In the last few decades the population of the Earth has rapidly increased. Only 50 years ago there were half as many people as today and 200 years ago seven times less. Due to the overpopulation, the humanity now faces the problem of global hunger. One of seven children on Earth doesn’t have enough food to live a healthy and active life. In contrast, in some countries, obesity and overeating are the major problems. We have invented various diets, food restrictions and philosophies to fit our needs. One of the most traditional and ancient is veganism and vegetarianism. Today, there are more than half a billion vegans and vegetarians in the world and the number is increasing. But what does stand behind the world’s most popular diet?
You will be surprised, but a plant-based diet has a pretty long history.
They used to eat plants, seeds, berries, roots and just a little meat. Most of the tribes could not rely on hunting, because the tools were imperfect and hard to use. In those days, people did not know how to store meat for a long time, so even big prey sometimes turned out to be useless. It is also important that our digestive system is quite similar to the digestive system of most herbivores and that is why our intestines absorb plant foods much better. Human teeth are designed for chewing vegetable food and fruit but not for uncooked meat. This is our difference from our closest relatives, chimpanzees, whose teeth are more like the teeth of predators. Nevertheless, even chimpanzees rarely use their teeth to eat meat, much more often for self-defense.
We are not trying to say that our ancestors preferred plants to meat on purpose. No, they definitely were omnivores. But, as humans began to spread over the planet, they met different environmental and climatic conditions. They had to switch to meat due to lack of plant foods, cold seasons and so on. The Ice Age was the longest period of vegetation deficit, and that’s when people began to eat more meat.
The first civilization that decided to give up eating meat on its own initiative was India. More than 2500 years ago ancient Hindus and Buddhists started to live meat-free. Their decision was based on religious beliefs and so called “circle of life”. The basic principle of their faith was mercy for all living beings. Some Buddhists have tried to exclude even accidental ingestion of insects. They had a special broom with which they swept the path in front of them. These were mainly ethical reasons for refusing animal food. The ancient beliefs are still echoing in the modern Hindus culture as the cult of sacred cow.
Almost every Asian culture had its own restrictions on consuming meat. For example, Taoist and Buddhist monks in China were not allowed to eat any animal or dairy products and the Japanese Emperor banned all livestock for religious organizations.
First European vegetarians started to appear at the golden age of ancient Greece. Plant-based diet was quite popular among Greek philosophers and scientists. One of the most famous mathematicians, Pythagoras, supported the idea of a plant diet. He explained that it is disgusting to eat the living beings when you can always find a good vegetable replacement. A Greek poet and musician Orpheus thought that it is cruel to eat a creature that probably has an immortal soul. We know that one of the followers of Pythagoras, Plotinus, refused medicines based on animal products.
The Egyptian civilization also had some animal related regulations. Akhenaton or Amenophis IV, a powerful pharaoh, forbade all animal sacrifice, because he thought that one can’t take the life given by Ra. This is one of the first known animal rights laws.
There always were vegans and vegetarians, but truly serious this movement became in the 19th century in Europe. First ever Vegetarian Society was established in 1847 in Great Britain. It was more like a religious organization with its most members are the followers of Bible Christian Church. Since then vegetarianism gradually spread to other European countries. The communities were created in Sweden, Germany and France. At that time, supporters of plant diets were divided into two groups. The first was a group of ideological vegetarians who did not eat meat for ethical reasons. Mostly, that was a tribute paid to fashion, but the members of this group helped to spread the word about the cruelty against the animals. Due to the fact that ideological vegetarians belonged to high society, the first vegetarian restaurants and eateries appeared in Europe. The others were so called hygienic vegetarians. Those believed in the healthiness of a vegan diet and promoted it as a panacea for all human sicknesses. In the 19th century, the rural population prevailed over the urban one and vegetable diet ideas were not widespread. The villagers could not refuse animal husbandry, since it provided their main income.
Our familiar separation of vegetarianism and veganism began in the 20th century with the help of Donald Watson. He is considered the author of the word “vegan”. In early childhood, Donald learned about farm animal cruelty and became a vegetarian. In 1944 he together with his wife created The Vegan Society. They’d made the word “vegan” out of the first three and the last two letters of the word “vegetarian” and registered it in the Oxford Dictionary. In one of the interview he revealed the meaning of the word, and that was “the beginning and the end of vegetarianism”. The ideas of the Society spread slowly: in 1944 there were 25 members of it and in 1998 only 4000. The life of Donald Watson is a great example of how the veganism can influence your health. He died in 2005 at the age of 95.
The idea of Mr. Watson was to separate the traditional vegetarianism and the fully plant-based diet. He consolidated the ethical and the physical part of vegetarianism and called for conscious nutrition. Vegans refuse eating all animal products, including eggs, dairies and honey. They also don’t wear any wool or silk. Why is it so? First thing’s first, the farm animals are usually kept in terrible conditions, some of them don’t even have chance to see the sunlight. As for the bees, many of them die during the extraction of honey. Beekeepers also kill drones and bad queens and destroy competing hives. Sheep used for making wool suffer from parasites on their bare skin. In order to protect them from parasites, people cut a piece of their skin off to make a scar where the little bugs can’t live. Those are just few reasons for the vegans to avoid any animal related-product.
Today, veganism is becoming more and more popular because of the vegan celebrities. Many stars promote the principles of veganism. Among them are actress Natalie Portman, director James Cameron, musicians Paul McCartney and Jared Leto, boxer Mike Tyson, politician Bill Clinton, nutritionist John Robbins and many others. Someone believes that humanity will follow a non-violent path of development, others that veganism will help their health. Thanks to these influential people, many corporations offer a special line of products for vegans. There are more and more vegan coffee houses and restaurants, health food stores, clothes and shoes markets in the world. Some automakers refused to use leather in the interior just because of their vegan ambassador.
Everyone has the right to choose the right diet. You can refuse flour and sweet, fast food and soda. Do what you think is good for your body. Veganism offers a conscious diet approach. It combines the benefits both for an individual person and for the entire planet as a whole. Now, knowing the history of veganism, you can understand that this is more than just dietary restrictions. This is a kind of lifestyle. Vegans care about the environment, about other living things, about their health.
Everyone knows that the use of alcohol and tobacco does not lead to instant death, but has negative consequences. The same thing, according to vegans, happens when eating animal products. We don’t know exactly how evolution has affected our digestive system, but we can be sure that conscious eating won’t harm our body. The philosopher Jeremiah Bentham in the 18th century compared animal suffering to human suffering. Let’s ask ourselves : Why kill someone for the sake of their own satiation?