History of Vegetarianism
Some ancient Greeks were known to promote vegetarianism, including the mathematician Pythagoras, who believed that all animals and humans were spiritually related because of reincarnation. Some well-known philosophers are believed to have followed in Pythagoras' footsteps, including Apollonius and Socrates. Historians are unclear about the extent to which these ancient Greeks committed to vegetarianism, as many details of their lives are lost. The philosopher Plato indicated some respect for vegetarian ideas in his writings, but it is doubtful whether he practiced vegetarianism himself.
Many authors throughout history endorsed vegetarianism, including the poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744), best known for his "Pastorals," and the French author, Voltaire (1694-1778). The nineteenth century English Romantic poets, including Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), were well known for supporting animal rights and for advocating a plant-based diet.
India has a long tradition of vegetarianism and has hosted the majority of vegetarians throughout history. Many Hindus choose vegetarianism based on a spiritual belief in nonviolence, while others refrain from eating beef because the cow is considered sacred. Jains value the lives of all living creatures and condemn violence against animals. The most well-known Indian vegetarian was Mahatma Gandhi, who influenced many followers during the twentieth century.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was the first well-known vegetarian in the United States. At the age of sixteen, after reading a book on vegetarianism by the English pacifist, Thomas Tryon (1634-1703), Franklin decided to forego "flesh" on the grounds that he could no longer justify the need to kill animals. Later on, however, Franklin changed his mind when he witnessed a cod cut open, revealing a stomach filled with smaller fish. Franklin concluded that the food chain might be acceptable after all, and resumed eating fish.
Vegetarianism has also been associated with certain Christian sects and denominations that preached non-violence toward all living creatures. In 1817, the Rev. William Metcalfe immigrated to America along with other English members of the Bible Christian Church, whose leaders embraced vegetarianism. His preaching about the spiritual value of animals attracted the Rev. Sylvester Graham. Graham took up the cause and preached to audiences throughout the country, earning him the title of the American "Father of Vegetarianism." In addition to a plant-based diet, Graham promoted whole-wheat flour over the increasingly popular processed white flour. The flour became known as Graham flour, and the crackers made from it were called "Graham crackers."
In 1850, after practicing vegetarianism for decades, Metcalfe founded the American Vegetarian Society and became its first president. Metcalfe credited his plant-based diet with protecting him from the Cholera outbreaks of 1832 and 1849. However, modern science does not support this theory, as Cholera is transmitted via contaminated water rather than meat.
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the vegetarian movement continued to attract a small but growing number of followers. Veganism gained prominence during the mid-twentieth century and in 1944, the first Vegan Society formed in England, followed by the American Vegan Society in 1960.
In 1971, vegetarian author Frances Moore Lappé published the book "Diet for a Small Planet," which was read by millions of people throughout the world over the course of the next few decades. In addition to providing recipes, Lappé promoted vegetarianism as a way to end world hunger, which she blamed on ineffective governments and the agricultural industry.