Many times speaking to people you will hear them say how it's their tradition to eat meat and dairy. Based upon their ethnic background or nationality they will attribute their dietary traditions from these facts. Actually, in most cultures a plant based diet is what has always been the traditional diet. Due to lack of resources some meats and dairy have been trickled in through the ages depending on the region however, what has always been the main diet is plant based culture.
Some may even argue that we evolved intellectually from consuming meat. However, as humans we are mammals like several other species some carnivorous and some omnivorous and these have remained the same for thousands of years and the consumption of meat has not evolved them forward to be any more sophisticated than humans who have not eaten or even needed to eat as much meat. Over 97% of human genes DNA is equivalent to great apes. The diet of great apes have remained herbivorous, frugivorous, and plant based like early humans and our earlier ancestors.
Early civilizations have always enjoyed a plant based diet with some meat and dairy incorporated depending on the region but it wasn't until the last 100 years in which human culture has becomed "addicted" to meat and dairy. With the increase in fast food restaurants and convenience foods in the last 70 years is how we have been brainwashed to believing this is normal food. The mis-education of needing protein from meat and dairy milk does a body good was reinforced to encourage these companies to stay in business.
No one can deny the destructive nature of the force that dominates our food system (i.e. industrial animal agriculture or factory farming). When you take into account the fact that factory farms raise 99.9 percent of chickens for meat, 97 percent of laying hens, 99 percent of turkeys, 95 percent of pigs, and 78 percent of cattle currently sold in the United States, it’s shocking how much time we waste debating each other, rather than trying to actually change the system.
Today, the amount of farm animals taking up land that are raised for food is equivalent to the entire continent of Africa or 3x the size of the Untied States.
This is not normal for human culture, this is not even close to what we ever needed historically.
Before people started farming, African hunter and gatherers ate mainly fruit (especially figs).They also harvested wild grain and nuts to eat. They got a lot of their fat from nuts and palm oil.
Around 6000 BC, as the climate changed and the Sahara Desert gradually took over the grasslands, so some began to farm some of their food.
By 4000 BC, Ethiopians and Eretrians had domesticated a grain called teff, and in Nubia people had domesticated millet. In North Africa and Egypt, people farmed millet too, but also, the wheat and barley, lentils, chickpeas that had already been domesticated in West Asia. So these people began to eat mainly pita bread and porridge and barley soups, like the people of West Asia. People in Egypt also made their barley into beer.
Sometime around 1500 BC, during the Egyptian New Kingdom, rich people stopped eating pork, which became taboo (forbidden) for them.
South of the Sahara Desert, in the Sudan, the weather also got drier, so people also needed to begin farming. But wheat and barley wouldn’t grow so close to the equator. So the people of West Africa gradually domesticated local grasses that were similar, especially milet. Millet is a lot like barley and could also be made into bread or mush (like a thick oatmeal).
In the rain forests south of the Sudan, you couldn’t grow any kind of grasses, because it was too wet and jungly. Here people began to farm root vegetables, especially yams. One kind of food cooked with yams was eto.
The foods people ate in Africa didn’t just stay the same. Instead, they changed slowly over time. Around 800 BC, with the arrival of Greek and Phoenician invaders, the people of North Africa began to plant olive orchards and produce olive oil, they southern weather wasn't suitable.
Then the process sped up a lot more. Around 800 AD, in the Middle Ages, African people began to eat a lot of new foods all at once. Indonesian settlers in Madagascar, and traders from India and Iran, brought many new kinds of Asian foods to Africa.
There were bananas, plaintains, coconuts, and sugar (from sugar-cane). African people also started to eat some new kinds of yams, and new kinds of rice. These foods came first to the east coast of Africa, but they quickly spread with Islam to North Africa and West Africa too.
Sometime before 1000 AD, soldiers in East Africa also began to eat coffee beans when they needed extra energy for fighting. Soon East African traders were selling coffee to Islamic Traders from Yemen. Around the same time, people in North Africa began to make their millet into couscous, which replaced millet porridge (puls) as the basic staple food of North Africa from the Atlantic to Tunis. The adoption of rice in East and West Africa may have influenced the switch, because couscous looks a lot like rice.By this time, most people in North Africa, West Africa, the Congo River basin, and East Africa were farmers.
Only in the most dry desert areas, or in the wettest, thickest part of the rain forest, were people still hunting and gathering most of their food.
Trans Atlantic Slave Trade
At the end of the 15th century, the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade began in which Spain and Portugal started bringing Africans as slaves to the Caribbean and South America. On the ships they were given just enough to survive the long voyage. Those who did not die prior to arriving were sent to work to death and usually given minimal food or water. Initially, many of the Africans died from lack of nutrients combined with an extreme amount of manual labor.
Several Africans refused to eat the food that the slave owners refused to and Europeans began bringing African food to the Caribbean such as okra, callaloo, ackee, mangos, etc. The African slaves began incorporating African style with the foods available to make things more edible. Souse was introduced by the Africans which is a liquid usually of fresh lime or lemon juice, vinegar, salt, parsley, minced hot peppers, and cucumbers to marinate the left over meat scraps. Barbecue and "Jerk" cooking styles were introduced by the Tainos as well as pepper pot stews.
Soul Food/Slave Food
About 150 years later, the English began bringing slaves to the colonies in North America. Soul Food is a term used for an ethnic cuisine, food traditionally prepared and eaten by African Americans of the Southern United States. Many of the various dishes and ingredients included in "soul food" are also regional meals and comprise a part of other Southern US cooking, as well. The style of cooking originated during American slavery. African slaves were given only the "leftover" and "undesirable" cuts of meat from their masters (while the white slave owners got the meatiest cuts of ham, roasts, etc.).
As generations went by, those raised into slavery adapted to the poor diet and as more generations passed and slavery expanded to North American colonies and slavery ended the diet was recognized as soul food. Deep frying food was the most popular custom to make food edible that has been adapted to several signature foods incorporated in what is known as soul food today and popular in unhealthy dieting across the Americas.
The Black Panther film gave us a great insight as to how culture would be regarding diet without colonization and slavery. The Jibari tribe was the biggest and strongest of Wakanda and the director made a point of making it clear they were also vegetarians. It shows how healthier Africans would be without dietary illnesses.
Taino (Caribbean Natives)
The Taino legacy is barbecue, an ancient tradition left to grace our cuisine today. The Taino diet relied heavily on vegetables, fruits, cassava, and beans. Large animals were absent from their diet but smaller animals such as earthworms, lizards, beetles, birds and other small mammals were caught as well as some fish. When Columbus arrived and was greeted by the Tainos he wrote in his log how they were well built and beautiful people. Their diets were a big reason for this as majority of the food was plant based.
Aztecs (Natives of Mexico)
The diet of the people of Tenochtitlan consisted mainly of beans and maize products, such as tortillas. They also ate tomatoes, squash, the high protein grain, "amaranth" and avocados. They did not eat much meat as many animals did live in the region, what they did eat were dogs, ducks, and turkeys but it was a minor contribution to the diet. They drank a beverage made from the maguey plant, which was also used to make clothes and rope. This beverage was sometimes fermented to create an alcoholic drink. The Aztecs also consumed insects and the algae Spirulina geitlerii, which they harvested from lakes. A chinampa is an artificial island that is used to grow crops. They are very fertile and, since they are on a lake or other water source, they do not need artificial irrigation. The city of Tenochtitlan was surrounded by chinampas.
Incas (Natives of Peru)
Above this region...the mountains rise rapidly...Despite the altitude this was the most prosperous part of the Inca empire...Even though this description of the Inca area is of the sketchiest it should be evident that there are enormous quantities of ecological niches available...It makes plausible the Peruvian claim that their inventory of domesticated plants is the world's largest... "Several species of Chenopodium were grown for their seeds in Peru and provided edible leaves for greens as well...[it] is an extremely-high-altitude semi domesticated plain in Peru, where it grows at an altitude of up to 3,600 meters in the Andes. More important is...quinoa, also a plant of high altitudes...Besides entering into gruels and soups and stews, quinoa seeds were also toasted and ground and make into various forms of bread or mixed with condiments, fat, and salt and the resulting balls steamed...Another high-altitude plant used for seeds and leaves was a lupine...tarwi or chocho...The potato...was domesticated in the highlands of Peru between 3700 and 3000B.C....We have archaeological evidence for the Inca resettling conquered tribes of their potato-growing heights into the maize-growing valleys...'It is difficult to list all the greens, because there are so many of them and they are so small. It is enough to say that the Indians eat all of the sweet and the bitter alike. Some of them are eaten raw...some of them cooked in soups and stews. They are the food of the common people who did not have an abundance of meat'...Seaweeds were harvested and eaten fresh on the coast or dried into sheets or blocks and traded into the highlands...Among the fruit trees which were used Peru was the pepper tree...This pungent-smelling tree produced the pink peppercorns...Passion fruit are another New World domesticate...The fruit which obtained the highest praise were the almonds of Chachapoyas..."