If the food laws were not yet in existence, why is there a distinction between clean and unclean beasts (Gen 7:2)? And does this not imply that people were indeed eating animals before being specifically permitted to (Gen 9:3)?

And furthermore: does the latter passage (Gen 9:3) not imply that there was no clean/unclean distinction? This seems to be a fair question, because here we have references to “every clean beast” and “beasts that are not clean.” But let us clarify that, after the Garden, men probably stopped being vegetarians, if they were vegetarians before that. It seems likely that men began eating animals with Abel, the first keeper of livestock, especially considering that (a) he made a sacrifice, and that (b) there is a distinction in the present verse between “clean” livestock and “unclean” wild beasts, a distinction without a difference if no animals are eaten. But if this is correct, then indeed, why does God specifically permit Noah to eat “every moving thing that liveth” (9:3)? I simply do not know. God’s laws were introduced gradually. A very, very stripped-down version of a legal code is offered at Gen 9. So perhaps there was a distinction between clean and unclean animals for a long time, but there was no notion of “ritual impurity” in those early times. If so, then the clean/unclean distinction would be given a new purpose with the arrival of the purity and food laws.