A Short History About Vegetarianism


Being a vegetarian by today’s standards is a quite controversial topic because the current tendency is to categorize even the smallest detail. Thus, saying that you are a vegetarian is not enough; some people will ask you to specify: are you a pescaterian? A lactarian? An Ovo-lactarian? A Vegan? No, they are not the same, but they do have one thing in common: they all exclude meat and poultry. Not too many persons are aware of everything that a real vegetarian diet implies and even fewer are familiar with the starting points of this practice. This is why those who choose this lifestyle are often misinterpreted and a lot of arguments are developed. So let’s try to discover when, where and why vegetarianism appeared for the first time.

Vegetarianism in Ancient Times

As probably many persons imagine, the roots of the non-consumption of meat date back to the oldest days, when people were divided into two large categories: hunters and gatherers. Because the latter ones tend to be more numerous, a heavy reliance on food given directly by the land was established. At that time, eating or not eating meat was not exactly a choice because people had to do anything to provide food for the community.

In later Greek and Indian civilizations, vegetarianism was already included in philosophical ideologies and religious groups, which promoted self-restraint and universal peace (which implied the idea of non-violence to animals). They are the ones to put the actual basis for this way of eating and living that would later be made popular by famous figures.

The Pythagorean Diet

Although he is mostly known for being a genius in mathematics, Pythagoras also left us his important contribution to the way in which the voluntary non-consumption of meat was perceived. He and his followers promoted this diet and lifestyle not as much for the health benefits, but for the spiritual benefits and those of the entire universe: animals – just like human beings – needed to be treated with respect.

Many philosophical schools of the first centuries AD promoted the idea that meat consumption was unnatural and that the human body was not created for anything else but fruits and vegetables. They also believed in a utopian world that preceded documented history when neither agriculture nor animal domestication or hunting existed.

From Renaissance to Present Times

During the famine and general food scarcity that characterized most of this period, more and more Europeans returned to the classic philosophies that promoted a vegetarian lifestyle. Many famous figures that adopted this diet contributed to its wide popularization in the Old Continent and, later, in the New World: the Italian Leonardo da Vinci, the French Pierre Gassendi, and later Enlightenment figures such as Descartes or Kant. In the USA, the Founding Father Benjamin Franklin himself promoted and adopted what would today be called the pescaterian diet.

As time passed, the first vegetarian unions were established in the 19th and 20th centuries in order to support and promote this healthier (in their words) way of living. The last decades witnessed an increase in the number of those who adopted this diet mainly because of nutritional and environmental concerns.

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