13 February, 2017
What is a ?
What is a Vegetarian?
The definition of “vegetarianism” differs from person to person. Most people who call themselves vegetarians do not consume the flesh of any animal, but may eat eggs and dairy products. These people are called Lacto-ovo vegetarians.
Strict vegetarians, or vegans, are people who do not consume animal products of any kind, including dairy, eggs, honey, and gelatin.
Most people choose to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle based on health concerns or for ethical and spiritual reasons.
The United States is currently home to millions of vegetarians, each one very different than the next. Vegetarians cannot be classified by class, ethnicity or race, sexual orientation, religion, gender, age, or ability, and vegetarianism can be practiced by anyone.
Vegetarianism throughout History
Pythagoras, teaching music, in The School of Athens by Raphael.
Although it may seem like vegetarianism is a relatively new concept, the reality is that plant-based diets have a rich history dating back to evolutionary times. Believed by many scientists to have largely subsisted on plants and fruits, our earliest ancestors may have been primarily gatherers, rather than the carnivorous hunter’s many people imagine them to be. (1 & 2)
Many of the world’s earliest thinkers and writers are known to have ruminated on the merits of abstaining from animal flesh, including Plutarch, Ovid, Seneca, and Plato. Pythagoras, who lived towards the end of the 6th century B.C., is perhaps one of the most well-known vegetarians of ancient times. (3)
History also dictates that some early Christians, Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and even a small minority of early Muslims and Jews, abstained from animal flesh as part of their religious practices. (4)
More modern, and perhaps some of the most notable, references to vegetarianism showed up in the works of prominent writers, philosophers and other “radicals” living in England throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Influential people who took an interest in humane dietary choices included Jeremy Bentham, Voltaire, Alexander Pope, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. (5)
The first Vegetarian Society was formed in England in 1843 and helped establish a more organized vegetarian movement. Soon after, the rest of the world began to follow suit, and, according to the International Vegetarian Union, “by 1914 there was a Vegetarian Society in almost every country in Europe and much more around the world.” (6)
Formed in 1850, the first American Vegetarian Society (AVS) was led by William Alcott, physician and author of The Vegetable Diet As Sanctioned by Medical Men and By Experience in All Ages. (7) Attracting people from the women’s, civil rights, and temperance movements, the group’s 1853 New York City vegetarian festival was attended by such influential activists as Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone. (8)
AVS President William Alcott was also known for being the cousin of Bronson Alcott, co-founder of Fruitlands, the Massachusetts vegetarian community once home to Little Women author Louisa May Alcott. (9) A friend of famed intellectuals William Ellery Channing and Henry David Thoreau, Bronson Alcott also inspired many with his staunch vegetarianism. (10)
In 1944, Donald Watson and Elsie Shrigley, both members of the Vegetarian Society in England, broke from the group and formed “a coalition of nondairy vegetarians,” known as the Vegan Society. Watson coined the term “vegan” when he tired of using “total vegetarian” to describe vegetarians who abstained from dairy products. “Vegan” was derived from the word “vegetarian” by adding the first three letters (veg) to the last two (an), because veganism starts with vegetarianism and “carries it through to its logical conclusion.” (11)
The first American Vegan Society was formed by two Californians, Dr. Catherine Nimmo, and Rubin Abramowitz, in 1948. (12)
The British movement only continued to grow throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. However, vegetarianism was less common in the United States until the 1970s, particularly after the publication of Frances Moore Lappe’s, Diet for a Small Planet.The book, which sold millions of copies, posited vegetarianism as a solution to excessive resource depletion. It seemed to be an impetus for a
Peter Singer at Farm Sanctuary’s New York Shelter with Teresa.
The surge in veg cookbooks, publications (like Vegetarian Times), restaurants, and experimental communities (like The Farm in Tennessee). Peter Singer’s ground-breaking work, Animal Liberation, introduced the world to the horrors of factory farming. It was also published in 1975. (13)
Increasingly endorsed by medical professionals and praised for its health benefits, vegetarianism further edged its way into the mainstream with the publication of books such as Dr. John McDougall’s The McDougall Plan (1983) and John Robbins’ Diet for a New America (1987). Moving on into the early 1990s, Dr. Dean Ornish’s famous Program for Reversing Heart Disease and the diet’s endorsement by the American Dietetic Association allowed for the proliferation of the vegetarian culture we continue to enjoy today.
Q: What is a Vegetarian?
A: The definition of “vegetarianism” differs from person to person. Most people who call themselves vegetarians do not consume the flesh of any animal, but may eat eggs and dairy products. These people are called lacto-ovo vegetarians. Strict vegetarians, or vegans, are people who do not consume animal products of any kind, including dairy, eggs, honey, gelatin, or other animal-derived products. Many of these vegetarians also refrain from wearing leather, fur, wool, or other products made from animals.
Q: We don’t kill animals for dairy and eggs, do we?
A: Actually, billions of chickens and cows die every year as a direct result of the egg and milk industries. Typically forced to endure inhumane treatment throughout their entire lives, “spent” laying hens and dairy cows are sent to slaughter when production declines. Male chicks, useless to the egg business, are killed at the hatchery. Unable to produce milk, male dairy calves are sold and raised for veal or beef.
Q: What about “free-range” meat and eggs?
A: At this time, there are no uniform standards or regulations dictating what constitutes as “free range.” Often, so-called “free-range” producers utilize industrialized farming methods and confine and crowd animals in unhealthy, indoor environments. Like all other “food animals,” animals raised on “free-range” farms often become victims of horrific cruelty during transport and slaughter.
Q: Humans have always eaten animals. Why should we change?
A: For centuries, humans enslaved other humans. And as we now know, tradition does not always make something right. As humankind progresses, it seems only natural that we extend our circle of compassion to include animals who are as capable of feeling pain and fear as we are.
Q: Animals eat other animals, why shouldn’t we?
A: Animals who consume other animals are carnivores who live in the wild and need to kill to survive. Humans, on the other hand, can choose kindness over killing. It is not only unnecessary for us to eat meat to survive, but we can also fare better on a vegetarian diet.
Q: Farm animals don’t really have feelings, do they?
A: A growing body of research on animal sentience reveals that farm animals not only experience pain when they are mutilated, mistreated, injured, or ill, but can also become stressed and frustrated when forced to live under conditions that prevent them from carrying out natural behaviors. With an equal capacity to feel pleasure, farm animals also have the ability to develop complex relationships with others and understand the world around them. Capable of suffering, feeling and awareness, cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals commonly exploited by agribusiness clearly deserve our protection.
Q: Meat-eaters may kill animals, but vegetarians kill plants. What’s the difference?
A: Unlike mammals, birds and fish, plants do not have a central nervous system and do not share the same ability to suffer. Further, it takes far more plant food to feed animals raised for human consumption than it does to feed vegetarians.
Q: How do you make the switch to a veg diet?
A: Some people “go veg” all at once, but many make a gradual transition. Moving toward a plant-based diet should be a pleasurable and fulfilling time of discovery, so take advantage of veg resources, seek support and move at your own pace. To begin your journey, try following these three easy steps: (1) Start the week with a “Meatless Monday.” Just one veg day a week will improve your health and save an animal’s life. (2) Substitute your favorite dishes with vegetarian versions. Try a veggie burger instead of hamburger or tofu instead of chicken in your stir-fry. (3) Experiment and have fun with your food. Purchase a new cookbook, search for recipes online and discover the many wonderful possibilities of veg cuisine.
Q: Isn’t it hard to give up meat, dairy and eggs?
A: Vegetarians may face challenges because of their dietary choices; however, the benefits can certainly outweigh any negatives. In fact, many new vegetarians claim to enjoy better physical and mental health and feel good knowing they are working toward improved health and well-being for themselves, animals and the environment.