratios, which is why consumers pay an exorbitant premium price per pound. An entire civilization would not make up the costs of feed/resources to make it any more affordable (sell slightly cheaper per pound, and make up for losses by sheer volume of sales). In fact, even with everyone eating or wanting to eat your product, doesn't mean you can produce the product affordably or consistently to keep up with demands. Agriculture/livestock doesn't follow 'standard economic models' for supply and demand, which is why modern governments typically regulate production and prices (subsidize) to avoid economic catastrophe or extreme fluctuations in prices to citizens and stock markets.

    Also, factor in the space required to raise animals to slaughter weight. 5 tons of fish in a small lake is a better use of space than 5 tons of cattle on a range or factory farm. And for all the feed and space, there WILL be waste. What does your civilization do with all the animal droppings? They aren't composting it to grow crops for themselves to eat directly, so better find a smart way to utilize it.

    For a culture not interested in growing vegetative or agrimonious crops to feed their livestock AND themselves, I don't see high feed to weight conversion stocks as an economically viable model for success across an entire civilization of meats-only eaters.

    Also, it would be SUPER SMART if their preffered livestocks were omnivores, or vegetarians. They could eat occassional meat scraps and forage/feed. Raising obligate carnivores to feed other obligate carnivores would be tedious. Not unlike when I was putting a big shrimp on a hook, going to cast my line and thought.... Why in the hell am I fishing, when this "bait" looks like I should be grilling it?

    The same 'why am I doing this?' thought process goes for growing crops to feed livestock, but not eating some of it for my own dietary or caloric needs. So, they'd probably grow crops to feed animals that would also be their herbs or medicines. Multi-task their crops a bit.

    Also... meats are highly perishable. So, depending on their tech level, a lot of pickling, brining, salting and smoking to keep their all-meats diets from poisoning them with pathogens and spoilage. Fresh meats might be highly coveted, even in a meat prevalent culture. If you have ice houses, then it still makes getting meat a near-daily task for most people.

    Also, dietary diseases and how your people have been effected by, or how they've adapted to, an exclusionary carnivorous diet by preference or design without dire health consequences.

    And, water. The more animal proteins you eat, the more hydration is necessary to properly digest it all (in humans, anyway.)

    So, you'll have some fun logistics to work out and scale up, but not totally undoable either. Not sure if an entire planet could sustain such a food system based on current RL practices, but in fiction you're not inheriting decades of poor practices and declining resources.
  6. LordWarGod

    LordWarGod Dreamer

    If it's a technologically advanced society then perhaps it could sustain it's carnivorous diet by cloning animals without driving species to extinction which would effectively cause collapses in the food chain and eventually, the ecosystem.
  7. EMoon

    EMoon Dreamer

    Obligate carnivores can survive without vegetable food, and some obligate carnivores on our world are social and intelligent (differently than humans are, but still.) Think dolphins and the more social whales, wolves, and lions. Social structure is necessary for civilization; a particular diet is not. So...what kind of social structure might an obligate carnivore have? Tribal is easy--hunting partners, defense of young, competition with conspecifics and possibly other species. Give them the ability to make and use tools AND social organization at the tribal level AND some form of art (music, visual art possibly expressed in weaving, leatherwork, etc.) They would not be that different from some in our history. Carnivory + domestication of animals (rather than just hunting) makes carnivory easier if they have big ranges to graze their stock on. And so, nomadic, as mentioned. But if someone else is building static cultures, those will collide at some point. They won't develop serious agriculture early--they don't need it and the steppes/prairies, etc. are wide. Their livestock will eat whatever's growing. But if their livestock eat a static culture's crops...there's a conflict.

    At any rate, if you understand the different physiology of obligate carnivores it'll make your carnivorous characters more believable...but yes, certainly, it's quite possible for them to exist over long periods, and if they have other abilities associated with early civilizations (ability to communicate complex ideas, generational transmission of accumulated knowledge, tool-using, tool-making, ability to think up new things, ability to cooperate in large groups and settle differences without killing everyone on the other side...) they can move into a city someone else built and gradually function as a civilization, living a more settled life. You might take a look at the Taibeni in C.J. Cherryh's FOREIGNER series. They're not shown as obligate carnivores, but as a partly nomadic and hunting culture among neighbors who aren't.

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