Let us start with a brief background on some the reasons people have chosen a vegetarian diet in our history:
The idea of vegetarianism is not a new one, by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed man has in one way or another eaten vegetarian diets since his beginnings. Granted, the first vegetarians did so only out necessity. Meat may not have been available due to harsh winters, animal migrational patterns or even poor tribal leadership. Only foraged food would have been available under such circumstances.
As man evolved and became more able to manipulate his environment, so came the option to choose. Available facts point to the first vegetarian ideologies being practiced in Egypt around 3,200BC where some religious groups abstained from eating flesh, as they believed it produced bad karma with regards to their reincarnation.
Around 2000BC Hindus, on the Indian sub-continent, began practising vegetarianism in the belief that a vegetarian diet is needed to reach spiritual enlightenment. Even today, Hindus make up the largest percentage of vegetarians on the Earth.
Also from the Indian sub-continent, around 600BC, came the religion of Jainism. In its teachings, Jainism insists that we honor the spiritual nature of all life. Extemely dedicated Jainists go to the extent of straining insects from drinking water and even wearing masks to avoid inhaling small, airborne creatures. They will only eat fruits that have natually fallen from trees and are not supposed to eat honey or rooted plants.
Janism is the only religion requiring their monks to be vegetarian.
Vegetarianism was also popularised in Ancient Greece by many of the great philosophers including Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle. Indeed vegetarians in Europe were originally referred to as Pythagoreans, after the Greek Philosopher Pythagoras advocated a vegetarian diet for its nutritional and ethical values. He claimed,
“As long as Man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.”
It was not until 1847, when the first vegetarian society was formed in Ramsgate, Kent UK, that the name Vegetarian was first conceived. Contrary to popular belief, the word Vegetarian arose from the Latin word ‘vegetus’, meaning ‘lively’ which was how early vegetarians claimed their diet made them feel.
Many reason have been voiced in favour of vegetarianism in our history including the long held philosophy that vegetarians are living longer, healthier lives than their meat eating counter-parts. Much evidence has already been accumulated to support these claims.
Now let us look at some of the reasons that justify becoming vegetarian in our modern society.
The case of necessity speaks for itself really; anyone unable to find a supply of meat sufficient to sustain life must find an alternative until such time that meat becomes available again.
An Economic Vegetarian is someone who practices vegetarianism either out of necessity, lack of funds for instance, or because of a conscious or philosophical viewpoint that the consumption of meat is economically unsound and that vegetarianism will help improve public health and curb many starvation issues.
Environmental Vegetarians are similar to Economic Vegetarians. According to the United Nations, the livestock sector (cows, chickens, pigs, etc) is one of the three most significant contributors to our most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. It is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases. The use of feedlots, for cattle feeding, is one of the most inefficient and environmentally harmful ways of producing meat; yet they still remain widespread throughout cattle farming.
Many religions support vegetarianism including Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Taoism. They offer similar teachings which stress the value of all life and forbids the act of destroying life simply for human gains.
Some people genuinely do not enjoy the taste of meat, suggesting it tastes sweaty or fatty. Others choose to be vegetarian because they find meat products aesthetically unappetizing. An example being, the carcass of a herd animal lying in a field would attract real carnivores such as big cats or wolves, but the mere sight would disgust most humans.
Many vegetarians, especially western vegetarians, are motivated by animal welfare. They see animals as our friends, with whom we share the world and not as mere food. The fact that most parents actively encourage their children to love and appreciate animals is totally contradictory to the way in which humans really respect and treat animals.
Possibly the single most reason more and more people are turning to vegetarianism, current studies are showing that vegetarians are living longer and healthier. A study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1999 found that the mortality ratio in fish eaters was lowest (0.82) then followed by vegetarians (0.84) occasional meat eaters also at (0.84) compared to regular meat eaters at (1.0).
A recent study shown in the British Medical Journal concluded that,
“Higher IQ at age 10 years was associated with an increased likelihood of being vegetarian at age 30…IQ remained a statistically significant predictor of being vegetarian as an adult…”
Conscience is a conglomeration of all the other reasons. It is our moral conscience, which allows us to weigh up what we see, hear and know. It is our choice whether we allow it to influence out daily life. Those who are able to suppress their consciousness, deliberately or otherwise, will ultimately make a decision that will not favour the miss-fortunes of animals.
I hope, that in some way, this article will encourage people to explore vegetarianism as a real option. Whatever reasons for becoming vegetarian, one thing is not in doubt; vegetarianism is here to stay and it looks likely to become the preferred diet of choice for all humans in the not too distant future.