Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Quick and Brief Look at the History of Vegetarianism

This writing really provides a quick and brief look at the history of vegetarianism. Of course much is left out, but for a good overview, it’s worth reading.


Vegetarianism is not a fad, has meaty history

Celine Dilfer

My first encounter with the death of an animal was years ago, but it was so emotional that it still affects me so much that it still influences my diet today. I was on a train that made a stop much earlier than announced. Confused, I looked outside and saw something that still haunts me to this day - the sight of fresh blood splattered throughout a 5-foot radius and an herd of agonized cows severed beneath the train.

Under my tears, I felt an impossible sadness and wished never to see a dying animal again. A vegetarian diet has been my way of life since then - a decision which has invoked all types of remarks. Among the most notable of the remarks is how vegetarianism is just a new fad and I'll grow out of it eventually. I quell my desire to call them out on their uneducated assumption, and opt for a polite nod.

The truth is that vegetarianism has a very long history, and is nothing new. An agreement that the history of vegetarianism even classifies as intellectual history has yet to be accepted, perhaps because it's the same very people that disregard "rights" for animals, that denies any "history" for animals.

However, the vegetarian movement has been tried and tested, with varying degrees of success and owes its rockiness to the fact that there has not been a single compelling argument in favor of vegetarianism that hasn't been countered by one against it, both of equal authority.

Nonetheless, the concept is still strongly embraced by about 4 million people worldwide and dates back to sometime in 500 B.C. According to an article published in the Jan. 22 issue of The New Yorker, scholars believe a group of mystical mathematicians, known for their most notable leader, Pythagoras, was the first group to engage in a philosophical debate about carnivorous behavior.

These mathematicians placed equal value on animal and human life, and they often questioned the proper relationship between a human and animal. They followed a doctrine known as metem-psychosis, which stated that in the afterlife your soul passed from one species to another. Abstaining from eating animals then was the only way to avoid cannibalism. Metempsychosis gained a lot of followers, but remained hidden from the Catholic Church. The Catholics, believing that the afterlife consisted of souls migration between heaven and hell, condemned any other belief, and saw vegetarians as a defiant to God's will.

But even between the devout, discrepancies arose. Some felt that it was not only our right, but also our divine duty to eat animals, whereas others felt that all of Gods' creations should be valued, and neither have dominion over one another.

Not excluding the religious beliefs of others, it is important to notice that Egyptians practiced a vegetarian ideology around 3200 B.C. based upon karmic beliefs. Also, India, the vegetarian capital of the world, centered their religion on ideas of non-violence and respect for all forms of life.

The Greeks and Romans played a significant part in the revival of the movement between the 3rd and 6th centuries. It is interesting to note that Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, some of the greatest philosophers of all time, all advocated a "natural" life, free from animal cruelty.

Many other reasons for going meatless stemmed throughout history until the 1700s, when another prominent group of thinkers emerged who outwardly opposed the treatment of animals.

From The Enlightenment of the 18th century emerged a new thought about humans' place in creation order. From this era rose another reason for a meatless diet, apart from religion - a moral issue. Arguments that animals were in fact intelligent, feeling creatures were voiced and the morality of killing them inhumanly was questioned.

George Cheyenne, a Scottish diet doctor, and other commentators argued that the habit of killing, like that of meat eating itself, hardened the heart and the nerves, both figuratively and literally. Our first step towards peace begins on our plate. Thus, abstinence from flesh eating strongly appealed to those against war and violence.

What makes this movement so fascinating are all the different reasons throughout history that have inspired people to take on a vegetarian diet. Its should be noted that health was at some pinnacle of the reasoning for many years, as a plant based diet was often a remedy to different ailments.

But whatever the reason, whether religious affairs, moral or health, the notion of a vegetarian diet has been embraced by some of history's most significant and influential thinkers, such as Albert Einstein, Leonardo DiVinci, Mahatma Gandhi made a whole religion based on it, Isaac Newton, Plato, Socrates, Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, C├ęsar Chavez and countless other prominent people throughout world history. Embarassingly, so was Adolf Hitler.

People who wanted to contribute abstract thought, and analysis of what consequences human actions have set out with a vision for a better life, improvement of society's status quo.

Vegetarianism is not a new trend, but a continuing struggle for an enhanced moral life. I think it's fair to say then that vegetarians would be good company - people with a desire to question the world and attempt to better it.

Celine Dilfer is a senior communications major.

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