1. The stigma of being green
For those who partake in devouring the occasional steak, hot dog or cheeseburger, it’s difficult to imagine life without meat. Some are even baffled by those who opt out of consuming meat in exchange for grains, veggies, and legumes. Others, however, respect the dietary decisions that people make in the name of health, animal rights, or environmental purposes.
Everybody is different, but, what is it about — pardon the pun — going cold turkey for meat that is so jarring? For those who associate a vegetarian as an angry, half-starved, Trader Joe’s store clerk hellbent on judging the dietary choices of others, let’s take a step back and ask ourselves what the principle is all about. Where did the idea come from? The history may surprise you.
2. Since the rise of man
Before you start crossing your arms and bitterly frown at the screen, let’s talk science. Roughly 10,000 years ago, our ancestors developed the tools and resources to trap, hunt, forage, and farm.
No longer did humans feel compelled to hide in the safety of caves or naturally fortified spaces, but were confident to form communities, build homes, and raise livestock. The cultivation and devouring of meat emerged, but before that, our diets were strictly tied to what we can find and forage, (i.e. berries, fruit, nuts, and veggies).
3. Leaning on green
Don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying our ancestors didn’t eat meat, but it was easier to eat what was around and available; fish, bird, or a small quadruped or two. What’s the point? Hunting was dangerous, justifiably so, and though eating meat helped our evolutionary projection, we’re not a species who primarily worshiped the consumption of meat alone.
We leaned on the green. We didn’t start making conscious decisions about what we put in our mouths until a little under 4,000 years ago, in the land of pharaohs: Egypt.
4. Worshipping of gods
Ancient Egyptians were famously known for their polytheism; worshipping a plethora of gods such as Ra, Horus, Sekhmet, Thoth, or Hathor. All of which were personified by the face or body of an animal. Hathor, for instance, was the goddess of joy and femininity and was depicted as having the head or body of a cow.
Because their gods embodied animal characteristics, some avoided meat and instead opted to consume cultivated wheat, grains, and barley; they only consumed meat during festivals or special occasions.
5. They didn’t trade just silk
Moving through our imaginary timeline, we come across the teaching of Mahavira, Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism where we are introduced to the ideas of Ahimsa. Ahimsa is the principle of nonviolence toward all living things. The far east was where the practice of actively rejecting meat (and was incorporated into the spiritual beliefs of the people) was born, and soon, whispers of the practice would spread to the Western world.
How? Through trade. Silk is not the only thing that merchants brought to the western world. They brought awareness of culture, spirituality, religion, and philosophy. This knowledge would soon make its way to the famous Greek mathematician and philosopher, Pythagoras.
6. A different kind of theorem
Born in Samos, Greece, sometime in late 500 BC, Pythagoras is well-known for his mathematical theorem, the Pythagorean Theorem. Anyone remember the song they made you sing in school? Who (unfortunately) doesn’t? According to The Heretic’s Feast: A History of Vegetarianism, Pythagoras was the ancient Dr. Doolittle.
He had such a high affinity for animals that he was rumored to tame irate bulls, aggressive boars, and convince a dog owner to stop beating a dog because the animal was “an old friend.” It was because of his love for animals that Pythagoras refused to eat any kind of animal meat, including fish.
7. A true animal rights activist
Pythagoras believed that all animals had a soul and he personally refused to touch anything that had to be killed to be eaten. His belief became so popular that he gained a following, to whom he advised against wearing animal pelts and the consumption of beans.
Yup, legumes were also off the table. Strangely enough, he believed beans — especially fava bean — were the source of growing souls. It was argued that the fava bean stem was hollow and would allow souls of the dead to travel from the soil to the legume. So, what did our quirky vegetarian eat? Honeycombs for breakfast, and for dinner, a millet of barley bread and boiled vegetables. Mmm…wholesome!
8. Breaking the morning fast
The way we view food and how we consumed it has changed alternatively since we cultivated and raised livestock. In the Middle Ages, religion played a large part in peoples’ diets. For instance, it was frowned upon to eat before morning mass, and eating meat was only permitted intermittenly throughout the year.
However, it was during this time in history that the term “breakfast” was introduced, which quite literally meant to “break the night’s fast” according to BBC. It wasn’t until the 17th century that all social classes began to eat breakfast, and the diet varied. How we saw the rituals of eating and digesting was slowly changing, maybe for the greater good.
9. Ben Franklin was a vegetarian (for a while)
The name “vegetarian” wasn’t coined until the mid-1800s. Before that, it was called the “Pythagorean diet.” Fast forward, we dash through the timeline of human history and pause in the 18th century. Before Ben Franklin was a formidable politician in American history, he was a print maker and a vegetarian.
That’s right, one of our famous forefathers nibbled on greens and abstained from bacon. However, Franklin was not directly inspired by Pythagoras’s teachings. He was instead inspired by another vegetarian philosopher.
10. Rookie mistakes
Thomas Tryon was an English merchant and the author of The Way to Health and Long Life. In his writings, Tryon was inspired by the vegetarian livelihood of Pythagoras and his followers and wrote about the health and spiritual benefits of vegetarianism.
Curious to try the all-vegetable-eating-lifestyle, Ben Franklin decided to give it a shot and began a “short-lived diet of bread and water.” Franklin noticed obvious changes, but not what he hoped. He described himself as becoming “stout and hearty” and indulged in a high starch diet of boiled rice, potatoes, and hasty pudding. A rookie vegetarian mistake, similar to the belief that a vegetarian diet is all pasta, pizza, and Oreos; really, you’re just carving up and feeding the beast (aka the roaring belly). Protein actually provides the feeling of satiation for a longer period of time, so it can be difficult for vegetarians to feel full unless the replace meat with plant-based protein.
11. Old habits die hard
Though there were some bumps on the road, Franklin found the diet to be economically advantageous. Without the extra expense of procuring meat, Franklin was able to use his extra pocket change on books, because really the biggest debate for every bookworm is deciding between food or books.
We all know the answer to that question. Unfortunately, his diet was short-lived. While traveling overseas, he witnessed a fisherman removing a smaller fish from a cod’s stomach and thought, “If you eat one another, I don’t see why we mayn’t eat you.” You best believe he ate that cod without a hint of remorse. It wouldn’t be until 1847 that we hear about vegetarianism in the US again.
12. Reoccurring comebacks
From Egyptians to Greeks to American politicians, it seems vegetarianism comes and goes like the certainty of the rising tide. It comes in waves, but as time progresses, the intervals have become shorter until it evidently became somewhat mainstream. The meatless diet would find itself returning once again to the bosom of Pythagorean lovers.
On September 29, 1847, in Ramsgate, England, the first vegetarian society was formed, forever replacing the term “Pythagorean diet” to “vegetarianism.” Three years later, the American Vegetarian Society was founded in New York. Vegetarians were making their marks.
13. Cult or club?
Soon, the American Vegetarian Society was getting hype from predominant abolitionist and feminist figures, figures such as Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Amelia Bloomer. Others soon converted and even inspired Amos Bronson Alcott, the father of Little Women author Louisa May Alcott, to co-fund America’s first vegetarian commune in Massachusetts: Fruitlands.
Unfortunately for Fruitland, the commune didn’t stay so, well, fruitful. Alcott believed he was planting the seed for a new Eden and even went as far as making his community dress in tunics and live solely on the plants they grew. However, there was a hitch: the soil was unfertilized. Alcott claimed manure was filthy and believed he could do without nature’s stink. Of course, due to the lack of soil and agricultural skills, the crops failed and drove Fruitlands into bankruptcy.
14. Bad luck, Chuck
Okay, so Eden 2.0 didn’t go according to plan, but that didn’t necessarily mean people started salting the proverbial Earth. However, it wasn’t such a good thing being a vegetarian in a world that valued the consumption of meat. In northern Europe, if you didn’t eat meat, it meant you were poor and incapable of feeding yourself.
To eat meat was a symbol of one’s social status, but some would argue that the all-plant life was the key to health, even as early as the late 1880s.
15. Hiltl: The first all-vegetarian restaurant
As mentioned earlier, to not eat meat was the same as equating yourself to a peasant. Even if you were one of the very rare few who were vegetarians, you would tend to keep it to yourself. But there was one restaurant that kept their doors open on the menu solely relying on non-meat courses.
The restaurant was called Hiltl, and it is one of the oldest vegetarian restaurants that is still in business today. Opened in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1889, the owner was a Bavarian cobbler named Ambrosius Hiltl who became a vegetarian to help his rheumatoid arthritis.
16. But is it Instagram worthy?
At first, no one wanted to bother with the all-veggie café. People who visited would enter through the back door and eat discreetly. Time was thankfully on the restaurant’s side. The restaurant eventually gained popularity and was soon a go-to for young artists and writers, similar to an Edwardian version of a Starbucks.
The business kept afloat on curiosity and was a haven for those who wanted to indulge in their plant-based diets. The Hiltl remains open to this day and was said to keep an open mind to those venturing into a more veggie-based lifestyle.
17. War on meat
At one point before WWI, meat was on a steady decline thanks to one man who decided to shed some light on the horrors of the meat packing industry: Upton Sinclair. That’s right, the same guy who investigated and recorded the nightmarish hell of the food industry by exposing the underbelly of American capitalism through his book The Jungle.
His writings aided in the founding the Pure Food and Drug Act and the US Food and Drug Administration in 1906. If you haven’t read the historical classic, then you definitely don’t want to miss out on what he had to say on such a beefy subject. Scroll at your own discretion.
18. Gross description
Sinclair’s findings were not pretty, “This is no fairy story and no joke; the meat will be shoveled into carts and the man who did the shoveling will not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one.” Unsanitary conditions and animal and employee abuse really put a damper on the meatpacking industry — it slowed productions to a near halt.
Unfortunately, not even gross exposure could keep people away from a filet mignon or strip steak. Despite vegetarians’ best efforts in establishing a name, their aims were consistently thwarted, but their presence was known and was no longer only associated with ancient history. They had a name, and soon it was only a matter of time before vegetarianism becomes mainstream.
19. Mock-meat Kellogg style
Soon vegetarian cooking started appearing in American cookbooks, one specifically: The Vegetarian Cookbook by E.G. Fulton, which was released in 1910. By the late 19th century and toward the early 20th century, recipes included meat substitutes, and none was more (in)famous than John Kellogg’s protose.
Kellogg? Wasn’t he that guy who made cornflakes? Yes, but there’s a deeper history behind the cereal creator. John Kellogg was a vegetarian and wanted to help combat against one of “the great American evils”: indigestion.
20. Your everyday Augustus Gloop
You laugh now, but in the late 1900s, most meals consisted of high cholesterol, fatty meals that included cured salted meats cooked in butter or fried, then slathered in gravy and contained a ton of sugar. Then, to wash it all down, you had your choice of alcohol, alcohol, or alcohol.
Depending on your choice, the beverage just pumps up the calorie count. So, people were in considerable pain and discomfort. You get a guy like John Kellogg who knew that his contributions would benefit from his kitchen. To fight this rising meat-related ailment, Kellogg added recipes with a meat substitute made from wheat gluten, peanut butter, onion, and herbs. Of course, that was a bit nutty.
21. I can’t believe it’s not meat!
His first attempts were failures. His meat substitute didn’t hold well when cooked, and when boiled, it tasted “acrid and sour.” However, Kellogg was sure he was onto something, and soon he came to an approved product that eventually sold and brought in a total of over a million dollars.
Kellogg swore behind his product, claiming the meat substitute resembled “potted veal” or chicken. He also claimed that it smelled and tasted meaty, and when chewed, had a nearly identical texture. Soon, he added recipes for a gravy that would accompany his mock-meat, and later sold later products like veggie hot dogs and “skallops.”
22. For the love of cheese
The idea of peanut and onion flavored mock-meat may not sound as appealing as Kellogg advertised, but it did accomplish a simple goal: diversifying diets. The concept of “three meals a day” was introduced and revolutionized in the turn of the 19th century and the habit has stuck ever since.
However, war will once again change the way we view food. In the UK, the numbers of vegetarians by choice raised during the war. One reason was rationing; another more likely idea was, according to TIME, if you registered as a vegetarian, you were given bigger rations of cheese, which must have been ten times better than a small ration of whatever protein the government could provide.
23. Becoming mainstream
Alas, as soon as the war ended, meat quickly returned to people’s dinner plates. Postwar, meat came to symbolize peace and prosperity. Meat in, cheese out. However, prominent figures throughout history also were known for abstaining from the consumption of meat, including Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, George Bernard Shaw, Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi…Adolf Hitler.
Yeah, did we forget to mention that? Apparently, the German Fuhrer was animal friendly (go figure). Whoever thought vegetarianism was associated with a character like Hitler? In fact, there’s some speculation that it was the dictator’s vegetarian status that hindered mainstream vegetarianism.
24. Animal-friendly Fuhrer
Documents and biographies record Hitler’s commitment to his plant-based diet. A hypochondriac, the dictator was paranoid of any abnormalities to his health. Hitler was literally that guy who, if he had access to WebMD, would find his stomach cramps to be a form of rare, and incurable cancer.
The man was paranoid. Strangely enough, he forbade vegetarianism in the Reich. It was most likely to set himself apart from other human herbivores who were often seen as crazed heretics. Thankfully, after the war, technology advanced, along with social awareness. Zipping passed the Age of Conformity, we come to stop in the 1960s, where vegetarianism would latch and finally stake its claim in modern culture.
25. Peace, love, and bovine rights
The 1960s were a time of conflict and a hard push for peace. There was a fine line to walk between conservativism and defining “traditional” values, and vegetarianism drew a fine line against the social norm. Vegetarianism was a part of a counterculture made up of individuals who were conceived as freaks.
According to TIME, Rags magazine reported in 1971, “To many Americans, vegetarianism represents another weirdo protest of the head generation against mom-and-apple-pie-ism.” Instead of getting backlash from the statement, the flower-power generation embraced the idea of being something “other.” Being a weirdo was no longer a bad thing.
26. Published vegetarians
The movement got the attention it deserved in the 1970s when a young graduate student named Francis Moore Lappé wrote a book called Diet for a Small Planet, a book that shed light on the negative environmental and social impact of meat production.
Her book was revolutionary and was the first to claim that a plant-centered diet was better for — not just our health — but the planet. The backlash was expected, and Lappé confessed people approached her on how following her vegetarian recipes would “…die of malnutrition if they followed the [book’s] advice.” Oh, how the times have changed.
27. The beef against veggies
Since its conception, vegetarianism has had its share of flack and has been scowled by proud meat-eaters through the centuries (literally). So, let’s settle this once and for all, what does science have to say about eating vegetables? Is beef mastication bad for you or is it just a conspiracy to eat more arugula?
According to Medical News Today, meat may indeed cause more harm than good to the human body over time, which helps those who question whether meat will still be relevant over time. The answer may surprise you.
28. Gotta have that protein, bro
Meat sales couldn’t beat a record-breaking high. According to Fortune magazine, the average American consumer will eat over 200lbs of red meat and poultry in 2018. Is that really a surprise? We live in a protein-driven world. More Americans are actively shunning carbs and pursuing a heavy protein diet, which means egg consumption is at an all time record breaking high.
More Americans are actively shunning carbs and pursuing a heavy protein diet, which means egg consumption is at an all time record breaking high. However, just because protein consumption is rising doesn’t change the health risks associated to eating meat, specifically red meat.
29. Maybe they’re on to something
Although eating red meat is a great source of protein and carries essential nutrients like iron and vitamin B12, it’s also high in saturated fats and can increase the risk of cancer, heart attacks, and strokes. On the opposite spectrum, a more plant-based diet can reduce the risk of diabetes, cancer, and help with low blood pressure.
Now we’re not saying that you should give your love for bacon, ribs, and steak. In fact, indulging in bit of red meat is A-OK. We’re talking about over-consumption and the possible health risks associated with indulging with today’s all-protein trends. Maybe Pythagoras was onto something after all?
30. Meat vs. Greens
From hunter-gatherers to Paleo diet trends, vegetarianism has had a long history of being either in the center spotlight or being swept under the figurative rug. All we know is that eating plants is nothing novel and all we’re saying is that diet is a choice — history says so. Give green a try.
Who knows, maybe it will sway you carnivores to give the vegetarian lifestyle a try to see if the grass is truly on the other side.