There is a new threat to today’s dinner table. It is not tainted meat. It is not
salmonella. It is something much more subtle. It is vegetarianism. It is a growing trend
with teenagers and is making its way into the typical American diet. Vegetables are no
longer just a side dish; now, even restaurants have completely vegetarian entrees. The
choices are not limited to just one or two items at many reputable restaurants there is ten
to twelve vegetarian selections. It is OK to be a vegetarian today. Some see the avoidance
of meat as simply a choice for a healthier lifestyle and Americans are attempting to live
healthier and longer lives. The health consciousness of American culture today has simply
revived a long history of vegetarianism. During the sixties many hippies were practicing
vegetarianism as a part of their rebellious, non-violent movement. Over the years there
have been numerous people with a variety of reasons living the vegetarian lifestyle to
varying degrees. There is no typical vegetarian personality. There is not a vegetarian gene.
It is simply a lifestyle choice that a small but growing number of the population choose to
live. Many people are finding that vegetarianism is healthful to their bodies as well as their
souls, but as with most choices, there are drawbacks. Maintaining the right balance of
nutrients can be difficult in the beginning of the vegetarian journey.
Vegetarianism is nothing new. Some believe the idea of abstaining from eating
meat is as old as the Garden of Eden. After reading through the book of Genisis, one is
left with the impression that Adam and Eve were both vegetarians. All the animals
susposally lived in harmony. This idea, of course, is controversial since many people do
not believe such a place ever existed (Spencer 1). A slightly more recent and less
controversial account of vegetarianism is of Pythagoras the philosopher in sixth century B.C.
Greece. Pythagoras’ vegetarian beliefs were influenced by two prephilosophical
movements. The first is the Orphics, a mystical cult that practiced vegetarianism. “It is not
known why this group lived a vegetarian lifestyle but it is theorized the reason is because
of the belief in soul transmigration” (Dombrowski 35). Orpheus was believed to be able to
move plants, animals, and rocks with the just his voice. The second influence on
Pythagoras was the Egyptian priests. The Egyptians like the Orphics believed in the
transmigration of the soul (Dombrowski 36).
Phythagoras was born around 580 B.C. in Samatos off the coast of Turkey. He
began his life of learning on the island but soon left to study abroad. Pythagoras studied
under one philosopher after another until 525 B.C. at this time he was in Egypt when the
Babylonians invaded and deported many Greeks to Babylon. He was soon set free in
Babylon and this is when he began studying the Magian Rites through Zaratas, a sage. The
Magian Rites used drugs and herbs and obstained from eating meat and bean, this
influence along with the path set forth by the Egyptian priest and the Orphics laid the
foundation for the Pythagorean diet.
The Pythagorean diet was a term used in mediterrian and through out Europe until
the mid 1800’s. Over time the Pythagorean diet was known as a diet that excluded “flesh
of slaughtered animals” (Spencer 33).This was not how the Pythagorean diet began. It is
believed Pythagoras was a vegetarian most of his life so the diet with the Magian rites
were easily incorporated into his lifestyle. Pythagoras’ followers, the Pythagoreans, used
his diet in their religion. They ate foods that were similar to the spices the gods ate. One
reason for this is “the more insubstantial the food, the more the body was purified, and
the closer it could come to the gods” (Spencer 49). A second reason is so Pythagoras and
his followers could live a and pure simple life. Pythagoras instructed his followers to eat
only raw foods and the cleanest drinking water to insure the purity of the mind and body
(Dombrowski 46). No one is sure when Pythagoras died, but his legacy has lived on
through out the years vicariously by way of his diet.
Slowly vegetarianism faded into the background for many centuries in Europe.
Only small groups continued to practice vegetarianism on a very small scale during this
time. In the orient vegetarianism was very strong. Religions like Hinduism helped
vegetarianism stay alive.
A quick jump into the near past and modern vegetarianism finds the Bible Christian
Church in England established by Reverend William Cowherd in 1809.