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A Kinder, Gentler Diet

A Kinder, Gentler Diet
  • Tirukkural English Translation and Comme... (by )
  • Food, Home and Garden (by )
  • The Logic of Vegetarianism; Essays and D... (by )
  • Shelley's Vegetarianism (by )
  • A vindication of natural diet (by )
  • The Ethics of Diet : a Catena of Authori... (by )
  • Failures of Vegetarianism (by )
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The invention of modern refrigeration and food preservation techniques enable many people to enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables as part of a well-balanced diet, regardless of season. This modern development allows for people to forego the slaughter of animals to acquire the necessary protein in their diets.

It is true in many modern nations, including the United States, that the general population is three generations removed from the family farm. In short, people have lost their connection to food sources. Many of these same people instead view livestock as companion animals with emotion, intelligence, sentience, and even souls. The anthropomorphism of animals makes the thought of killing and eating them anathema. That, in turn, supports the growing popularity of vegetarianism.

Vegetarianism, which is a diet that practices abstention from the meat and flesh of any animal, comes in several varieties. Some vegetarian diets allow the consumption of eggs, dairy, and/or honey. Others disallow consumption of vegetables in the allium family (onion, garlic, leeks, etc.). Still others, such as fruitarianism, allow eating only vegetable matter that can be harvested without harming the plants. Veganism, a more extreme form of vegetarianism,  prohibits consumption of all animal-based food as well as manufactured or refined food products, such as white sugar. Some vegans go so far as to consume only fresh, uncooked fruit and vegetables.
The term vegetarianism, referring to a plant-based diet and those who practice it (vegetarians), came into common use in 1839, and was popularized by the Vegetarian Society in Manchester, UK in 1947. The practice of a non-meat diet, however, arose elsewhere in the world, with records showing vegetarianism being intentionally practiced as early as the 7th century BC in the Indus Valley. It was also practiced in ancient Greece by the Orphics, with records dating vegetarianism as early as the 6th century BC. Indian culture, especially the Tirukkural (see couplets 251 to 260), promotes nonviolence toward animals, which leads to vegetarianism.

The spread of Christianity influenced the diet of millions throughout the centuries. In the Middle Ages, vegetarianism practically disappeared, if only because religious doctrine specified the consumption of fish. The Renaissance witnessed the re-emergence of vegetarianism, though the practicalities of life restricted the practice mainly to the wealthy upper classes who could afford greenhouses and servants.
Being omnivores, humans have evolved to consume a variety of foods. Unlike cats, humans can thrive without eating meat, although acquiring sufficient protein, iron, B12, calcium, and vitamin D without eggs, dairy, or meat poses a challenge. Scientists, dieticians, nutritionists, and religious authorities since the early 1800s have both attempted to promote and debunk vegetarianism, citing reasons based upon ethics, environmental concerns, economics, and healthier living.

For more information on both the pros and cons of vegetarianism, read Food, Home and Garden by Henry S. Clubb of the Vegetarian Society of America, The Logic of Vegetarianism; Essays and Dialogues by Henry Stephens Salt, Shelley’s Vegetarianism by William E. A. Axon, FRSL, A Vindication of the Natural Diet by Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Ethics of Diet by Howard Williams, and Failures of Vegetarianism by Eustace Miles.

By Karen M. Smith

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