|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
35th World Vegetarian Congress
'Food for all our futures'
Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland
July 8-14, 2002
The Vegetarian Society
of the United Kingdom
By Jane Bowler (editor of The Vegetarian - VSUK magazine)
Tuesday: a diet or a philosophy?
Derek told his audience that he is intrigued to discover whether vegetarianism is inevitably linked to interest in 'green' issues, left-wing political views and campaigning against injustice. He suggested that people may have one of two 'world views'. The 'holistic' view is that humans are an integral part of nature. Those who hold this view are inclined towards reverence for all life and a profound egalitarianism. The 'anthropocentric' view is that humans are at the top of a hierarchy, and set apart from 'nature' in general. Nature is to be used by humans, and controlled or exploited to human advantage.
The holistic view was popular at the time of Pythagoras (2600BC). At this time the Greeks believed that the earth itself was a living organism, from which all living beings sprang and to which eventually they returned. Pythagoras posited a theory on the 'transmigration' of souls which meant that after death, the soul would move into another living organism so a human soul might later live in an animal. He went on to suggest that, if this was the case, to eat an animal might be to eat one's relative! Pythagoras set up communities with radically egalitarian principles, which advocated equal rights for women and universal free education.
Aristotle was a major proponent of the hierarchical view of nature. He argued that animals do not have souls, and so they are lower in the hierarchy than humans. Aristotle was determined that it was right and proper for humans to eat animals. Later, human-centred religions fostered the view that God gave humans dominion over animals. Vegetarianism was a direct challenge to the religious order, and the vegetarian diet became known in some circles as 'the heretic's feast'.
Derek reiterated that, according to his studies, the link between vegetarianism and an interest in egalitarianism and social justice was no co-incidence. He suggested that whatever is behind a person's decision to go vegetarian, that decision can lead to a gradual awakening to other related issues. Perhaps, he suggested, vegetarianism is not just a diet, but a philosophy of life, with campaigning vegetarians acting as a real force for good in the world!