International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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15th World Vegetarian Congress 1957
Delhi/Bombay/Madras/Calcutta, India

What is Vegetarianism?

(At the instigation and encouragement of Prof. Albert Einstein. Sir Russell Wallace, and Bernard Shaw, 'Vital Problem' was the first of the author's works translated into English. Ernst Haeckel expressed approval of it. The author is an original thinker of renown.)

The world "Vegetarianism" comes from the Latin "vegetus," which means quick, fresh, lively, lusty, sound. [this has always been disputed and the more common consensus today is that this derivation was a late 19th century invention, though that does not necessarily diminish the accuracy of what follows . . . - ed]

The Latin word " vegeo" means to be lusty and strong; "vegetabilis" : that which has life, grows, is comfortable, wholesome : "vegetandus" : to be quickened, or enlivened ; "vegetamen" : comfort, cherishment, enlivenment, principle of life, vital force; "vegetatio" a: refreshing, a making strong and lively; "vegetativus" : quickening; "vegetator"; n quickener, enlivener ; "vegeto" : to quicken or enliven, to make lively, lusty, quick, strong, to make sound, to refresh ; "vegetor": to be quickened or enlived (enlivened); "vegetare": to put in motion.

"Vegetus" comes from"vegere," and this from "vigere" which means to grow, to awake, to flourish, to develop, to create. "Vigeo " means to be awake, full of life, vigorous, to flourish, to stand high : ''vigesco": to wake up, to become full of life ; "vigil ": alert, wakeful, awake; "vigor": strength, vigor ; 'vita"; life ; "vigens": vigorous, strong.

Among old Romans, "vegeti oculi" (Suetonious, Caesar, 45) meant beautiful eyes ; "vegota libertas": freedom in all its strength ; "mons vegeta" (Cicero, Tusc. I, 17) a strong and sound soul; "Ingenium vegetum": a creating mind, a genius ; "homo vegetus": a healthy, strong, sound, and alert man. "Vegetior tauro aspectus quam bovi" (Col. 6, 20). "Intervallum temporis vegetissimum agricolis" (Plinius, 18, 65). "Qui viget mascatur armis ut percipiat praemium" (Paeuy, 22R). "Esse in deliciis summoque in honore vigere" (Lucretius, 4, 1156).

The Latin word "vigere" comes from the Sanskrit "vigra," strength ; "vigra" comes from '"vaksh," to grow, increase, become tall, to accumulate, to be great, strong, powerful. "Vakshayati" (Vedas) means to make grow, cause to increase, cause to be strong. The Sanskrit "vakshna" means strengthening, refreshing ; "vakshnni": making strong, strengthening ; and "vayas": energy, both bodily and mental ; "vaksh" is closely connected with the Zond word "uksh," which means to grow.

From the Sanskrit "vaksh" also comes the Teutonic word "wak," which means to quicken; and from that comes the German word "wacker," which means vigorous, dauntless, strong, healthy ; and the Swedish word "wacker" which means handsome, pretty, alive, courageous. The Indo-Germnn word "weg." "aweg," which means to put in motion, probably comes from tho Teutonic root "wak." We can say the same for the Gothic words "waken" and "wakjan," old German "wakken" and "wecken" which mean respectively, to match and to awake. It is remarkable to notice that the German word "wecken" corresponds to the Latin word "vigere" (to awake), and that the German word "wachen " corresponds to the Latin word "vigilare" (to watch). The German words "wacker," "wecken," "wuchen," and "wachsen," mean respectively: dauntless, to awake, to watch, and to grow.

All this shows us that the word "Vegetarianism" means the idea of living, of increasing our strength, of improving our physical as well as our moral and intellectual health, in order that we attain happiness. In other words, "Vegetarianism" means the idea of promoting the law of the conservation of life, which is the basis of morals.

From the Sanskrit "vaksh" probably comes the Greek word "hygies" : healthy. "Hygieinos," "hygieia" meant to the Greek people physical as well as spiritual health. So we see that hygiene, by preserving the health of the body, promotes the law of the conservation of life (morals). Therefore, "Vegetarianism" and "Hygiene" are one and the same thing, not only in a practical sense, but also because of the common origin of both words. Vegetarians are also sometimes called "Vigorists" in England, and in Germany "Lebensreformer," which means reformers of the method of life.

It seems to me very necessary to have said all this about the origin of the word "Vegetarianism," because most people, some vegetarians, and even many important dictionaries and encyclopedias have a wrong conception of this word. Almost all of them confound "Vegetarianism" with "Vegetalism," or rather , "Phytophagism," which is the true and more concrete name to term the partisan of a vegetable diet.

I have consulted some of the most important Encyclopedias : La Grand, Nouveau Larousse Illustre'e and Dictiounaire des Dictionnaires (French); Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Americana: and the Universal Encyclopedia (English), Brockhaus Konversations Lexikon, and Herders Konversations Lexikon : (German); Boccardo (Italian); and also the Webster
and the Funk and Wagnalls dictionaries (English) and all of them commit the mistake of confounding Vegetarianism with Vegetalism. With the exception of the Italian, all these encyclopedias devote a long and interesting article to Vegetarianism. Larousse begins his article as follows : "Systeme d'alimentation, dans lequel on supprime toutes les especes de viandes ou leurs derive's immediates ou meme tous les produits d'origin animal, dans un but soit prophylactic, soit curatif." (System of alimentation in which all kinds of meat or their products, or even all products of animal origin, are avoided with a prophylactic or with a curative aim.) The Encyclopedia Britannica (11th Edition) begins its article as follows: "Vegetarianism, a comparatively modern word, which came into use about the year 1847, as applied to the practice of living upon foods from which fish, flesh, and fowl are excluded." Of all dictionaries and encyclopedias, Myer's Konversations Lexikon (German, 16th Edition) is the only one which has given a true and exact definition of vegetarianism. His article on the subject begins as follows : "Vegetarismus (v. lat. Vegetus, gesund, munter), eine Lebensanschaung die darauf ausgeht, die Gesundheit des Koerpers und des Geistes und hiermit volleu Lebensgenuss sich zu verschaffen, ohne zugleich sich durch uble Gewohnheiten und Genussmittel zu shaedigen oder sittlich Sohuld auf sich zu nehmen." (Vegetarianism (from Latin Vegetus: healthy, cheery), a philosophy which aims at securing physical and mental health and thereby complete happiness, without at the same time taking harm through evil habits and luxurious living, or incurring moral guilt;.)

Vegetalism, or rather phytophagism (the idea of living on food of vegetable origin) and vegetarianism (a philosophical system based on the law of the conservation of life) are two different things. Their only connection is that, as we shall see later on in the chapter "Our Natural Food," phytophagism seems to be a condition of vegetarianism, since fruits and vegetables are the most natural, most healthful, most moral, most rational, and most convenient food for man's nature, and, therefore, that which best serves in man the purpose of promoting the law of the conservation of life.

Meat is the natural food for the tiger, and, therefore, it is that which best favours its development. So that a tiger eating meat can be considered as a good vegetarian, as a horse eating hay, or an ape eating fruits. If science were able to demonstrate that meat is the natural food for man, and therefore that which is the most suitable for him, then those who eat meat would be the only ones who could claim for themselves the right to be called vegetarians. We must remember that there are many plants which are harmful to man's nature, and even without mentioning the poisonous plants, we have many products which, in spite of being of vegetable origin, such as alcohol, coffee, tea, cocoa, etc. are harmful. On the other hand, water and fruits, contain germs (living beings), which vegetarians constantly swallow when they eat and drink, and even such plants as cabbage, lettuce, and potatoes possess life, which vegetarians destroy in order to nourish themselves. Thus we see that true and perfect vegetarians can devour certain living organisms which. like cabbage germs of water, etc., are favourable for their system. On the other hand, those people who take some foods of vegetable origin, such as alcohol, etc. for that sole reason could never be accepted in a vegetarian society. This shows that vegetarianism is not a simple question of vegetables versus meat, but a more important philosophical question which deals principally with morals and which embraces all other problems of mankind. Vegetarianism is not merely a question of food, but also of sun, air, light, water, nature, and principally of morals.