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What is an Omnivore?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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An omnivore is a creature (including many humans) that consumes a varied diet of plant matter and meat, which may include flesh of other animals, fish, and insects, or the consumption of animal byproducts. Omni is from the Latin and translates as “all” or “everything” and the root word vore is related to the Latin term vorare, which means to consume or devour. It’s not far off to say that this is a create that eats everything, though plenty of omnivores are fairly picky about their diets.

The word is often contrasted with carnivore and herbivore. Carnivores typically have a diet of meat only, and herbivores tend to eat only plant matter. There can be a few variations.

For instance, a carnivore might eat grass or plants on rare occasions if it has an upset stomach or wants to induce vomiting. The terms tend to mean that these animals have meat or plant matter as their main diet the majority of the time. Following this logic, omnivores have a diet that is mainly composed of meat and plant matter, though a single meal could be exclusively meat or plant.

Humans are good examples of omnivore species, though the degree to which they eat more or less meats and plants may vary by finances, food availability, and location. Interestingly, some humans choose to become exclusively herbivores and are called vegans. Many vegetarians don't quite meet the herbivore definition, since they may eat animal byproducts, like dairy products, and may refer to themselves and ovo-lacto or lacto-ovo vegetarians. Though they don’t consume animal flesh, they do consume animal products.

Plenty of animals besides humans are omnivorous. Classic examples include many bear species, though polar bears are almost exclusively carnivorous. Many rodents, most pigs, and certain fish, like piranhas, eat both plants and meat. Though a species has the capacity to be omnivorous, it may not always be so. For instance, chickens can eat a variety of insects, other chickens, and various grains. Some are exclusively herbivores and are strictly grain fed, while others receive grain and fish meal. A few free-range chickens may have access to a few bugs or worms and may be mostly but not fully herbivorous.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon340650 — On Jul 04, 2013

Do you know if a cow is omnivore, carnivore or herbivore?

By backdraft — On Dec 06, 2012

The food I feed my dog makes claims about having whole grains and vegetables in the food. If a dog was in the wild, would it ever eat either of these things? Wouldn't it mostly just be looking for small animals to eat?

By nextcorrea — On Dec 05, 2012

As humans we seem to eat mostly plants, even if it is just wheat or rice or potatoes, and some meat. Are there any animals that eat mostly meat and just some, or a very limited number of plants? What are they and why would they have a diet like this?

By truman12 — On Dec 05, 2012
@ysmina - I read that book too, and it also made me think about a lot of things I had never thought of before. I think I made some lasting changes to my diet because of that book.

He is such a clear thinker and a sharp writer. And he avoids a lot of the sentimentality that gets wrapped up in the food movement. He makes it seem practical rather than silly, which is no small feat.

By burcinc — On Nov 27, 2012

@ankara-- Cats are carnivores, they only eat meat. Well, they're only supposed to eat meat anyway. I feel like we have ruined it for domestic cats by giving them dried foods with other stuff in it. Wild cats only eat meat though.

They might eat grass and plants once in a while. They usually do that to induce vomiting to get rid of hairballs in their stomach or to make their stomach feel better when they are sick. It doesn't make them omnivores like the article said.

By bluedolphin — On Nov 26, 2012

Are cats omnivores or carnivores?

My cat eats cat food that has both meat and grain in it. She also eats cat grass sometimes.

By ysmina — On Nov 25, 2012

Has anyone read "The Omnivore's Dilemma?" I started thinking about what we should be eating after I read this book.

Even though humans eat both meat and plant, throughout history, we were generally forced to eat one or the other at any given time. For example, we didn't eat as much plant sources before farming began and we relied mainly on meat sources and some fruit to sustain us.

Even after farming begin, what we ate depended on the season, the soil and the plants that would grow in those circumstances.

It's not like that now. We have access to all foods all the time. We can have as many meat and plant based foods as we want in just one day. We are truly omnivores now.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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