History of vegetarianism
The history of vegetarianism has its roots in the civilizations and ancient India and ancient Greece. Vegetarianism is the theory and practice of voluntary non-consumption of the flesh of any animal (including sea animals), with or without also eschewing other animal derivatives (such as dairy products or eggs). The earliest records of vegetarianism as a concept and practice amongst a significant number of people concern ancient India and the ancient Greek civilizations in southern Italy and Greece. In both instances the diet was closely connected with the idea of nonviolence toward animals (called ahimsa in India), and was promoted by religious groups and philosophers.
Following the Christianization of the Roman Empire in late antiquity (4th-6th centuries), vegetarianism nearly disappeared from Europe. Several orders of monks in medieval Europe restricted or banned the consumption of meat for ascetic reasons, but none of them abstained from the consumption of fish; these monks were not vegetarians, but some were pescetarians. Vegetarianism was to reemerge somewhat in Europe during the Renaissance, and became a more widespread practice during the 19th and 20th centuries. The figures for the percentage of the Western world which is vegetarian varies between 0.5% & 4% per Mintel data in 2006.
In Greece during classical antiquity the vegetarian diet was called abstinence from beings with a soul (Greek ἀποχὴ ἐμψύχων). As a principle or deliberate way of life it was always limited to a rather small number of practitioners belonging to specific philosophical schools or certain religious groups.
The earliest European/Asian Minor references to a vegetarian diet occur in Homer (Odyssey 9, 82–104) and Herodotus (4, 177), who mention the Lotophagi (Lotus-eaters), an indigene people on the North African coast, who according to Herodotus lived on nothing but the fruits of a plant called lotus. Diodorus Siculus (3, 23–24) transmits tales of vegetarian peoples or tribes in Ethiopia, and further stories of this kind are narrated and discussed in ancient sources. All of them, however, display legendary traits or appear in a mythical context; hence they cannot be regarded as evidence for the historical existence of such peoples.
The earliest reliable evidence for vegetarian theory and practice in Greece dates from the 6th century BC. The Orphics, a religious movement spreading in Greece at that time, and Pythagoras, a philosopher and religious leader in the area of Southern Italy colonized by Greek settlers, abstained from the flesh of animals. The followers of Pythagoras (called Pythagoreans) did not always practice strict vegetarianism, but at least their inner circle did. For the general public, abstention from meat was a hallmark of the so-called “Pythagorean way of life”. Both Orphics and strict Pythagoreans also avoided eggs and shunned the ritual offerings of meat to the gods which were an essential part of traditional religious sacrifice. In the 5th century BC the philosopher Empedocles distinguished himself as a radical advocate of vegetarianism specifically and of respect for animals in general.
The ancient vegetarians held that consumption of meat hampered their ascetic and philosophical endeavors. Most of them also gave ethical reasons for their attitudes, rejected the common religious practice of animal sacrifice, and emphasized the common traits of humans and other species. Their opponents pointed to the differences between man and animals in response. The question of whether there are any ethical duties toward animals was hotly debated, and the arguments in dispute were quite similar to the ones familiar in modern discussions on animal rights. Vegetarianism was usually part and parcel of religious convictions connected with the concept of transmigration of the soul (metempsychosis). There was a widely held belief, popular among both vegetarians and non-vegetarians, that in the Golden Age of the beginning of humanity mankind was strictly non-violent. In that utopian state of the world hunting, livestock breeding, and meat-eating, as well as agriculture were unknown and unnecessary, as the earth spontaneously produced in abundance all the food its inhabitants needed. This myth is recorded by Hesiod (Works and Days 109sqq.), Plato (Statesman 271–2), the famous Roman poet Ovid (Metamorphoses 1,89sqq.), and others. Ovid also praised the Pythagorean ideal of universal nonviolence (Metamorphoses 15,72sqq.).
Among the Platonists vegetarian and pro-animal thought was comparatively strong, while in other ancient schools of philosophy (Peripatetics, Stoics, Epicureans) it was virtually nonexistent. Almost all the Stoics were emphatically anti-vegetarian (with the prominent exception of Seneca). They insisted on the absence of reason in brutes, leading them to conclude that there cannot be any ethical obligations or restraints in dealing with the world of irrational animals. As for the followers of the Cynic School, their extremely frugal way of life entailed a practically meatless diet, but they did not make vegetarianism their maxim.
In the Platonic Academy the scholarchs (school heads) Xenocrates and (probably) Polemon pleaded for vegetarianism. In the Peripatetic school Theophrastus, Aristotle’s immediate successor, supported it. Some of the prominent Platonists and Neo-Platonists in the age of the Roman Empire lived on a vegetarian diet. These included Plutarch (who seems to have adopted vegetarianism only temporarily), Apollonius of Tyana, Plotinus, and Porphyry. Porphyry wrote a treatise On abstinence from beings with a soul, the most elaborate ancient pro-vegetarian text known to us.
Among the Manicheans, a major religious movement founded in the third century AD, there was an elite group called Electi (the chosen) who were Lacto-Vegetarians for ethical reasons and abode by a commandment which strictly banned killing. Common Manicheans called Auditores (Hearers) obeyed looser rules of nonviolence.
When the famous Chinese Buddhist monk Faxian visited the Magadha region of India in the early 5th century AD, he found that people abstain from taking life. ... They do not breed pigs or poultry or sell any animal food.
Vegetarianism was (and still is) mandatory for the yogis, both for the practitioners of Hatha Yoga and for the disciples of the Vaishnava schools of Bhakti Yoga (especially the Gaudiya Vaishnavas). A bhakta (devotee) offers all his food to Vishnu or Krishna as prasad before eating it and only vegetarian food can be accepted as prasad.
Early Buddhism and Jainism
Jain and Buddhist sources show that the principle of nonviolence toward animals was an established rule in both religions as early as the 6th century BC. The Jain concept, which is particularly strict, may be even much older. Parshva, the earliest Jain leader (Tirthankara) whom modern Western historians consider to be a historical figure, lived in the 8th or 7th century BC. He is said to have preached nonviolence no less radically than it was practiced in the Jain community in the times of Mahavira (6th century BC).
Not everyone who refused to participate in any killing or injuring of animals also abstained from the consumption of meat. Hence the question of Buddhist vegetarianism in the earliest stages of that religion’s development is controversial. There are two schools of thought. One says that the Buddha and his followers ate meat offered to them by hosts or alms-givers if they had no reason to suspect that the animal had been slaughtered specifically for their sake. The other one says that the Buddha and his community of monks (sangha) were strict vegetarians and the habit of accepting alms of meat was only tolerated later on, after a decline of discipline.
The first opinion is supported by several passages in the Pali version of the Tripitaka, the opposite one by some Mahayana texts. All those sources were put into writing several centuries after the death of the Buddha. They may reflect the conflicting positions of different wings or currents within the Buddhist community in its early stage. According to the Vinaya Pitaka, the first schism happened when the Buddha was still alive: a group of monks led by Devadatta left the community because they wanted stricter rules, including an unconditional ban on meat eating.
The Mahaparinibbana Sutta, which narrates the end of the Buddha's life, states that he died after eating sukara-maddava, a term translated by some as pork, by others as mushrooms (or an unknown vegetable).
The Buddhist emperor Ashoka (304 BC – 232 BC) was a vegetarian. and a determined promoter of nonviolence to animals. He promulgated detailed laws aimed at the protection of many species, abolished animal sacrifice at his court, and admonished the population to avoid all kinds of unnecessary killing and injury. Ashoka has asserted protection to fauna, from his edicts we could understand,
i.e.:- "Twenty-six years after my coronation various animals were declared to be protected—parrots, mainas, aruna, ruddy geese, wild ducks, nandimukhas, gelatas, bats, queen ants, terrapins, boneless fish, vedareyaka, gangapuputaka, sankiya fish, tortoises, porcupines, squirrels, deer, bulls, okapinda, wild asses, wild pigeons, domestic pigeons and all four-footed creatures that are neither useful nor edible. Those nanny goats, ewes and sows which are with young or giving milk to their young are protected, and so are young ones less than six months old. Cocks are not to be caponized, husks hiding living beings are not to be burnt and forests are not to be burnt either without reason or to kill creatures. One animal is not to be fed to another."
—Edicts of Ashoka on Fifth Pillar
Theravada Buddhists used to observe the regulation of the Pali canon which allowed them to eat meat unless the animal had been slaughtered specifically for them. In the Mahayana school some scriptures advocated vegetarianism; a particularly uncompromising one was the famous Lankavatara Sutra written in the fourth or fifth century AD.
In 675 the use of livestock and the consumption of some wild animals (horse, cattle, dogs, monkeys, birds) was banned in Japan by Emperor Temmu, due to the influence of Buddhism. This ban was renewed by succeeding Emperors throughout Asuka period classical civilization, but ended with the Heian period. The pest animals, deer and wild boar, were not affected by this ban.
Jewish/Christian antiquity and Middle Ages
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Some of the early Christians in the apostolic era were concerned that eating meat sacrificed to idols might result in ritual pollution. The Apostle Paul emphatically rejected that view (Romans 14:2-21; compare 1 Corinthians 8:8-9, Colossians 2:20-22).
Many early Christians were vegetarian such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great and others. Some early church writings suggest that Matthew, Peter & James were vegetarian. The historian Eusebius writes that the Apostle “Matthew partook of seeds, nuts and vegetables, without flesh.” Clement of Alexandria wrote, “It is far better to be happy than to have your bodies act as graveyards for animals.” The anti-Christian philosopher Porphyry wrote an entire book entitled On Abstinence from Animal Food which compiled most of the classical thought on the subject.
In late antiquity and in the Middle Ages many monks and hermits renounced meat-eating in the context of their asceticism. The most prominent of them was St Jerome († 419), whom they used to take as their model. The Rule of St Benedict (6th century) allowed the Benedictines to eat fish and fowl, but forbade the consumption of the meat of quadrupeds unless the religious was ill. Many other rules of religious orders contained similar restrictions of diet, some of which even included fowl, but fish was never prohibited, as Christ himself had eaten fish (Luke 24:42-43). The concern of those monks and nuns was frugality, voluntary privation, and self-mortification. William of Malmesbury writes that Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester (d. 1095) decided to adhere to a strict vegetarian diet simply because he found it difficult to resist the smell of roasted goose. Saint Genevieve, the Patron Saint of Paris, is mentioned as having observed a vegetarian diet - but as an act of physical austerity, rather than out of concern for animals. Medieval hermits, at least those portrayed in literature, may have been vegetarians for similar reasons, as suggested in a passage from Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur: 'Then departed Gawain and Ector as heavy (sad) as they might for their misadventure (mishap), and so rode till that they came to the rough mountain, and there they tied their horses and went on foot to the hermitage. And when they were (had) come up, they saw a poor house, and beside the chapel a little courtelage (courtyard), where Nacien the hermit gathered worts (vegetables), as he which had tasted none other meat (food) of a great while.'
There is no evidence for any ethically motivated vegetarianism in ancient and medieval Catholicism or in the Eastern Churches. There were instances of compassion to animals, but no explicit objection to the act of slaughter per se. The most influential theologians, St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas, emphasized that man owes no duties to animals. Even for St Francis of Assisi, who used to refer to the animal world in his mystic language, there is no hint in contemporary sources that he ever practised or advocated vegetarianism.
Many ancient heretics, such as the Encratites, the Ebionites, and the Eustathians, considered abstention from meat-eating an essential part of their asceticism. Medieval heretics, such as the Bogomils and the Cathars, also despised the consumption of meat.
Early modern period
It was not before the European Renaissance that vegetarianism reemerged in Europe as a philosophical concept based on an ethical motivation. Among the first celebrities who supported it were Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) and Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655). In the 17th century the paramount theorist of the meatless or Pythagorean diet was the English writer Thomas Tryon (1634–1703). On the other hand, influential philosophers such as René Descartes (1596–1650) and Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) were of the opinion that there cannot be any ethical duties whatsoever toward animals. By the end of the 18th century in England the claim that animals were made only for man's use (anthropocentrism) was still being advanced, but no longer carried general assent. Very soon, it would disappear altogether.
In the United States, there were small groups of Christian vegetarians in the 18th century. The best known of them was Ephrata Cloister in Pennsylvania, a religious community founded by Conrad Beissel in 1732. Benjamin Franklin (one of the Founding Fathers of the United States) became a vegetarian at the age of 16, but later on he reluctantly returned to meat eating. He later introduced Tofu to America in 1770.  Colonel Thomas Crafts Jr. (who read The Declaration of Independence in Boston, 1776) was a vegetarian.
During the Age of Enlightenment and in the early nineteenth century, England was the place where vegetarian ideas were more welcome than anywhere else in Europe, and the English vegetarians were particularly enthusiastic about the practical implementation of their principles. A prominent advocate of an ethically motivated vegetarianism in the early 19th century was the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822).
In England, Reverend William Cowherd founded the Bible Christian Church in 1809. Cowherd advocated vegetarianism as a form of temperance and was one of the philosophical forerunners of the Vegetarian Society. The Society was founded by the 140 participants of a conference at Ramsgate and by 1853 had 889 members. English vegetarians were a small but highly motivated and active group. Many of them believed in a simple life and "pure" food, humanitarian ideals and strict moral principles.
In the United States, Reverend William Metcalfe (1788–1862), a pacifist and a prominent member of the Bible Christian Church, preached vegetarianism. He and Sylvester Graham, the mentor of the Grahamites and inventor of the Graham crackers, were among the founders of the American Vegetarian Society in 1850. Ellen G. White, one of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, became an advocate of vegetarianism, and the Church has recommended a meatless diet ever since.
In Germany the well-known politician, publicist and revolutionist Gustav Struve (1805–1870) was a leading figure in the initial stage of the vegetarian movement. He was inspired by Rousseau’s treatise Émile. Many vegetarian associations were founded in the last third of the century and the Order of the Golden Age went on to achieve particular prominence beyond the Food Reform movement.
Vegetarianism was frequently associated with cultural reform movements, such as temperance and anti-vivisection. It was propagated as an essential part of "the natural way of life." Some of its champions sharply criticized the civilization of their age and strove to improve public health.
The International Vegetarian Union, a union of the national societies, was founded in 1908. In the Western world, the popularity of vegetarianism grew during the 20th century as a result of nutritional, ethical, and more recently, environmental and economic concerns. Henry Stephens Salt (1851-1939) and George Bernard Shaw were famous vegetarian activists (1856-1950).
Cranks opened in Carnaby Street, London, in 1961 as the first successful vegetarian restaurant in the UK. Eventually there were 5 Cranks restaurants in London which closed in 2001.
The Indian concept of nonviolence had a growing impact in the Western world. The model of Mahatma Gandhi, a strong and uncompromising advocate of nonviolence toward animals, contributed to the popularization of vegetarianism in Western countries. The study of Far-Eastern religious and philosophical concepts of nonviolence was also instrumental in the shaping of Albert Schweitzer’s principle of “reverence for life”, which is still today a common argument in discussions on ethical aspects of diet. But Schweitzer himself started to practise vegetarianism only shortly before his death.
Today Indian vegetarians, primarily lacto-vegetarians, are estimated to make up more than 70 percent of the world's vegetarians. They make up 20–42 percent of the population in India, while less than 30 percent are regular meat-eaters.
- from Rita Laws, Ph.D."of native american tribes such as the Choctaw tribe that before European influence had a dietary lifestyle based almost entirely on corn"
- Definition from vegsoc.org "A vegetarian is someone living on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with or without the use of dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or crustacea, or slaughter by-products."
- Spencer, Colin: The Heretic’s Feast. A History of Vegetarianism, London 1993, p. 69-84.
- Spencer p. 33-68.
- Religious Vegetarianism From Hesiod to the Dalai Lama, ed. Kerry S. Walters and Lisa Portmess, Albany 2001, p. 13-46.
- Passmore, John: The Treatment of Animals, in: Journal of the History of Ideas 36 (1975) p. 196-201.
- Lutterbach, Hubertus: Der Fleischverzicht im Christentum, in: Saeculum 50/II (1999) p. 202.
- Spencer p. 180-200.
- Haussleiter, Johannes: Der Vegetarismus in der Antike, Berlin 1935, p. 85, 101, 318.
- Haussleiter p. 33-53.
- Haussleiter p. 26-33.
- Spencer p. 38-55, 61-63; Haussleiter p. 79-157.
- Spencer p. 33, 64-68, Haussleiter p. 124-127.
- Haussleiter p. 85-86, 106, 100, 109-111; Spencer p. 54-55.
- Haussleiter p. 157-163; Sorabji, Richard: Animal Minds and Human Morals, London 1993, p. 174-175; Spencer p. 63-64.
- Haussleiter p. 198-342, Sorabji p. 107-169.
- Sorabji p. 172-175, Spencer p. 43, 50, 51, 61, 64.
- Haussleiter p. 54-64.
- Haussleiter p. 198-356.
- Haussleiter p. 245-254.
- Sorabji p. 125, Spencer p. 95-96, Haussleiter p. 257-262.
- Haussleiter p. 245-272; Sorabji p. 20-28, 40-44, 51-54, 112-115.
- Haussleiter p. 167-184, Sorabji p. 158-161.
- Haussleiter p. 198-201, 205; Sorabji p. 178, 209.
- Haussleiter p. 237-244; Sorabji p. 175-178.
- Haussleiter p. 212-228, 299-312, 315-337; Sorabji p. 178-179, 180-188.
- Porphyre, De l’abstinence, ed. Jean Bouffartigue and Michel Patillon, vol. 1-3, Paris 1977-1995 (Greek text with French translation and introduction).
- Spencer p. 136-148, Sorabji p. 196-197.
- Waley p. 348.
- Gherand Samhita 5.17-21.
- Bhagavad Gita 3.13.
- Mahabharata 12.257 (or 12.265 according to another count); Bhagavad Gita 9.26; Bhagavata Purana 7.15.7.
- Spencer p. 78-84; Tähtinen p. 106-107; Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics vol. 1 p. 231.
- Tähtinen p. 132.
- Alsdorf, Ludwig: Beiträge zur Geschichte von Vegetarismus und Rinderverehrung in Indien, Wiesbaden 1962, p. 561-576.
- Alsdorf p. 561-564.
- Kapleau, Philip: To Cherish All Life, Rochester (N.Y.) 1981, p. 29-33; Page, Tony: Buddhism and Animals, London 1999; Phelps, Norm: The Great Compassion, New York 2004, p. 73-84.
- Tähtinen p. 110-111; Phelps p. 55-70.
- Phelps p. 55-60.
- Phelps p. 75-77, 83-84.
- Phelps p. 80-82; Waley, Arthur: Did Buddha die of eating pork?, in: Mélanges chinois et bouddhiques, vol. 1931/32, p. 343-354.
- Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics vol. 1 p. 231.
- Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics vol. 2 p. 124-125; Spencer p. 85-86; Tähtinen p. 37, 107, 111.
- Phelps p. 78, Spencer p. 83-84.
- Tähtinen p. 111; Phelps p. 59-66; Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol, Food of Bodhisattvas, Boston 2004, p. 47-77.
- Hisao Nagayama. 「たべもの江戸史」 新人物往来社, 1976. ISBN 4309473105 p. 66. 『、「牛馬犬猿鶏の宍(肉)を食うことなかれ」の殺生禁断の令は有名拍車をかけたのが仏教の影響である。』
- Kiichi Koyanagi. 「日本人の食生活 : 飢餓と豊饒の変遷史」 Tōkyō : Shibata shoten, 1971.
- Lutterbach, Hubertus: Der Fleischverzicht im Christentum, in: Saeculum 50/II (1999) p. 181-183; Spencer p. 113-114.
- Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986, "Meat".
- Lutterbach p. 189-194; Spencer p. 118-129.
- Lutterbach p. 185-189.
- Regula Benedicti 36,9 and 39,11, ed. Rudolph Hanslik, Vienna 1975, p. 96, 100.
- Lutterbach p. 194-198, 203-208.
- William of Malmesbury, Vita S. Wulfstani, Book III, Ch. 2; Fleming, "The new wealth", p. 5.
- Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d'Arthur 16.3
- Spencer p. 172-174, Passmore p. 199-200.
- Spencer p. 135-136.
- Spencer p. 154-168.
- Spencer p. 190-192; Gregerson, Jon: Vegetarianism. A History, Fremont 1994, p. 56-59.
- Stuart, Tristram: The Bloodless Revolution. A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times, New York 2007, p. 138-150.
- Spencer p. 206-209; Stuart p. 60-77.
- Spencer p. 201-202; Stuart p. 131-137.
- Sorabji p. 128-129.
- Keith Thomas (1984) Man and the natural world changing attitudes in England 1500-1800, p.297.
- Iacobbo, Karen and Michael: Vegetarian America. A History, Westport (CT) 2004, p. 3-7.
- Iacobbo p. 1-2, Stuart p. 243-244.
- Gregerson p. 64-74.
- Spencer p. 244-251; Stuart p. 372-398.
- "The Bible Christian Church". International Vegetarian Union.
- Spencer p. 261-267.
- Spencer p. 262-266.
- Iacobbo p. 10-14.
- Iacobbo p. 13-74.
- Iacobbo p. 97-99.
- Gregerson p. 88-89; Brang, Peter: Ein unbekanntes Russland. Kulturgeschichte vegetarischer Lebensweisen von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart, Cologne 2002, p. 59-113.
- Gregerson p. 88; Barlösius, Eva: Naturgemässe Lebensführung. Zur Geschichte der Lebensreform um die Jahrhundertwende, Frankfurt 1997, p. 47-57; Spode, Hasso/Barlösius, Eva: Die Urspünge des Vegetarismus, in: NNZ-Folio 4/1997 ().
- Order of the Golden Age
- Spencer p. 262-272, 274-279, 285-288.
- Gregerson p. 78-79.
- Spencer p. 279-282.
- Gregerson p. 83-86; Stuart p. 423-430; Spencer p. 290-293.
- Albert Schweitzer in a letter of 1964, quoted by Gotthard M. Teutsch: Mensch und Tier – Lexikon der Tierschutzethik, Göttingen 1987, p. 47.
- Indian consumer patterns
- Agri reform in India
- Diary and poultry sector growth in India
- Vegetarian Resource Group, 1997, How Many Vegetarians Are There? in Vegetarian Journal, Sep/Oct 1997, Volume XVI, Number 5
- Vegetarian Resource Group, 2000, How Many Vegetarians Are There? in Vegetarian Journal, May/June 2000
- Vegetarian Resource Group, 2003, How Many Vegetarians Are There?
- "How Many Vegetarians Are Vegetarian?", Vegetarian Journal, 2006, Issue Four
- Fleming, R. "The New Wealth, the New Rich and the New Political Style in Late Anglo-Saxon England (The Allen Brown Memorial Lecture)." Anglo-Norman Studies 23 (2001). 1-22.
- William of Malmesbury, Vita S. Dunstani, ed. M. Winterbottom and R.M. Thomson, William of Malmesbury, Saints’ Lives. Lives of SS. Wulfstan, Dunstan, Patrick, Benignus and Indract. Oxford, 2002.
- Spencer, Colin 1993 The Heretics Feast, A History of Vegetarianism. Fourth Estate, London. ISBN 1-85702-250-5
- Stuart, Tristram 2007 The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism From 1600 to Modern Times. Norton, New York. ISBN 0-393-05220-6
- Gregory, James 2007 Of Victorians and Vegetarians. The Vegetarian Movement in Nineteenth-century Britain. London. ISBN 978-1-84511-379-7
- O'Connell, Anne 2008 Early Vegetarian Recipes, Prospect Books, Devon. ISBN 978-1-903018-58-3