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


HISTORY OF VEGETARIANISM
GEOFFREY L. RUDD
From "Why Kill For Food ?"

Since only a proportion of life is predatory and carnivorous in its method of obtaining nutrition, it follows that the practice of vegetarianism is as old as life itself and there is no necessity for the anthropological assumption that we may have evolved through flesh-eating animals. To the contrary, these are separate and distinct branches of evolutionary development.

Every evidence points to the fact that human beings, the terminal form of the hominoidea, are naturally frugivorous and that it is only in comparatively recent times in the millions of years of planetary evolution, that homo sapiens was diverted during the ice ages from the dietary way of life for which he is anatomically equipped.

It is much more likely, if a spiritual source of motive power is ascribed to the universe, that parasites and cannibals are the result of degeneration and are the end-products of devolution through the operation of free will or physical cataclysms. Indeed a little thought on the idea of Divinely created life leads to the conclusion that life as we find it today has wandered a long way from its appointed path. however, the term "Vegetarian" is relatively new and coined in England in 1842 from the Latin "vegetus" (whole, sound, fresh, lively ), as a more pleasing and descriptive label than "non-meat-eater." The meaning given "one who abstains from the use as food of flesh, fish and fowl, with or without the addition of eggs and dairy produce." The terms "lacto-vegetarian" and "vegan" are therefore superfluous so far as the dictionary meaning is concerned, though they are symptomatic of the inadequacy of the word. "Vegetarian" still leaves much to be desired, for it gives the impression that vegetables are the only items of diet, whereas there is an almost inexhaustible range of foodstuffs-roots, herbs, leafy vegetables, legumes, grains, seed, fresh and dried fruits, berries and nuts, together with eggs and dairy produce. These give a menu infinitely more attractive and varied than the average meat-eater's fare, which is a monotonous routine of a few species of domesticated animals, decaying fish, with defeathered and disembowelled birds as a luxury item at the time of Christmas paradoxically in celebration of the birth of the son of God.

Historical vegetarianism, so far as written records are concerned, goes back into the obscurity of time, and some of the world's most brilliant intellectual giants and reformers have advocated a fleshlesh diet as a matter of principle.

In the root-religions, from which most others have borrowed and modified, the unity and sacredness of life have been an essential part with the natural corollary of vegetarianism.

The priests of ancient Egypt were, according to Clement of Alexandria forbidden flesh foods. Brahminism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism, which have no dated origin, have the same concept. Buddhism, founded in the sixth century B.C. with its main basis of harmlessness to all living beings, has 400 million adherents, many of whom are strict vegetarians, especially the priests. This ethical philosophy was not a new cult but a revolt from the sacerdotal practices of a degenerate Brahminism, which in those times had fallen away from its original simplicity. Buddhism became a practical exposition of the Brahminical postulate of a divine Godhead-Brahma -- the single Divine source of life.

In the Western world the first definitely vegetarian community consisted of the followers of Pythagoras, who gave an unsurpassed lustre to Greece of the sixth century B.C.

Howard Williams' scholarly survey of "vegetarian" literature, Ethics of Diet (long out of print), traced an appreciation of a meatless diet back to the eighth century B.C. and the early Orphic Societies. He also found a preference for a purer diet in the Hesiodic poems. In a footnote to his chapter on Pythagoras he wrote "Among the adherents of early Pythagoreanism are to be found some of the most intellectual as well as most virtuous of the old Hellenic philosophers savants and niornlists. It is possible here merely to name so distinguished intellects as Archytas, perhaps the most eminent scientific genius and inventor in the Hellenic world; and Epicharmos, the great composer of didactic comedy."

Empedokles in the fifth century B.C. continued the Pythagorean tradition and was considered as semi-divine in his own lifetime for his scientific medicine which, incidentally, did not include drugs and vaccines; he left no doubt about his opinion of flesh foods. "Will you not put an end to this accursed slaughter? Will you not see that you are destroying yourselves in blind ignorance of soul?"

Platonism may also be considered a continuation of the philosophy of Pythagaoras, and Plato was insistent upon his dietetic principles.

Asoka, the third century B.C. vegetarian Indian Emperor and exponent of Buddhism, called the third Buddhist Council at which 1,000 followers fixed the sacred canon. He issued edicts and established medical facilities throughout his kingdom for both men and animals.

Up to the time of Christ, outstanding religious bodies and communities, like the Essenes, practised an ascetic life and eschewed flesh foods. Hermes Trismegistus, Plotinus, Apollonius, Porphyry, Seneca, Ovid, Diogenes, Socrates, Plutarch and many others might be added to the list of distinguished vegetarians.

Christianity is a special problem in connection with vegetarianism, for the New Testament depicts Christ as a fish and meat-eater. We have devoted special chapters to this problem, but it is interesting to note here that many early Christian Fathers, like Origen, Tertullian, John Chrysostom, and Clement of Alexandria were vegetarians so were the early Christian "Saints," in Britain, who were later ousted by the Roman version of Christianity, Roman soldiers lived almost entirely on grains and vegetables and our other ancestors, apart from the luxury classes were almost vegetarian - it is from these people that most of us have inherited the sturdy stock now being dissipated by blind unreasoning habits of eating. The further we get back to the Master the more evidence we find for vegetarianism. Doubtless the "Dead Sea Scrolls" will shed furthcr light on this matter.

Coming to more recent times our personalities include Milton, Pope, Shelley, Rousseau, Thoreau, Voltaire, Gleizes, Sir Isaac Newton and George Bernard Shaw. All these people have shown that flesh foods are not necessary for advanced thinking processes- vegetarian athletes, ranging from Greek Marathon runners to modern swimmers, weight-lifters, wrestlers and long distance runners and cyclists have demonstrated that the peak of physical fitness can be achieved without slaughterhouse products.

There is a letter extant from Sir Richard Phillips, High Sheriff of Middlesex, written in 1837, in which he testifies to 67 years of abstention from flesh food and this takes us back to 1780.

Shortly after the introduction of the term "vegetarian" in 1842 the first secular organization devoted entirely to an advocacy of a fleshless diet was founded in Manchester in 1847 and was called "The Vegetarian Society."

Credit for the founding of the Parent Society must go to members of the Bible Christian Church, Salford, founded in 1809 by the Rev. William Cowherd. This young Anglican clergyman was convinced that a complete abstinence from flesh foods was essential for spiritual attainment and his congregation pledged themselves to be vegetarian. In 1817 forty one members of the Bible Christian Church, under the leadership of the Rev. William Metcalfe, emigrated and established a similar Church in Philadelphia, U.S.A. Foremost among the outstanding body of people who supported Mr. Cowherd was Mr. Joseph Brotherton, a Member of Parliament. and he wrote the first vegetarian tract to be printed in England in 1820.

Visitors to this country are sometimes puzzled by the fact that there are two. "National" societies in England - at Manchester and London. In 1885 The Vegetarian Society purchased the goodwill of The National Food Reform Society and established a London Auxiliary. This branch grew until 1888, when it claimed its independence and became The London Vegetarian Society. Whatever difficulties were experienced in those days, the closest harmony and co-operation exists today.

The Vegetarian Society has about forty-fiveAffiliated Societies in the British Isles: Scotland, Wales, and Eire have their main national societies. The International Vegetarian Union sprang from the movement in Britain and was formed in 1908 following a suggestion by Dr. Anjou, of Nice, at the Diamond Jubilee meetings of The Vegetarian Society. Its first International Congress was held in Nice (sic) in 1908 and was convened by The Vegetarian Society, the second in 1909 being in Manchester, the centenary year of The Bible Christian Church, Following a break caused by the Second World War an International Congress was held at Wycliffe College, Gloucestershire in 1947 and this coinoided with The Vegetarian Society's centenary.

Until 1950 all the I.V.U. work was done by honorary officials, but through the generosity of Mrs. Clarence Gasque, of California, permanent headquarters were established in London with a paid full-time Secretary, and the international movement now has affiliated centres in nearly every country - Africa, Argentine, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Eire, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, India, Israel, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malaya, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and United States of America, with points of contact in many others.

The last congress was held in Paris and before that in Sweden & Holland. At least 10 nations sent representatives.

Mr. James Hough, in The Vegetarian Movement in Britain (World Forum Vol. ix, No. 2, 1955), stated : "The success of the National Societies' work is only partly shown by the number of the members. A truer indication of progress is to be seen when we compare the reception given to their advocates by the public at the beginning with that given today. One hundred years ago the organized advocacy of vegetarianism was confined to The Vegetarian Society and two small churches - one in England and the other in America - now vigorous societies for vegetarian propaganda are to be found throughout the old and the new world .

The reluctance of the British Broadcasting Corporation to allow vegetarianism to be mentioned has now been overcome and the writer had the privilege of making the first real statement of vegetarian principles in March. 1956.

Summer Schools and Holiday Centres have played an important part in British propaganda since 1901 and the demand for purely vegetarian accommodation has enabled about 200 Guest Houses to be established and a Vegetarian Catering Association to be organized for training caterers and raising the standard of services. Mostly every large town has a Health Food Store and big concerns produce "health" foods.

The British movement has three magazines, The Vegetarian, official bi-monthly of The Vegetarian Society, The Vegetarian News, The London Vegetarian Society's quarterly; and World Forum, an independent quarterly formed and edited by the author since 1947. Many other countries produce vegetarian journals.