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History of Vegetarianism - Europe: The Middle Ages to the 18th Century
George Louis Leclerc, Compte de Buffon (1707-1788)



Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, by François-Hubert Drouais
French encyclopedist of natural history; pricipally author of Histoire naturelle (36 vols - 1749-89); containing the Epoques de la nature (1777), whioch foreshadowed later theories of evolution.

an extract from L'Histoire Naturelle:

Man is enabled to use, as a master, his power over animals. He has multiplied them more than Nature could have done. He has formed innumerable flocks, and by the cares which he takes in propagating them he seems to have acquired the right of sacrificing them for himself. But he extends that right much beyond his needs. For, independently of those species which he has subjected and of which he disposes at his will, he makes war also upon wild animals, upon birds, upon fishes. He does not even limit himself to those of the climate he inhabits. He seeks at a distance, even in the remotest seas, new meats, and entire Nature seems scarcely to suffice for his intemperance and the inconstant variety of his appetites.

Man alone consumes and engulfs more flesh than all other animals put together. He is, then, the greatest destroyer, and he is so more by abuse than by necessity. Instead of enjoying with moderation the resources offered him, in place of dispensing them with equity, in place of repairing in proportion as he destroys, of renewing in proportion as he annihilates, the rich man makes all his boast and glory in consuming, all his splendour in destroying, in one day, at his table, more matenal than would be necessary for the support of several families. He abuses equally other animals and his own species, the rest of whom live in famine, languish in misery, and work only to satisfy the immoderate appetite and the still more insatiable vanity of this human being who, destroying others by want, destroys himself by excess.

And yet Man might, like other animals, live upon vegetables. Flesh is not a better nourishment than grains or bread. What constitutes true nourishment, what contributes to the nutrition, to the development, to the growth, and to the support of the body, is not that brute matter which, to our eyes, composes the texture of flesh or of vegetables, but those organic molecules which both contain; since the ox, in feeding on grass, acquires as much flesh as man or as animals who live upon flesh and blood... The essential source is the same; it is the same matter, it is the same organic molecules which nourish the Ox, Man, and all the animals... It is proved by facts that Man could well live upon bread, vegetables, and the grains of plants, since we know entire nations and classes of men to whom religion forbids to feed upon anything that has life.

  • Buffon - from The Ethics of Diet by Howard Williams, 1883